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Three Painters And Three Solo Shows Cover A Very Wide Arc

By Margaret Regan

SEPTEMBER 29, 1997:  DANIEL MARTIN DIAZ tortures the all-too-human bodies of his saints, piercing, poking, beheading and otherwise mutilating them in dark paintings hemmed in by shrine-like Gothic frames.

Lorraine Inzalaco beatifies female flesh, celebrating every curve and crevice in the bodies of women in sunny paintings that radiate a joyous sexuality.

And Katie Cooper, well, bodies are not her first concern. She leans mostly toward triangles, fish, teacups and keys floating on broadly painted backgrounds. But then she adds some fine-looking drawings of hands and legs as grace notes.

All three painters right now are exhibiting work in solo shows downtown: Diaz at the Temple Gallery, Inzalaco at WomanKraft and Cooper at Raw. Inzalaco drenches her works in a lesbian eroticism that she says has gotten her censored in the past: In painting after painting her naked women lustily embrace, or lie sated post-orgasm on tousled beds. But her high-spirited, lush paintings are hardly shocking--that distinction belongs to Diaz's tormented religious works.

A young Tucsonan who paints in his kitchen, Diaz has immersed himself with bloody authenticity in the laceration school of religious art. His truncated limbs, bleeding flesh and splintered skulls come straight out of the religious art of Spain, Mexico and the Southwest, both from the rough retablo paintings of popular culture and the more refined martyrs of official church art. Touched here and there with an impassive Byzantine melancholy, spiced up by surrealism and contemporary despair, at their best Diaz's medieval saints seem born of a surprisingly modern vision.

His big solo show, Ars Moriendi--23 works in oil, six linoleum block prints--reveals an obsessive artist with a sometimes searing vision. His dark works depict the most gruesome events of the traditional Christian martyrology and then some. Saint Sebastian is the brave young Christian who died a slow death by arrows. In typical Christian art he's seen erotically as a nearly naked young man, pierced but still beautiful. Sebastian's sensuous torso is still there in Diaz's deliciously painted version, but that's about all that's there: His head and limbs have been lopped off. In "Premonition of Mary," another variant on a traditional subject, Diaz suspends the troubled Madonna from a sharp meat hook. Below her is her Baby Jesus, also aloft. His brow--and the canvas--have been pierced by two real-life nails.

The nails are one of those post-modernist, mixed-media touches that bring the best of Diaz's work beyond mere imitation. Not all of them take that imaginative journey. Some of the smaller paintings, though lavishly adorned by real crowns of thorns and so on, are not all that different from the Byzantine icons that inspired them. The larger, more ambitious paintings are generally better. In part it's because their broader expanses allow for big sweeps of textured, sandy paint, more color--especially Diaz's melancholy reds and browns--and for more complex compositions, with strange placements of figures in anonymous architectural spaces.

These empty spaces are curiously modern. Delineated only by the flat planes of walls and floor, they draw on an art of alienation with roots as deep as Hopper and as wide as Balthus. They posit the death of faith itself, not just of the unfortunate martyr in question in each work. In "Hanging from the Gallows," one of the best, and most disquieting, of Diaz's works, a dead saint swings upside down, his hands and feet bound with rope. His halo still tenaciously clings to his lifeless skull, but the man's presumed saintliness has not saved him from the extinction that is every human's fate.

No such dark meditations trouble Inzalaco's bright paintings. Some 40 works--paintings in oil, paintings on paper, charcoal drawings--have spilled out into the restored WomanKraft gallery like lush fruits out of a prodigious cornucopia. Everywhere is lovely female flesh, from the yellow and lavender hips of the "Beautiful Mnasidice," Inzalaco's slightly fauvist version of Goya's "Maja," to the ripe peach breasts of the recumbent "Inspiratress" and the tangled limbs of the sated women in "Duo."

Inzalaco's aim in putting all these women to canvas is partly political. She wants her show, Visible for a Change, to bring lesbian love out into the open and to change prejudice against it. But apart from "Coming Out," a slightly clunky painting showing the artist triumphantly running toward an open door, these artworks are not particularly didactic. And though Inzalaco intends her subject as a challenge to the social (and art) order, she uses a deliberately accessible, even conservative style. Her women don't subvert conventional notions of female beauty: They're young and pleasingly plump. For the most part they're skillfully rendered in brushstrokes that reveal an almost old-fashioned love of color on color. Inzalaco experiments with the once-radical but still lovely painting techniques of the Impressionists all the way up to the Expressionists, clearly reveling in the feel of the loaded brush against the yielding canvas.

In contrast to the emotional, crowded pictures of Diaz and Inzalaco, Cooper's pictures at Raw seem almost vacant. Their lonely shapes drift across paint fields that have the uninteresting look of commercial airbrushing. But it may just be a case of the imagery not being ready for primetime or the big canvas. Cooper's small monoprints, each one putting a single object front and center, are far more compelling. A lock and key, a light bulb, glowing green or yellow, leave their lowly origins behind and become majestic, or darn near.

Ars Moriendi, a show of works by Daniel Martin Diaz, continues through October 15 at the Temple Gallery in the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and before theatre performances and during intermissions. For more information call 624-7370.

Visible for a Change, an exhibition of works by Lorraine Inzalaco, continues through October 29 at WomanKraft, 388 S. Stone Ave. Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, and from 7 to 10 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month. There will be a reception from 7 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, October 4. For more information call 629-9976.

Katie Cooper: Recent Works, Paintings and Prints continues through October 11 at Raw Gallery, 43 S. Sixth Ave. Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, until 7 p.m. Thursdays 7 to 10 p.m. on Downtown Saturday Nights. For more information call 882-6927.

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