Role-playing with Clare Rojas

Exhibit Through the Woods offers delicious conundrum

Clare Rojas' exhibition Through the Woods at the ACA Gallery of SCAD is a delicious conundrum. Five years worth of Rojas' prints, paintings, and drawings deftly relate a series of fables with messages as varied as her influences. The mythology extends to the artist herself: Rojas will close the show Thurs., April 1 at 6 p.m. with a performance by her banjo-picking alter ego, Peggy Honeywell.

Rojas appropriates, mixes and matches everyday images. A mysterious narrative connects three works hung together on one of the gallery's walls. In "Red Hooded Man," a bearded male with slanted eyes and an aquiline nose appears in profile, dressed in a flat red hood. It would seem that Little Red Riding Hood has undergone a kind of sex change. Below him, "Barn with Yellow Sun" reveals the little structure awash in tones of gray and outfitted with patterned doors. The barn sits nestled in a flat field of red grass; a small yellow circle perched in the sky just above its roof. "Maddy" offers a color aquatint etching of a dog-like animal in profile, but it's uncertain if it's the Big Bad Wolf, a predatory fox or a family pet. All three works playfully evoke folk art and fairy tales. The combination feels like being on a rocking horse without knowing precisely which way it's rocking.

Rojas renders many of her works here on substrates of paper, wood or cloth. All are painted in a lovingly flat way with solid colors outlined in black or contained in a geometric shape. Rojas' use of gouache, a distinctly luminous opaque watercolor, lends richness to the works' one-dimensionality. In addition to figurative compositions, the artist conjures inventive botanicals – ingenious simplifications and stylizations of form and geometry.

Through the Woods is rife with portraits – perhaps self-portraits. But like an actress taking on a character with many guises and disguises, Rojas presents a complicated tableau. This is especially true for the female farmer in "Final Sun with Poppies." She's dressed in a mustard-colored tunic, heavy boots on her feet, a bun in her hair. Her right hand floats outstretched, palm down, as if trying to protect the flowers from the glaring sun. There are parallels in color and form between the sun and her dress, suggesting an intimate connection between the woman and nature.

Rojas taps into every kind of people's art – from graffiti to street signs to the hexes on the sides of barns in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Ultimately, Rojas aligns herself with those icons of feminist art who draw on vernacular imagery to examine their own identities and roles as women. It's as if she's Grandma Moses dancing around the barnyard dressed like Frida Kahlo while blowing kisses to Kara Walker.

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