As they do every April, Oak Park and River Forest High School is holding the best student artwork of the year exhibit. Generally very impressive, the highlight this year is the work of Sarah Abarbanel. What's striking about her work is that each piece is unique and successful in its own right.
Her ability to do an accurate human figure is clearly well developed. It's evident in her painting of a woman sitting in a complex pose, limbs crossing over each other. Yet even here her experimental streak
is apparent. The figure itself is a brilliant shade of green against a green background.
In another pieceâ€"a highly impressionistic portrait of a womanâ€"small dots of impressionism have been transformed into larger, thumb-sized spots. And indeed this was precisely her technique, repeatedly pressing her thumb against the canvas. The woman is looking out of a car window with a startled expression on her face, as if she's wondering what a sound might be. Looking behind her, through the car window, is a scene of lush greenery.
This is a variation on the traditional impressionistic theme of the woman in a carriage in the park. Here, the carriage is transformed into an automobile. And as in impressionism, light is an important element. What appears of the car is very dark, painted in purple with highlights of pink and blue. This forms a striking contrast to the woman's face, painted in brilliant peaches and pinks, with spots of white light coming through the window and bathing her face. The greenery behind her also gives the impression of sparkling in the light. The painting reads as a commentary on what's changed and what's stayed the same over the past 100 years.
In other works, Aba-rbanel moves away from the prettiness associated with the impressionist movement and gets into something more raw and elemental. Just the torso of a pregnant woman is portrayed against a yellow-brown background that suggests old parchment. The outline is composed of a chaotic mass of thick black swirls and smudges, which are further allowed to run down in rivulets of watered-down paint. A piece of string traverses the canvas several times, creating a very precise triangular form at the belly, as if seeking to take the
measure of its growth. This is a fascinating painting, which suggests
all the sloppiness of the birth processâ€"and by extension life itselfâ€"along with the
very human desire to make order out of chaos.
This spirit of experimentation is once more expressed in a sculpted relief of a woman's face. The globules are uneven; the face itself is done in brown, almost as if we're looking at a force of nature rather than a face. Red streaks add a dynamic element to the color, as well as suggesting issues of life and death. A particularly surprising detail, which attests to a very sophisticated aesthetic understanding in such a young artist, is the empty eye socket in the upper right corner of the canvas. This very flat, white area is balanced by a white globule in the lower left corner. This implied diagonal line further balances the diagonal slant of the face itself.
This school year's Best of Student Art exhibit will be on display until May 13 at Oak Park and River Forest High School, 201 N. Scoville Ave. Gallery hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Be sure to check in at the front entrance. In addition, weekend viewings can be arranged by contacting the gallery coordinator Mark Collins at 434-3327.