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The eyes have it 

Fables of
the Equinox
Through Dec. 19 at
the Peacock Room
1321 N. Mills Ave.

In Patrick Fatica's current show, Fables of the Equinox, his paintings of big-eyed goddesses enthrall the viewer. There is a look to these women that takes from our global subculture, but still they have a life of their own in Fatica's hands, as he operates on the edge between street and highbrow art. Fatica's world is dark and devoid of highbrow puffery, instead depicting a surreal, nihilistic future inspired more by David Lynch's Eraserhead than the bright futurism explored at the 1939 World's Fair. His is a post-capitalistic vision, an urban feudalism, in which lurks the new, recurring figure of the child-woman, emerging in these current times as a metaphor for the transition into the post-recessionary world.

For Fatica, it's all about the eyes, meticulously rendered; glazed orbs framed in delicate eyelashes and eyebrows capture an innocent yet worldly soul. The young women inhabit menacing scenes, and the titles are short stories in themselves. "No Matter How Much of It She Took, the Medicine Refused to Work" is illustrated by a red path into a dark, chthonic forest. "Gone From Me Soft and Sweet, Let Me Hold Her Close and Keep Her Here With Me" describes an obsession with a green-eyed nymph, who looks askance at the viewer against a green-skied sunset. In all, the eyes respond exquisitely to the scenery. No Mona Lisas here: These child-women smile not, lips pursed and drawn in slight tension or sullen silence.

It's not just Fatica and other local artists in their 20s and 30s who are fascinated with the women-as-children that populate today's lowbrow art; Mitsumi-Mishitori in Brooklyn and Hush in Los Angeles are operating in the same nether regions. While these artists grew up, preteen girls were bodies glorified on TV, replacing mature female rock stars, tennis players and figure skaters. The weird adult-comic children in manga fell into many hands as well, but Fatica's child-woman goes beyond copyism. His creatures have eyes innocent as children set in dark, dangerous worlds of which they seem only vaguely aware.

Beyond these traditions, however, there seems to lurk a kind of Lolita-like fascination. Art critic John Berger cites the "male gaze," or the tendency to represent women in art in ways that eroticize or objectify women. Fatica's tousle-haired women emphasize not sexuality but rather symbolic overtones of death, placing childhood not in the traditional depictions of springtime and bright colors, but in somber funeral-parlor tones.

In traditional imagery, the presence of a woman implies that her gender is equal to that of a man, and implies motherhood as well. Neither are implicit in Fatica's portraits, and instead we have this monstrous hybrid: the child shortcut into a woman, but without any hope of equal or parallel roles, replaced instead with a new figure, one not yet covered in our collective unconscious library of gods, villains and heroes.

Historically speaking, female portraiture has vacillated between depictions of youth and age. In late Victorian years, for example, depictions of women in their 40s and older became a tradition. The subject's mature character, the narratives writ into her face and her wise eyes all held rich content that resonated in the times. Today, even the blank, smooth faces of young women are too old for our jaded predilections; instead, the legacy of Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus is regurgitated darkly. Rather than rejoicing in childhood, these child-women are stripped of the nubile prospects of career, marriage or motherhood and instead are doomed to a twilight future, disillusioned, and bitter, used up by age 18.

Among the paintings hung at the Peacock Room, Fatica's child-women are nude on glaciers or in the frigid forest; or standing in front of a kid-size treehouse lit like a horror-movie scene. Cast into danger, her metamorphosis into a woman is complete on the outside, yet she remains a child within. Her siren-like eyes reflect no troubled soul nor fear, but rather serene detachment, as if she were watching a Target commercial rather than focusing on the menace at hand.

We invent new stories and create new reasons for our existence, making it up as we go along, trying on this and trying on that in a sort of Darwinistic cultural evolution. Fatica's girl-child suggests the rise of a new being, separate and apart from the women we have come to know throughout the ages — the Greek goddess Athena, the Virgin Mary, adventurer Amelia Earhart. And her role in society today is a marker, perhaps, not of a brave new world but more like the ending of the last. As Winston Churchill noted about the final days of Nazi Germany, when Hitler sent youth of 10 and 11 years old into war, "The end of their battle was near."

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