Marilyn Szalay and Judy Takács Reveal 'Secrets' at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve

“Mary Jane and Friends II,” by Marilyn Szalay
“Mary Jane and Friends II,” by Marilyn Szalay

Two titans of figurative art in Cleveland, the late Marilyn "Lynn" Szalay and Judy Takács, present allegory and iconography in Secrets, now showing at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve. If there be any doubt that these two artists are masters, this exhibition will flay your dead-white-dude mentality with oil paints on canvas, a gum eraser, conte crayon and charcoal on large format, archival paper.

"The art in this show is full of secrets," says Takács. "In Lynn's case, the true meanings and symbolism and stories went to the grave with her ...some of the pieces remain untitled, so there are only visual hints as to what was intended by the artist. In my case, the secrets that are mysteries when you look at the art are often exposed on my blog."

"Titkos Testver (Secret Sister)" is one such artwork. In this stately allegorical painting riddled with pink and red tones, a woman clutches a book and a white pearl rosary. The facial expression is peaceful and direct with her slight smile and squared jaw. She wears a crocheted shawl trimmed in white over her peasant blouse, a pair of mittens and a coin purse hang about in the background by string or yarn, as does a piece of paper that we assume is inscribed with her name. Draped over her shoulder is a gypsy-like satchel. This is Takács' imagined painting of her aunt, who was mysteriously sent away at a young age and died. There was no death certificate.

"In Early Spring (Portrait of Diane)" is a drawing, we assume, of Szalay's sister, Diane White-Tira. Created with graphite, conte crayon and chalk pastel on paper, its large format is imposing and serene at once. Diane is seated on a swing, the sunlight casting distinct shadows on to her face similar to the oxidized "tears" running down the cheeks of the famous Haserot Angel sculpture at Lakeview Cemetery. The statue itself is depicted in "Guardian Angel," a couple of drawings to the left. The love of Diane in "In Early Spring" is evident. The symbolism here of sister/guardian cannot be denied.

As we walk through Secrets, we are moved by human emotion in all of the artworks that surround us in this intimate gallery space. The format is large, up to 40-by-78-inches, as is the case with Szalay's triptych, "Rite of Passage," which shows a young girl in her first communion outfit. In the exhibition catalog, the late Szalay explains, "My images are about girl changing to woman. I work primarily with adolescents because they reflect this transition and turbulence. I often use the disjointed juxtaposition of imagery to physically interpret this emotional conflict. Dual imagery also recalls the element of time which is rudimentary to this concept. A girl's dreams are synthesis of universal intuition coupled with society's codes and models ... ."

Takács, whose backgrounds are primarily red hues in this exhibition, surprises us as we turn the corner and face a brilliant blue that houses "Venus, She's Got It," featuring an African-American woman in the role of the planet and the goddess Venus, holding the light over Earth as she looks to her left with otherworldly concern. Her braids float around her in outer-space weightlessness. It is a stunning painting that stands out from the rest of the work.

Takács has also included paintings from her popular and well-documented "Chicks with Balls" series. "They are truly the unsung heroines of their ordinary Midwestern lives ... and the balls are literal as well as metaphorical," the artist states.

The real soul of Secrets is told, we feel, through two specific artworks: Takács' "The Final Chapter" and "Mary Jane and Friends II" by Szalay. "The Final Chapter" generously presents to us an elder woman engrossed in a tome of angel's wings. Texts on various types of paper or tape with handwritten quotes are collaged into the painting. The woman sports a black lace blouse, so carefully carved with the palette knife that we question our ability to recognize delicate lace from three feet away. This is the last portrait that the artist painted of her mother, Dalma Takács, Ph.D., a former English professor at Notre Dame College of Ohio, a few weeks before she passed away. "She posed for me while reading peacefully, dozing and reading as I painted. As she sat there, knowing that she was not long for this earth, I saw the pages of the book as angel's wings to transport her to the wonderful worlds of literature and learning she truly believed would be waiting for her on the other side," Szalay wrote. The artist collaged her mother's handwritten English literature notes about "life, death, religion, customs, history and monsters; real and imagined."

Szalay did not hold back subtlety in the drawing, "Mary Jane and Friends II." A young girl, Mary Jane we presume, stares right at us with huge dark eyes. She carries a doll on her shoulders, propping it up with her right hand. In her left hand she holds a damaged doll's head; its eyes looking to the left in what appears to be worry. The line and smudges Szalay employed are dreamlike, where we can't tell what is happening in the background, almost like a photograph or a film still. Mary Jane's wispy hair is parted in the middle and brushed behind one ear. The shadow and light play only add to the mystery of the drawing and that of the young girl. What is going on with her? We will never really know. That's the Secret.