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Mystery and Manners 

Artist Mallorie Freeman draws on noir fiction 

Art is always a kind of crime scene.  Images are stolen, lies are told. Only rarely are people murdered, at least in the art itself, but by leaving a trace of lives beyond our own, artwork remembers the passion that fills human space.

Mallorie Freeman's oil paintings and mixed-media works on paper are a romantic take on that dark dimension, which sticks to the back of every picture like a price tag. Her show, Spicy Dames and Tales of Mystery, at William Rupnik Gallery, goes straight for the mannered gusto of noir, depicting deadly vintage sirens as they beckon with shining eyes or painted fingernails, luring and trapping hardboiled detectives in webs of intrigue.

Freeman's five large paintings are details of imaginary book and magazine covers, with titles like "Lady Luck" and "The Ace of Danger." Carefully rendered, they have the sort of impeccable surface that heroines shared with femmes fatales, back in the day when powder and lipstick were as unavoidable as runs in nylon stockings. One exception is "Permanent Wave," an advertisement featuring the same sort of tough glamour — a reminder that we're in a world where beauty is either on sale or selling something else.

By contrast, Freeman's small works on hand-made paper sample a more diffuse, complex side of human nature. Protected behind glass, they're like partially decomposed fragments of the pulp-paper interiors of the cheap novels Freeman lampoons in her paintings. These acetone transfer prints (made by pressing a Xerox print against more absorbent paper, brushing the back with solvent and rubbing) are augmented by layers of delicate drawing in charcoal and pencil. Despite titles like "Sea of Love," and "The Key to Apt. 3B," they're graphically rich, nourishing the eye with the rough tenderness of a stolen kiss, balancing the hard words and sudden slaps of genre fiction. These diminutive caresses are more like the painter herself perhaps, and like her audience — human things, composed of the simple, complicated, endlessly repeated records kept in the flesh.

Freeman, who studied for a year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and another year at the Cleveland Institute of Art, is largely self-taught and values the independence that gives her art. She says of these works, "They're in the realm of feeling. Sometimes they parallel your life but not in ways that other people can really realize. I fall in love with them; they have a life of their own, something happens ... "

One of the nicest things that happened:  Most of her work sold on opening night. Rupnik has been in the gallery business for about two years and recently changed the gallery's name from Artchitecture to his own. He has a knack for picking artists, like Florida's Bask and Clevelander Arabella Proffer, who share with Freeman a wakeful, sensitive and sometimes profound take on the realities and fantasies of a tired world. 

arts@clevescene.com

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