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Intricate collages, ceramic faces, delicate books that house intimate portraits of unfamiliar people, and a homage to artist Nellie Mae Rowe: All of these can be found in Mario Petrirena’s deeply layered solo exhibit, this, that, and the other, at Sandler Hudson Gallery through December 11. An artist talk is scheduled for November 20 at 2 p.m.

The selection of these works and the way they are arranged carries many stories from across a multitude of cultures and time periods. While seeming on one level to be historical or classical, they don’t feel antiquated. Quite the opposite. The whole world, and the present time, are considered in these works.

Some of the most striking and poignant works are the ceramic pieces. For example, “trust your hopes not your fears,” is imbued with sentiments of hope and resilience. The work’s exterior reflects a cold, hard, glossy facade but inside it’s filled with a repeated, handwritten mantra — the words of the title — overlaid on a background of flowers and butterflies.

Mario Petrirena

The hands in Petrirena’s work are, in part, a homage to the artist Nellie Mae Rowe.

“at the root” presents with another clay vessel, although this one is raw, unglazed, ruptured and spills out its contents of cast clay faces that are molded from figures of Catholic saints. It sits low on a pedestal next to “patriotic dissent,” a standing collage that includes American flags, slave auction photos and a photo of George Floyd.

The idea of how we collectively process the lives of others, and the fragility of life itself, seems to connect the two pieces. Despite the intensity of Petrirena’s materials and imagery, there is a tenderness that runs through his work, a reminder to preserve our humanity even in moments of despair.

Petrirena’s collages, in both their two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms, lend themselves to deeper study than the ceramic works because they are riddled with imagery. The whole world seems to be reflected here, scrunched up, and buried upon itself in layers and layers of visual information from across the globe and across time.

The result is a rich oeuvre that covers several eras. Petrirena takes us for a spin, pairing Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” with ancient Egyptian sarcophagi. An image of Mahatma Gandhi is superimposed with Michelangelo’s David along with excerpts from what look like medical texts and fashion advertisements. As eyes and ancient vessels stare out from these crumpled forms, they invite the viewer to see what lies beneath.

In the two-dimensional collages, the silhouette of a hand is repeated. It’s Petrirena’s homage to Nellie Mae Rowe, who used that image in many of her works. Petrirena’s hands are intricately woven through strata of eclectic pictures. They are cut out and embossed, conjuring visions of a mano poderosa (the Roman Catholic image of the right hand of God) beyond the Christian canon.

“the harvest of all years” is a delicate book resting in a ceramic vessel. It is just asking to be flipped through, as it bursts open with its collection of photos. They seem to be once-precious mementos that have been lost over time but not forgotten; they straddle the line between recognizable and completely foreign. Petrirena channels the energy of what once was dear or intimately familiar.

Mario Petrirena

A clay vessel contains a book of photographs that were perhaps once-precious mementos of family or friends.

Another book, “manos y manos,” presents hands captured in a variety of gestures and poses. Scarred hands that speak to us of labor and work repose alongside hands clasped in prayer. Other gestures express different qualities and emotions. How these hands repeat and are worked out gives the work a humble but hallowed sensibility. Each piece throughout the show, no matter the medium, is an obsessive collection shared, reminding the viewer how people exist and persevere in their lives, alternating between hope and loss.

In this exhibit, Petrirena takes us on a journey that cycles through both the universal and an unfamiliar intimacy. His choice of materials evokes a sense of timelessness, or at the very least a feeling that we are being brought into the present acutely aware of the history that has led us here. The viewer is left with anticipation of what’s next. In spite of all our histories, all the information we have gathered over time, we have the opportunity to live in the moment, where hope resides.

Sandler Hudson Gallery encourages social distancing. Masks are suggested but not mandated and are available for visitors.

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