Jack N. Mohr's "L'image assassine le mot" (2009).

Some of us who have opposable thumbs but are not in truth that great with tools rely on language to distinguish us from beasts. That is one reason I was looking forward to Text & Image, the new show at Artamo Gallery. The title suggested a glorification of the word in the tradition of medieval illuminated manuscripts. But this was not the case.

Gallery owner and curator Jack N. Mohr has selected works that can more accurately be said to drown the word. The theme is established clearly by Mohr’s large canvas in the gallery window, where a French sentence-“L’image assassine le mot” (The image kills the word)-is overlaid with a smaller square in which the same block letters are rendered as a beautiful, illegible jumble of spray-painted shapes.

Many of the pieces hung inside the gallery resemble palimpsests, with occasional words still discernible beneath a layer of paint. In one of Mohr’s works, a diary entry is barely visible under the acrylic abstract that now overlays and subsumes it.

Janet Bothne’s “Weighing Beauty and Imperfection” presents the word “beauty” in rich, bright, sexy crimson-but with the B missing and the A upside down, bringing to mind crossed eyes or some other comical flaw in otherwise glamorous feminine features.

Sarah Earle uses encaustic to create pieces that are cryptic, but in a friendly, charismatic way. Trying to read the handwriting in them, which looks like cursive but doesn’t seem to spell out actual words, is like looking for the meaning of a dream while you are still dreaming.

In “Chance,” Ray Phillips superimposes a mathematical equation over a bleak industrial landscape in grayish-yellow light. Because of the light bouncing off the surface of the painting, it could be a scene viewed through a train window by someone lost in thought.

The work that seems to celebrate words most is Michelle Y. Williams’s “Delivrance.” Written as if in white chalk on a blackboard is a quote from French poet Michel Deguy: “Ce qu’on ne peut pas dire, il faut l’ecrire,” which translates roughly, “What cannot be said should be written.” White light shimmers from spots where the cursive “chalk” writing has smeared, for an effect that is both romantic and ecstatic.


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