Patsy Cravens: Dignity and Grace

By April Rapier

Patsy Cravens, November 2-December 1, at the McMurtrey Gallery, 1 Chelsea Place, Houston.

This exhibition was a perfect collaboration of physical space and imagery. The gallery itself is warm and inviting; the experience of traveling from room to room ex­ploring Craven's smallish black and white and color photographs (made from 1984-1984) was quite pleasant. It seemed to build upon the im­mediate and delayed power of the pictures, at once subtle and strong. Her vision is an expression of faith, the impact emotion has on memory.
In fact, this pure, direct trans­position of feelings makes the pic­tures complex and fascinating — the world is filtered as though from a child's vantage point. This is a completely developed world in min­iature, reduced to manageable proportions and allotments of expression.
Abstraction of form, light, and color substantiate the background in a majority of pictures. If there is a recurring motif, it would seem to be a "veil" in the forward-most plane that serves as a crisp intro­duction, a discreet keeper of se­crets; half-open curtains, dusty windows stand firm yet ephemeral again and again, beckoning all the while. She also creates a frame within a frame in many instances — the overmat encloses a photograph of a window, introducing a reference point beyond which the image is layered, the colors are stacked, not unlike painting. She hands out dignity and grace to scraggly, dying growth around her. In her world, flowers are dried, never dead. Her plants are very un-plantlike, and they do not behave predictably in gesture or transition; light catches the dense foliage and animates it in impressionistic color and shadow.
This is where memories live — in comfort and beauty, neither waking nor sleeping. Often, her use of color is startling, and this is where it most succeeds. In the same way. the less-mannered images, devoid of nicety (journey to the Texas hill country versus journey to the chateau), although rougher-edged, are more accessible because they are well intentioned. They are more from the heart. When the viewer gets what is expected from an identifiable locale, he or she is neither disappointed nor exhilar­ated. The images that expand to root out a permanent spot within the viewer, both thrill and linger, in spite of being secretive and personal, entries from a journal of recovery and restoration. One is treated vicariously to long and solitary walks (except for the dog that is so dearly a comfort and joy) of patient exploration, yet Cravens doesn't seem to be searching for images. They appear before her and the surprise is contagious. The catch is that it is no easy feat to be casually spontaneous with a larger format camera (2% x 2%) as it is with a 35mm. Therein lies the evidence of both commitment and deliberation. She makes no attempt to disguise technical aberrations, nor disclose their sources, but the mysteries aren't a stumbling block — they quietly advise and encour­age to proceed as experiences unfold-
The least successful work is the most specific — the playful, defiant nudes that ultimately make little sense. They seem to refer to ear­lier work — exploration without discovery. They are discrete and self-conscious, drama without sub­stance. It is the work of feelings, not ideas, that is irresistible and enduring.