The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, November 19, 2010, Arts

'Deep End: New Works by Sonya Berg'

Champion Gallery, 800 Brazos, 354-1035,

Through Nov. 27

There are more empty swimming pools in the Champion Gallery than in an entire volume of The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard.

But wait: We speak of swimming pools only figuratively, although the pools created by artist Sonya Berg – created in oil, gouache, graphite, and toner transfer on paper affixed to small panels – are devoid of figurative painting, as empty of humans as of the water that fills those humans and, chemically altered, those pools.

These tiny panels spark the walls of the austere new gallery Downtown, jumping squares of complicated color into a viewer's eye, providing relief from the possibility of having gone, eerily, snow-blind in the midst of all the whiteness. Perhaps it's the winter chill, closing in even here in Texas, that prompts such thoughts; perhaps it's the subliminal knowledge that it's eerily wrong for all those pools to be so empty at the same time, unless they're shut down for the imminently freezing season.

Or perhaps it's the other artworks in the rooms. The big artworks, as big as the empty-pool scenes are small, are rendered in nothing but expressively applied graphite on vast swaths of paper, depicting landscapes as seen from above or beyond: entire vistas in monochrome against the blankness, actively expansive, it seems, in one's field of sight. Scenes of rivers, of swirling rapids, or, most often, of the tumult and magnificence of immense waterfalls are seen from a falcon's perspective. Merely – merely! – practiced graphite on formerly pristine paper shrinks gallery visitors to somewhat less than life-size in life's eyes.

These are compelling works – the large and the little – that will reward the eyes' attention, that will scare the hell out of any wallet constrained by a journalist's budget, that are a welcome respite from the polychrome parade of citizens and all their urban noise and violence just beyond the gallery's walls.

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