Audrey Ushenko - Art in America, May 1999

Audrey Ushenko at Denise Bibro – Brief Article; Art in America, May, 1999 by Gerrit Henry

Audrey Ushenko weighed in with her most appealing and unassumingly profound show to date. Gone were her zany, manic salutes to Greek mythology and depictions of bizarre goings-on at an Orthodox church. Instead, Ushenko, a professor of art at Indiana University, Fort Wayne, trained her keen and loving eye on her own surroundings.

“Bobo’s in the Afternoon” is a large canvas featuring the busy double-decker interior of a Fort Wayne fish restaurant, windows presiding above both levels. The composition is a tour de force in four decidedly unequal parts; the tumult of patrons in the bottom half gives Ushenko ample opportunity to show off her formidable painterly skills, which owe as much to Venetian Renaissance color and glaze as they do to the Impressionists’ treatment of light as color.

Other works tell different stories in more modest formats. The Tree and The Tree, a lackluster ornamented pine next to a picture-window view of a snowy Indiana street, is a study in Christmastide anomie, while The Bean Eater is a self-portrait of the artist as a hapless little girl caught in the act of gulping her food. Ushenko is not a landscapist per se, but landscape does give her room to explore the cheery isolation that accompanies a Midwestern life ca. 2000. No amount of dazzling Impressionist light effects, as in “Bright Monday,” can dissipate the burden of winter-afternoon solitude that pervades bare trees, houses and the very air. In this show, it was the still lifes that carried the day, because Ushenko has endless admiration for things of this earth and what they can mean to us. The knockout of the group was “Emily’s Desk,” a still life acutely awash with light, along with glass-object reflections and distortions and amplifications of that light; the painting depicts items a daughter might collect in secret but hide in plain sight. In her still lifes, Ushenko paints marvels as though they were everyday things, and everyday things as if they were marvels. The resulting beauty is strictly phenomenal.

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