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The primary aesthetic of Deda Jacobsen's Dwellings series is Baroque. Highly glazed surfaces resonate with color, foregrounds are dramatically pushed forward creating the illusion of depth, and objects extend theatrically beyond the canvas plane with quasi-sculptural, tactile feelings. Like her eighteenth-century counterparts, experts in creating devices to portray principles of spatial illusion with a disregard for the normal boundaries of the picture plane. In the tradition of Caravaggio, she achieves dramatic effects through the use of chiaroscuro and exaggerated foregrounds. By contrast, her subject matter has understated psychological implications. The technique of these impeccably crafted paintings is an instrument to attract our attention to a profound subject.

Dwellings is a metaphor for our inner self and deals with the effects contemporary society and urban ills have on our fragile psyches. Complex visual devices persuade us to confront subconscious forces symbolized by objects in the paintings. The sea shells, gathered in Yucatan and placed on the littered temple stairway in The Three Pleiades, are symbolic of artifacts left by an extinct Maya civilization. In a more literal fashion, the canes represent the assistance needed to negotiate the stumbling block hindering ascent. Painting like The Greenhouse focus on social concerns, such as damage to art treasures from supervisory neglect, malicious defacement, and pollution. Underlying all these works is the nineteenth-century concept of the sublime, which saw nature as a terrifying, yet mesmerizing force that was spiritually larger and superior to humankind.

While there are comfortable overtones to Jacobsen's work it is the darker side that gives depth to her paintings. Symbolic of our minds, "these dwelling are cushioned refuges, cradling us from harm, real or imagined" and protect us from a loneliness that is inherent to our existence. Reminiscent of the menacing shadows and the trains of de Chirico that rush impotently toward brick walls, her paintings also present a conundrum. Obstructed stairwells and vacant halls invite a self-examination that is simultaneously unnerving and reassuring.

- by Jeffery Herr


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