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Pluhar goes beneath the surface to find deeper answers


Ann Wood, October 13, 2005

By Ann Wood     Provinctown Banner Oct. 13, 2005
Painter Andrea Pluhar stands in the red room at the Cape Cod Museum of Art. She’s looking at the longest painting hanging in the room, called “Angels and Devils,” which also happens to be the title of her show. In it, six nude figures contemplate, talk, reach – while evil but endearing monsters show their teeth, growling up at them. Pluhar says that her paintings are influenced by what she reads.
This makes sense. Her grandfather, Norman Matson, was a ghost story writer, and her grandmother Anna Hamburger (whose second husband was New Yorker writer Philip Hamburger), was a painter. So when the twin towers were struck down during the 9/11 attacks, Pluhar didn’t paint what most others did. She has no images of people flocking the scene, bodies on the street, the buildings as rumble, or anything like that. She didn’t rush to the city, where she spent much of her childhood, to capture those images. Rather, Pluhar joined a study group and read the Koran. Her work – oil paintings of monsters and devils and angels and torture – come from that.“ It was sort of a political statement because I was getting the feeling back then, not so much anymore, [that people didn’t understand what was going on]. It’s complicated the way Europe is complicated, but different,” she says. “What I paint tends to be really influenced by what I read.”
The Wellfleet resident’s “Angles and Devils” exhibition, which first showed in New York City in 2003, and is now showing at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, 60 Hope Lane, Dennis. It runs through Oct. 30. Locally she is represented by Kendall Gallery in WellfleetWhen the terror attacks struck, Pluhar felt “a gaping ignorance” about the Middle East and our own government’s affect on the region. She began by reading early Arab history and became most interested in the emergence of Islam. She says her mother was an amateur theologian who raised her in the Catholic church, and her childhood was steeped in its history and religious discussion. Pluhar calls the Koran beautiful and “poetic” and found it interesting that many of the stories were very familiar (such as the chapter devoted to Mary, Jesus’s mother), although some were bizarre (such as, perhaps, the weighing in of the wicked and the good).
“ The paintings in this show reflect my thoughts and my state of mind while I studied and I read,” she writes in her artist’s statement, but points to an oil painting entitled “Fadime.”
“ It totally freaked me out,” she says of the story that affected that work. It was about an honor killing that took place in Sweden. So many people have asked her about the painting – a dark work in which a angry eyes peer from behind black garbs, figures pressing down on a dead women’s body, the head of whom is being held by her sister, the only one who loves her, as blood drains from her mouth– that she has the New York Times story hanging next to it. Every piece in the show is dark – her work, even beyond this show, is described as “psychological.” (She’s currently influenced by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” painting figures that are both creepy and compelling.)Pluhar was born in Boston and raised in New York City. Her grandparents bought a home in Wellfleet in the early 1930s, where Pluhar spent many of her childhood summers. She attended Vassar in 1978 and studied the classics while taking classes at the Arts Students League in New York City. She says that Vassar wasn’t the place for her so she left it and, in 1981, received a bachelor degree from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There she really wanted to study figurative painting, but says that in the early 1980’s abstract expressionism was all the rage. Although her formal schooling ended decades ago, she continues to study. Pluhar borrowed a skeleton from the Wellfleet Fire Dept. so that she could learn to draw anatomically for control, which would allow her the ability to properly distort it.
Pluhar paints primarily in oil because she likes its transparency and the way it moves. (She used to work in pastel but it makes her nose bleed, she sometimes still uses watercolors.) She calls herself a physical action painter.“ The whole thing is sensual, tactile, how it feels,” she says of oil. “You feel like you’re in there in three dimensions.” And if those dimensions are unsettling, all the better. The “Angels and Devils” painting, she says, can be considered an epilogue.