Laura Ross-Paul doesn't usually paint nude figures. But in The Allusive Self, she does as a means of linking the art to her profoundly personal experience fighting cancer.
When she was 17, Ross-Paul lost her mother to breast cancer. She herself survived breast cancer four years ago, and was the first woman in the country to use cryolumpectomy (freezing) as treatment. Ross-Paul and her husband are currently working on a book chronicling the ordeal. But first, she's speaking through her artwork.
"[When the book is done] I will be talking about my personal experience with a private body part, and that makes me feel vulnerable," says the Portland (Ore.) State University professor. "With the art show, I thought if I could get comfortable with the idea of vulnerability and nakedness, maybe I would feel more comfortable promoting the book."
The Allusive Self contains three series: The Naked Series of oil paintings, The Chakra Series of watercolors and The Charcoal Series.
The first painting in The Naked Series is titled "Buoy" and depicts a nude woman shielding her body in the foreground of an ocean expanse.
"The woman appears vulnerable and isolated in self-protected stances, reflecting moments we all share in our own lives of feeling vulnerable at the beginning of a change, and also reflecting her own journey with cancer," says CC curator Jessica Hunter Larsen.
Larsen describes a "mapped journey" throughout the series.
"The last piece of The Naked Series, called 'Blue Connection,' returns to the woman on the beach and she's still alone, but you do get the sense that she's moved forward somehow," she says. "She's much more relaxed, and her body position is really open now that she's accepted the circumstances around her. It's a really joyful image."
The Chakra Series uses various colors to illustrate the seven energy centers, or chakras, of the body. The charcoals demonstrate the artist's talent in figurative painting; she's taught advanced courses in it for 17 years.
"You can see that she not only draws with pencil, but she uses the eraser to pull out areas of color and blend and blur," Larsen says.
Larsen calls Ross-Paul's landscapes "almost hallucinatory," with subjects' emotional lives reflected in the landscape.
"My paintings are figurative and I consider them to be narrative," says Ross-Paul. "There's some sort of conversation and relationship between the land and the figure. For example, I may echo the curve of the spine with the curve of a cloud."
Subtly intimating humanistic qualities in naturalistic settings makes Ross-Paul's work appealing, but the raw sentiment in her work is nonetheless provocative.
"I really think artists are both intellectual and emotional, and one's usually stronger than the other," Ross-Paul says. "I'm emotion-based, and I often get in touch with a particular emotion."
The Allusive Self
Coburn Gallery, CC's Worner Center, 902 N. Cascade Ave.
Aug. 25-Oct. 5; free reception and informal gallery talk with the artist Wed., Sept. 12, 4:30 p.m.
Call 389-6607 or visit theideaspace.com for more.