Patient pooches,epitomized

The two dogs in Anna Pugh's painting "Open House" are faintly heraldic. But they are not so much rampant or couchant as expectant.

These canine sentinels might be seen as domesticated versions of the mythical beasts that stand guard at the entrances to mansions and palaces. Or to ancient, sacred tombs, for that matter. Yet they are not symbolically forbidding. Their convincing presence comes out of an imagination clearly belonging to a dog-lover. They just do what real dogs patiently do: wait, quite still, staring, willing the arrival of friend or family. At the habitual moment they will burst into life, an irrepressible welcoming committee.

Behind them is an open gate and a warm path to a front door open to visitors and sunlight. This is not, the artist says, a specific dwelling, but simply "a friendly house - somewhere to go." Solid and symmetrical, its windows flung wide, curtains fluttering out, and - downstairs - an inhabitant glimpsed, flicking a cloth out over a table.

This English painter has been labeled a folk artist. This hardly does her work justice. She emphasizes, though, that every picture is a "battle," a making and unmaking until balances of pattern, color, and design arrive. She attributes this struggle to a lack of training in painting. Yet she did train as a graphic designer, and draws elegantly.

A substantive roughness is apparent in her paintings - an underlying tension between precision and the "accidents" that build as she works and reworks. The surface of her paintings is unexpectedly tactile, not at all thin or dried out. And a love of minute details, realized with exhaustive affection, subserves a quite earthy boldness.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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