By Louis Jacobson
© Washington City Paper
Thursday, September 30, 2004.
Hugh Shurley's photographic collages are pretentious, difficult, and still somehow compelling.
For an 18-work show at the Fraser Gallery, Shurley has produced muted, dark-toned images that look a little like retouched 19th-century ambrotypes (and seem to include no traces of modernity). But it's his combination of high-Gothic iconography and random-seeming titles that are the main reasons Shurley's work is so hard to figure out.
"Lucky" features a man naked except for his underwear, with an American flag superimposed over him; "The General's Lover" features a man with a bandaged head who's leaning backward; and "Crossing Guard" showcases a diminutive, old-fashioned-looking woman held in a squarish container that hangs precariously from an outstretched finger.
Get it? All you can expect is to appreciate Shurley's offbeat, if grim, flights of fancy: "Bad Doughnut," which features a blue-tinted skull, sticking out of a bucket full of bakery treats; "Something Borrowed," a shot of a woman in a wedding gown and a straitjacket; and "Placate Ballet," which depicts a dead frog that seems to dance joyfully in a formaldehyde jar.
The imagery is as downbeat as that of the Cuban artists showcased at Fraser over the past year or so, but at least viewers can immediately grasp the source of the Cuban artists' angst. Shurley's demons, by contrast, are kept infinitely more obscure.
His work is on view from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday to Wednesday, Oct. 13, at Fraser Gallery, 1054 31st St. NW. Free. (202) 298-6450.
© Copyright 2004 Washington City Paper