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Art Break 

Pull up a chair. Take a seat. But don't get too comfortable. That chair you're sitting on is flesh and blood. It may even have a soul.

Such is the case with most of the "carnal furniture" that artist Laura Ben-Amots has assembled for a one-woman show at Colorado College's Coburn Gallery through Aug. 1.

The paintings and mixed-media drawings that comprise Ben-Amots' living room set -- a series of about a dozen large, impressive canvases -- straddle both the living and non-living worlds.

In one case, the legs of the chairs suggest femurs and shin-bones, the joints of which are fitted snugly into the hips -- for lack of a better word -- that corner the surface of the chair's seat. The chair is not just a chair, it seems, but a skeleton to which the tendons of life, emotion and spirit still cling.

There's a rawness to it all, but it's not as ghoulish as it sounds.

There's no explicit gore or flesh. Rather, Ben-Amots overlays the skeletons with impressionistic shadings and hatch-marks of blood-like reds and blacks that imply a ghostly flesh that hovers around the bone like a shroud.

It's an interesting turn for Ben-Amots, who has spent much of her artistic life in recent years dissecting the layers of meaning that humans hide within inanimate objects.

"I'm very interested in the human figure and issues of physicality and intimacy," she says. "With this series, I'm basically taking mundane objects and thinking of them as a metaphor for the human figure ... and breathing life into those breathless forms."

In the past, the breathless forms have taken the shape of vases, urns and fruit. Her series "Flesh Fruit" explores the similarities and tensions between pear-like forms -- usually shaded and tinted with dark reds, orange and black -- and the female body.

Another series, "Vessels," similarly explores the interplay between the urns and the female body, another metaphor that digs into the many nice and not-so-nice views of the female body: container, provider of life, etc.

One could read a Bible's worth of meaning into these metaphors, but the double entendres in "Carnal Furniture" are far from obvious, or blatant. Fortunately, to my mind, the metaphors take second seat (if you'll forgive yet another pun) to the raw emotion that oozes from these canvases.

Surrounding the bones and fabric that hold these chairs together, Ben-Amots creates a wonderful, moody atmosphere of shadings and scratchings, suggesting a world of spirit, emotion and tension lurking behind the obvious and the physical.

One could easily ignore any intellectual analysis of these works and simply be struck by their sparse gorgeousness. Whatever way you view them, they celebrate the beauty of life's tensions and conflicts -- even while wrestling with them.

"I find myself full of conflict between the sort of celebratory joy and the opposing doubt and darkness," Ben-Amots said during a recent interview. "I think it's that conflict that drives me to paint. ... It's really like an ache that drives me to paint these images."

If your bones are aching for some good art, then pull up a chair and take a seat in Ben-Amots' psychic sitting room before the show comes down Aug. 1.

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