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Mary Lou Zelazny

  A woman who’s dressed to the nines extends a graceful hand to a sci-fi creature in Stardust (1991), the painting that greets visitors to Mary...

Zelazny, Stardust, 1991.

 

A woman who’s dressed to the nines extends a graceful hand to a sci-fi creature in Stardust (1991), the painting that greets visitors to Mary Lou Zelazny’s first major retrospective. The futuristic suitor’s head is a collage of photographic images—including Panama hats, film reels and a curved wrench—and his hand is actually a reptile skull. But the lady doesn’t seem to mind: Their date is going just fine.

A woman who’s dressed to the nines extends a graceful hand to a sci-fi creature in Stardust (1991), the painting that greets visitors to Mary Lou Zelazny’s first major retrospective. The futuristic suitor’s head is a collage of photographic images—including Panama hats, film reels and a curved wrench—and his hand is actually a reptile skull. But the lady doesn’t seem to mind: Their date is going just fine.

Zelazny makes us believe in the couple despite their contrasts. In the more than 70 pieces on display, made between 1980 and 2008, the Chicago artist constructs whole worlds out of dreamy realism in oils and acrylics, and experimental collage. Stardust’s themes (sexuality, technology, the female form) appear again and again, along with motifs such as myth and water.

Zelazny leaves her subjects faceless in some of her more haunting works. In Amazon Papoose (1987), she drapes a woman (whose “face” is a photo of a snowy mountainside) in collaged images of the natural world, such as zebras and ferns, while the so-called papoose contains a jumble of clocks, a telephone and other man-made items.

Other works lack sentient beings—real or imaginary—but their subjects are no less alive: See the oddly captivating pile of gauzy fabric in The Sleeping Bag (2000), which also reveals Zelazny’s technical development as a painter. That’s especially evident in more recent works, in which she plays with texture and color via splattering and dripping paint.

Zelazny’s forte is indeed her artistic mutability: At the midpoint of her career, she’s pushing the boundaries expanded by her own experimentation.

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