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Review: Passanise shows a more personal side

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 14, 2009 - Gary Passanise is probably best known for his large, layered, densely emotional abstract paintings.

In "Diary of Consequence," Passanise's exhibit at Snowflake, that dense emotion is certainly present, but the works are smaller in scale and more personal than ever before. 

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The artist, who is the painting director at Webster University and based in St. Louis, recently closed down his longtime New York City studio, which undoubtedly required him to take stock, not only of the physical work he was required to move, but of its personal significance. This may explain the presence in this show of the older mixed media pieces on paper, like "Ellipse for S" and "Nautica" (both 1989), which are heavily worked but nonetheless fragile and evocative. They nicely complement the more recent paper works, such as the "Lake Series" of 2008 and -- especially -- the "Structure" series, dating between 1990 and 2009, in which a stepped scaffolding reappears like something out of an obsessive dream.

Passanise's recent efforts also include several book projects, in which battered and waterlogged copies of everything from "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to "The Arabian Nights," "The Divine Comedy" and "The Journal of Albion Moonlight" become props in intense, sensual explorations. Taking its place innocently enough among the book projects is "Into the Blue" (2009), an assemblage of prayer cards propped over a sheet of blue reflective glass. That mirrored surface reveals the cards' backsides and their significance to the artist -- they're all funeral cards for members of the Passanise family.

The artist is taking stock, indeed. This is, by far, the most intimate glimpse into Passanise's life and work this reviewer has ever seen.

Ivy Cooper is an artist and professor of art history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. 

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