SUGAR AND SPICE
Collages flavored with girlish glee carry an aftertaste of mortality

By Doug MacCash
Art critic

Dallas artist Ellen Frances Tuchman, whose exhibit "The Translucence of Time" is on display at Sylvia Schmidt Gallery, is still a little girl at heart. She collects silver sequins, opalescent glass beads and tiny metal charms -- just the sort of things that catch a young girl's eyes. She then glues and sews her precious collection onto carefully painted grids, as if she were placing each gem into its own tiny dresser drawer. Atop these busy patterns she affixes beaded birds, painted flowers, fabric trees, antique trading cards, foil and dried leaves. She adds further detail and luster with streaks of eye shadow and dashes of cosmetic powder. The overall effect is a winsome form of glittering abstraction that is simultaneously joyous and somehow sad.

Tuchman, who studied textile design before pursuing fine art, readily acknowledges the female tone of her work. "My works are so feminine," she said. " I'm dealing with issues that are more apt to women. I like to say I have lots of good-girl Victorian talents like embroidery, needlepoint, paper quilling (creating delicate filigree from rolled paper), pin pricking (using a pin point to emboss patterns in foil) and things like that. I'm sure Martha Stewart has done an article or two on most of my techniques."

But Tuchman's technique is more than mere domestic decoration. Though it's hard to say precisely why, each piece is subtly poignant, embodying the passage of time and the pull of mortality.
"Like my husband reminds me, I'm pushing 50," she said.

"In a young girl's vocabulary, you have fairy tales and frivolous things, makeup and girlie stuff, but there's a wistful aspect to looking backward. It comes from dealing with the stresses and losses in life. By making art that is so brightly colored, it gets away from the gloom and doom, but they're still there. In a way, I see my works as beautiful shrouds."

"The Translucence of Time" is a thoughtful, graceful exhibit that quietly carries the feminist Pattern Art movement of the 1970s into the 21st-century. I plan to take my daughter to see it.

In Ellen Frances Tuchman's ambitious 'The Four Seasons,' tiny glinting baubles are placed in subtly painted grids, which are arranged in a geometric design, which is enlivened with a halo of little-girl collectibles, producing a collage that is minimalistic at a distance and buzzingly busy close up.

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