Metaphors are the basis of any art that aspires to emotion and poetry: Treat one thing in terms of another, elucidating the secret connections that elude reason, but not intuition. The mixed-media assemblages of Dharma Strasser MacColl and the sculptures of Nancy Mintz employ metaphors in a fresh, contemporary way.
Strasser MacColl's previous work included installations of vessel forms that viewers saw as human surrogates in common space; her new mixed-media assemblages in Emanate revive a shallow pictorial space that viewers contemplate. Made from sheets of cut and re-stitched handmade paper sometimes altered with water-based gouache paint, and covered with sewn-on or glued tiny, handmade porcelain disks pierced like beads or sequins, they're small universes, laboriously wrought, that read big. The artist is fascinated with "spatial questions of cohabitation: How individuals live [in aggregations], in both natural and constructed worlds." The works that emerge from her repeated, "small, intimate experiences often lost in our frenetic world," are about "parts ... finding their order in a wide-open space." Combining a subdued palette and a refined nature-focused lyricism suggesting Asian art, introspective yet expansive micro/macrocosmic works like "Every Dark Thing," "Two Clearings," "Three Webs," and "Double Blast" convene competing metaphors — cobblestones, scales, flowers, starry skies, craters, cairns, vegetation, anemones, coral atolls, and maybe scattershot gun-range targets — while paradoxically asserting their origins in method and material.
Mintz's sculptures in steel, ceramic, wood, and glass in her show Mother May I turn iconic shapes — egg, house, moon, ladder, and keyhole — to explore psychology and perception. If that list of motifs sounded Magrittean, it is; Mintz shares with that skeptical, ironic Surrealist a love of impossible logic, perfectly stated. If Magritte's "solution" to the "problem" of the egg eventually turned out to be the giant egg inside the bird cage, then Mintz's "Conservatory," a perforated egg in its nest of twigs inside a wire-frame Monopoly house; her inversion of that in "House Bramble," with its domicile enveloped in tumbleweed; "All Eyes on You," with an egg scrutinized by seeing tendrils; "Soul Keyhole," with its egg sprouting an absurd keyhole; "For You, The Moon," a ceramic cratered golf ball protected by a form-fitting metal cage (like turn signals on off-road vehicles); and "One Egg Crate," with its wooden De Stijl grid coddling precious cargo, can be seen as philosophical ruminations for our off-kilter world. (Was it ever properly kiltered?) Emanate and Mother May I run through May 7 at Traywick Contemporary (895 Colusa Ave., Berkeley). 510-527-1214 or Traywick.com