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To May 5
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At first it looks as though Susan Jamison can’t draw a plausible pair of breasts. In “Sugar Me Softly,” her current show of 15 new works at Irvine Contemporary, Jamison stylizes female anatomy, depicting the same cartoonish nude again and again. This pale, hairless woman is covered with fuchsia-colored henna tattoos; old medical-journal illustrations are weirdly superimposed over her bald head. Snakes, birds, and frogs cavort through the blank white spaces that surround her. The result looks like an exhaustively realized rendering of some disaffected teen’s essentialist fantasy world. But Jamison isn’t a technique-free naif. Like a 14th-century Sienese painter, she applies egg tempera to a wood panel with tiny drybrush marks. In Take Me Home, a Kiki Smith–esque wolf sneers in the right-hand third of the picture; Jamison has patiently scratched in each individual hair on the beast’s face. She’s also developed her own humorous iconography. In Grab Me, Prick Me (pictured), hummingbirds suggestively push their heads deep inside flower blossoms; a thorny vine pulls a bare, unwilling arm toward them. Incongruously hanging from the vine is a tomato-shaped pincushion. Jamison’s protagonist is resisting the pull of sex and domesticity. Robert Mellor’s 11 paintings, also on view at Irvine, don’t resist domestic charms. His hard-edged, reductive, semiabstract works mostly depict billowing expanses of patterned cloth. In paintings like Gather, the canvas is dotted with raised dots of thick acrylic paint in saturated, harmonized colors. Even if Mellor is essentially making decorative work, this is eye candy done right. “Sugar Me Softly” and “Robert Mellor: New Work” are on view from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, through Friday, May 5, at Irvine Contemporary, 1710 Connecticut Ave NW. Free. (202) 332-8767. (Jeffry Cudlin)