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Jabbur's magic number: 9




Unstable Realities:
; Paintings by
; Rima Jabbur
Through May 30
; Crealdé School of Art,
; Winter Park
Free; donations accepted


If the new exhibit at Crealdé School of Art sounds minor – after all, there are only nine pieces in Unstable Realities: Paintings by Rima Jabbur – it is anything but.


Tough subjects, muscular brushwork and bold, stormy colors make works by Jabbur, who teaches art at Valencia Community College and is a longtime Crealdé affiliate, a major event. Moody studies like "Amanda at Thirteen" and the even more enigmatic "Unstable Realities" and "Enlightenment (King Lear)" draw on the entire history of art and then, deftly, turn its lessons into virtuosic solos that hint at ; intense emotions.


Amanda, hair hanging below her shoulders and face hidden in shadows, crosses her arms protectively over her chest in the life-size portrait, refusing to look directly at the viewer. Three smaller, more fragmentary images of the same young woman are shown in a row over her main portrait, each suggesting other aspects of her personality. But only the central study, apparently still incomplete, shows Amanda with a closed, wary expression.


Just as open to multiple interpretations is the exhibit's namesake piece, which shows a group of figures that appear interconnected but, paradoxically, stand apart from each other on an ominously dark shore. Two women at the water's edge face a man who, seemingly reluctantly, walks away from them. Between the two sets of figures a dog cowers, tail between his legs, unsure which direction to take. There is implied pain in "Unstable Realities," with its dramatic overtones of anger, rejection and alienation, yet the sheer lushness of Jabbur's gestural, painterly approach makes studying the work a visual delight. We don't know who the people are in "Unstable Realities," a work whose very title suggests that whatever they are experiencing, theirs is a constantly shifting situation. That same theatricality gives a jolt to "Amanda," with its veiled view of an emotionally volatile young woman, while Jabbur's technical abilities draw viewers in and engage them in passionate responses.


There are stories in the exhibit's narratives that will never be told in full, but at least in Crealdé's softly lit Alice and William Jenkins Gallery, the sensitively spare installation gives each painting the space it needs to work its magic. And, really, magic is what is in the air in this unusually vivid, lucid exhibit. A pregnant nude stands in the center of "Second Trimester," holding her robe open to display her taut, swollen belly. She is shown in full, seemingly open to our reactions; her face, however, shows a jarring blend of emotions that have nothing to do with a sentimental view of maternity.


Instead, as in each of the very articulate, if guarded portraits here, what is clear is that nothing is clear: Life is messy, feelings and relationships change, and what seems simple is often shaded with multiple meanings and layers of possibilities. In other words, in nine powerful new paintings, Jabbur paints what matters, in a style perfectly attuned to her charged subjects: gritty, strong and satisfying.


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