Maps And Legends

Suzanne Sbarge, Real And Virtual

Steven Robert Allen
3 min read
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For many people, domesticity and freedom are more like oil and water than rum and Coke. They just don't seem to mix very well. In the surreal world of Suzanne Sbarge, though, these two alienated siblings somehow manage to get along just fine.

Sbarge currently has two exhibits on display—one at Papergami in Nob Hill (114 Tulane NE) titled Earth to Honey and another online at titled Observatories. Since several images are included in both her real show and her virtual one, if you're bedbound, you can get a fair idea of her work by checking it out in cyberspace. Unless you're completely immobile, though, you should probably haul your carcass over to Papergami to scope out the real deal. It'll be well worth the trip.

Sbarge specializes in combining paint and collage into highly polished images that depict fragments from her otherworldly universe. Sbargeland is a strange but comforting place filled with birds and stars and flowers and funny little clip-out houses. Really, this wouldn't be such a bad place to take a long vacation from the prosaic difficulties of the ordinary world.

In “Pinnacle,” a pair of gray newsprint legs perch at the peak of a tall, slim, weathered clapboard house filled with stars. A tape measure aligned at the left edge of the piece measures how high these legs have climbed off the ground.

Similar elements are contained in other work. “Flood” seems to depict two separate realities, neither of which feel quite real. A cutout face dangles from the swirling, layered, polka dot ceiling of the sky. Below the water line sits a majestic manicured mansion that's incorporated into the bottom floor of a larger clapboard house with three windows.

The two lowest of these windows are shuttered, perhaps to shut out the rising water. The third and highest window is wide open and filled with stars. It's a pleasing image that seems to suggest that even in the midst of absolute disaster, the possibility of hope and beauty can survive unscathed.

In “Chickadee,” a little black and white bird is perched on the roof of another weathered clapboard house. A woman's nose, lips and breasts make up the middle floors of the structure. A giant blue egg fills up most of the open entrance, and a tiny sign reading “God Bless Our Home” hangs over the door. In this as in other work in the show, Sbarge connects free birds to happy, surreal homes, exploring the counterintuitive idea that you can succumb to domestication yet still somehow remain uncaged.

The Papergami exhibit is accompanied by a surprisingly readable chapbook of poems by Sbarge and a few of her friends. Like Sbarge's art, many of these poems are also filled with birds, and several examples of this literary poetry succeed in enhancing the visual poetry hanging on the walls.

Many of Sbarge's images contain bits of maps and tape measures, or grids reminiscent of latitude and longitude lines. These additions heighten the feeling that you're traveling to an alternate world. This trip might do you some good. A visit to Sbargeland is like going on a long strange journey that leads straight back home.

Exhibits featuring work by Suzanne Sbarge run through June 30 at Papergami (114 Tulane SE, 255-2228) and

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