Aqueous abstractions

Baerwalde explores subliminal aesthetic at Marcia Wood Gallery

Picture the un-picture. The barest notion of a figure ever so slightly penciled onto an unstretched canvas more stained than painted in a soft, smoky wash of colors. That's the newest work of David Baerwalde on view in his first exhibition at the Marcia Wood Gallery.

Known for centering his metaphysical paintings and sculptures with figurative elements, this time Baerwalde examines the subtleties of an increasingly subliminal aesthetic. These latest painted drawings are a distinctly more out-of-body experience.

The Atlanta-based artist suspends each rough-cut canvas within a simple white framework, emphasizing the evanescence of his subject matter. Staining, drawing and painting, he evokes an age-old physicality in some of his dreamlike compositions. Their pock-marked surfaces give the impression that the canvasses themselves are disintegrating. Baerwalde quietly pencils transparent forms into translucent backgrounds, as if he were loathe to materialize them. They float just above or just beneath gauzy clouds of pigment. The works suggest a human presence without forcing the figurative to perform earthly tasks.

The best of these watery environments feature almost entirely disembodied androgynous figures. In "Flare," tones of red, wine, orange and creamy white mottle the canvas where the vaguest outline of a head might be just below the surface. One large, off-white canvas called "Vapor" sublimates a host of vaporous intertwined nudes, a sublime attempt at classical figuration.

Sometimes the artist leans toward more predictable arrangements. Lines of indigo drip from the top of "Habitat," a horizontal canvas where the slender curves of a reclining woman are the submerged landscape. "Olive" makes another narrow, linear mark. Scarce outlines of three faces lie submerged beneath an aqueous drab green. Possibly the most explicit is "Siphon," a faceless figure trapped at the neck by a wreath of snakes. The serpents' coiling bodies resemble intestines, appearing to choke their stoic victim.

In contrast, pacific "Everest" is a canvas overtaken by a vast, hazy blue sky. The implication of a head rises like a fine, pale mist from the narrow horizon. Gray-blue water washes over "Flood," where an ephemeral figure in the foreground is similarly described in negative space, a want of color outlined in pale streaked smudges of paint.

Tense energy hovers just outside the lines of Baerwalde's illusory drawings. With their mysterious narrative qualities and often solitary figures, his almost-abstractions seem an existential autobiography. Any portrait of this young artist would have to consider the meaning of his dreams.

David Baerwalde continues through June 30 at the Marcia Wood Gallery, 1831 Peachtree Road. Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 404-885-1808. www.marciawoodgallery.com??

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