CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Uncommon women: Double x power at PVCC

Other than having their names printed alongside a star-spangled poster image of Lynda Carter and sporting two x's in their chromosomal makeup, the five artists featured in Piedmont Virginia Community College's current exhibition, "Wonder Women"— Robin Braun, Megan Marlatt, Judy McLeod, Nancy Mehlick, and Marie Mennes— appear to have little in common. Except perhaps for sharing a penchant for meticulous detail in their artwork.

At PVCC, McLeod, Marlatt, and Braun present the latest iterations of areas each has been exploring for years. McLeod uses her well-honed technique of collaging Asian papers with painting to create images, this go-round depicting social relationships. Her figures' exaggerated anatomical features are a bit odd, but otherwise the fare is pretty much par for the McLeod course.

Marlatt continues to experiment with compositional drama by isolating tiny toys in vast expanses of empty space. In addition to five acrylic paintings on paper, she presents two amusing dioramas created from graphite drawings put together in ways that recall pop-up books. Meanwhile, Braun offers predictably exquisite small oils of summertime landscapes with insects winging across skies at dawn and sunset. "The Hill," however, with its inky foreground and unusual upward perspective, presents a subtle and compelling departure.

For their part, Mehlick and Mennes bring something new to the party. In the North Gallery, Mehlick's "Aviary" is a riveting mixed-media piece comprising nine small wooden boxes. Each tiny crate offers surprises— one contains a humorous birdsong closet, another a series of antique-lace-covered eggs— yet they are all of a piece thanks to Mehlick's masterful use and re-use of iron, glass, eggs, wood, and thread.

Visually and conceptually rich, "Aviary" contrasts exteriority and interiority, raw and refined, organic and manufactured. Similarly, Mehlick's "Bird Line," featuring evocative rice paper forms perched on clothesline spanning a corner of the gallery, delves into the physical sensation of a fleeting visual experience.

In the South Gallery, Mennes displays a stunning series of 10" x 10" images combining acrylic paint, embroidery, and beads. Using black thread on white canvas, she stitches line drawings of figures lifted from a 1942 primer (think Dick and Jane), surrounding them with exploding crewelwork gardens that bloom against jewel-toned backgrounds of turquoise, carmine, and fuchsia. But the homespun safety of sampler-work and supposedly G-rated images is upended as Mennes creates dreamlike exotic and sometimes erotic realms. 

Although PVCC's wonder women may not share much artistic ground, each wields her own individual visual power.

"Wonder Women," an exhibition featuring the work of Robin Braun, Megan Marlatt, Judy McLeod, Nancy Mehlick, and Marie Mennes, is on view through March 13 in the V. Earl Dicksinson Building at Piedmont Virginia Community College. College Drive. 961-5202.