Vera Sprunt: the Sound
by Mokha Laget for THE magazine, Santa Fe's Monthly magazine of the Arts
In the flicker and snap of mass-media imagery, Vera Sprunt’s sensual underwater photography could well emerge as seductive advertising imagery for swimming pools or swimsuit lines, a photo shoot in a remote island location, a homage to sensuality and hedonism. Yet the art here offers no soft or hard sell on beauty and luxury, the tableaux convey no particular comment on our visible or intangible world, they do not inform us about the identity of the female protagonist, her relationship to her environment, the geographical context, or the reason for which she bathes submerged in bouquets of fresh multihued flowers. No, this is a page torn from a quiescent dream book, a weightless, soundless episode where the rays of the sun filter through to a dappled world. The recurring female figure whose face is hidden by long seaweed-like hair becomes at once the child floating in the womb, untouched by the concrete world above, and the enticing mermaid reveling in a limpid turquoise fantasy. We are given parsed elements, part of the story, a tale of anonymity--a visual meditation circling back on itself.
If Sprunt’s earlier work proved more tentative and theatrically staged, this series shows her asserting her conceptual and aesthetic cogency. Metaphorically rich, the aquatic subterfuge allude to messages submersed in impenetrable depths, to shielding oneself from sounds and voices; there is no lack of contextual pegs to hang this social subtext on. Visually, Sprunt teases the eye in multiple twists, by shooting above and below the water’s surface, twining elements from both worlds; it is a place between air and water, where the life breath hangs in the balance. But it is Sprunt’s attention to the patterning created by disturbed waters and the refractive quality of wavelets that sets up another duality between light and shadow, one that serves as the basis for the artist’s hand-painted overlays. From a distance the colors seem surreal, with soothing mauves, bursting yellows, and tart reds, until the viewer realizes that the artist’s meticulous application of a gouache over shadow patterns has created crisp iridescent puddles in myriad tones. By thickly over painting her prints, Sprunt shifts gears from the silver process to a hybrid form of painted photo-images. Undeniably appealing, these works function best when Sprunt straddles the abstract/figurative edge, when certain parts of the body appear, then vanish, when flower stems become large-scale oriental calligraphy--as in Masonboro Sound—and when identification of all the component parts of the image remains a source of puzzlement. Sprunt’s painting technique may add a layer of interest to the print’s surface, but her imagery is strong enough to stand alone and carry the work without this decorative, at times fussy, adjunct. By and large, Sprunt’s work can be appreciated for its lack of irony, its forthright slices of imagination, and for gracing the viewer with lovely eye candy.