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Physical Revelations: Drawings mirror x-rays' power to show

Coral Gables Gazette, September 8, 1999

"On a Room Full of Drawings by Tatiana Garmendia"

The x-ray says that flesh is light and shade.
Our wispy sanguine pipelines branch and flutter,
Weightless in the arched thoracic vault as if laid
On drifting air. The marching orders uttered

By their source, as though by God, is "Live."
We do not want to see our organs and bones.
Our forms are like cartoons to us - we give
Them vague and plastic properties. Monochrome

Phantoms glowing against a glossy chasm
Of photographic black agree with this.
But inevitable disasters refute the body as a
Mere idea. The hard invasive kiss

Of the probe, the ever-more-certain doctor's knife:
There are sparkling, horrible tools that give weight to life.

"Physical Revelations," a suite of drawings by Tatiana Garmendia currently on display at Locust Projects, is some of the strongest work to come through Miami in recent memory.

The content and the style of the drawings are derived from x-radiography. With draftsmanship worthy of a medical illustrator, she has developed a technique which captures the ghostly tonalities of x-rays with astonishing faithfulness. She establishes the images with powdered graphite applied with a brush on sheets of prepared paper, then develops them with pencils and many erasers.

Metal leaf has also been incorporated into the surfaces. It doesn't blend in, but its disunity with the rest of the surface is intriguing. In the context of the subject matter, the silver shapes read as intrusions into the body. Whether those intrusions represent the insidious invasion of cancer or the insertions of well-intentioned medical technology is left to the viewer.

Garmendia is a Seattle artist whose local connections include a stint at Miami-Dade Community College and a BFA from Florida International University. She received a classical training at the American University in Paris, and that has made all this difference: she can draw, and her drawing ability enables her to address a range of complex issues with aplomb.

These issues are listed in an artist statement which is highly erudite if somewhat unclear. (She's obviously a reader; it's a rare artist statement that begins with a line of poetry by Czeslaw Milosz.) They can't be briefly explained (which in this case is a sign of genuine intricacy rather than muddled logic, the latter of which is far more common among artist statements) but include the following: the central place of the ideal figure in the humanist painting tradition, the tensions between realism, illusionism and abstraction involved in the artist's style and subject matter, and the variety of representations of the body.

A book in the gallery shows the artist's transition from run-of-the-mill sculptural riffs on gender politics to polished realist images depicting frightening, invasive medical procedures. The current drawings follow this last body of work, and reflect a trend of increasing sophistication, subtlety, and potential for wider meaning. The implication is that issue-oriented art has greater chances of success in the hands of someone who understands technique.

But her beautifully executed images can be enjoyed without the philosophical background; they are simply fascinating to look at. Some seem as if they are collaged from a number of x-rays; others seem to be x-rays of the body in motion. In one, an ischium and upper femur is under attack by a cluster of silver dots at the point of the lesser trochanter. In another a ribcage, the region of its heart aglow, is prodded with a chromium hook.

Most of the drawings are about x-ray size, but there are four larger ones, seven by five feet, made for this show. They are not the strongest works - the ambitious increase of scale seems to have been a strain on the artist's process. Nevertheless, one stands out: a wiggly, dark shape (an esophagus melded to a spleen, perhaps) snakes along a spinal column in an enormous, luminous ribcage. One is reminded simultaneously of biology and church architecture.

Garmendia's aesthetic and intellectual gifts are formidable, and Locust Projects is right for wanting to give her work a forum. Whatever minor shortcomings can be found in "Physical Revelations" do nothing to the fact that she's the genuine article.

"Tatiana Garmendia: Physical Revelations" is on display through September 17th at Locust Projects, 105 NW 23rd Street. Call (305) 576-8570 for more information.

Word count: 713

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