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'Deep End,' new work by Sonya Berg at Champion

Tricks of scale, and style, make for intrigue in new paintings and drawings

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
'Lip' by Sonya Berg

Pools are cool: They're little bits of nature harnessed when filled, that is to offer us respite from the heat.

Empty, pools seem to sigh in their dormancy.

With ‘Deep End,' her solo exhibit of paintings and drawings now at Champion, Sonya Berg takes us on a captivating visual ride through the overlooked landscape of off-season, empty pools.

Earlier this year, Berg, who finished an MFA at the University of Texas in May and now teaches at St. Edward's University, toured Austin's many municipal pools (and a few others) when they were closed and bereft of water and people. Berg took photographs and used the photos as the source for her drawings and paintings, more than 30 of which are on exhibit.

That use of photographs is important. Berg exploits — and celebrates — the kind of flatness and foreshortening the camera can capture. Ditto with odd cropping and tilted perspectives: Berg presents us with urban poolscapes that deliberately bear photographic and even cinematic qualities.

We see these empty pools mostly from the shallow end looking toward the deep. Lane lines zoom out, ending in crosses on the far walls. Overhead, grey wintry skies flatten the lights. Or else, in inside pools, windows seem opaque.

There's nothing realistic, though, about the way these scenes are rendered.

With powdered printer toner, Berg smudges shadows on walls or stands of trees into dark black patches; sometimes they seem to bleed out of the frame. With a graphite pencil, architectural details in some places are rendered precisely. In other areas, lines modulate and even skitter away. In some works (Berg's are either graphite pencil on paper or oil paint with graphite pencil and powdered toner on paper), the smears of white oil paint that make for skies or pool bottoms have a subtle motion to them.

Punctuating the parade of Berg's pictures of pools are several pictures of waterfalls. For all the vigorous energy of the charging water, these waterfalls are as desolate and bleak as the defunct pools. Abandonment entraps both situations, man-made or natural.

For all their moody foreboding, Berg's pictures resist being merely impressionistic. That's because she so smartly plays with scale.

Though more than 20 of works on display are intimate, even tiny in size, half a dozen or so are huge – some 12 by four feet. And scenes mirror each other — an abandoned stretch of pool rendered huge almost looks the same as one pictured in near-postcard size.

It's not the same image, but by throwing us similar scenes in vastly different sizes Berg asks us to look, and then look again.

Cool.

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

‘Deep End: New Work by Sonya Berg'

When: through Nov. 27

Where:Champion, 800 Brazos St.

Cost:Free

Info:354-1035, www.championcontemporary.com

Artist's talk: 7 p.m. Nov. 11