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Refinement through the ages

Talent, timing and inventiveness: Max Ernst possessed all three. His son, Jimmy, could claim only the first two.

No matter. Jimmy Ernst was a sensitive painter who painted beautifully. He could submerge enigma within his seemingly decorative paintings, now in a significant retrospective at the Tampa Museum of Art.

Ernst the father was a prime innovator of the Surrealist and Dada movements in Europe, seizing the moment when art was being redefined and molding it anew. Jimmy Ernst immigrated to the United States where he became linked with the Abstract Expressionists, which he infused with a sense of surrealism.

He was born Hans-Ulrich Ernst in Cologne, Germany in 1920 and came to the United States at age 18, two years ahead of Max. His mother, an artist and writer long divorced from his father, stayed behind and perished in the Holocaust.

The works are arranged chronologically so that the viewer can follow the artist's progression. The Wake, 1947, suggests a narrative: two shapes, abstract yet suggestive of figures, face an enclosed form while a linear and geometric figure suggestive of a woman is centered in the distance. His mother's gruesome death had its impact.

More often his work gives a suggestion of space with a feeling of emptiness, as does Painting with a Secret Title, 1957. It is filled with sticks that suggest a chaos of barriers. A small red area would represent a fire or glow if it were not in such cool and formalistic terms.

The work has a web of lines, a design element repeated often. It strengthens the dominant structure of the composition, as would a visual left hand accompaniment to a piano melody.

The patterning suggests a deeper, hidden meaning. Max Ernst and other surrealists developed techniques such as decalcomania and frottage to give a random, automatic patterning to his work. Jimmy Ernst refined the pattern.

In Chronicle (1964) Ernst creates an interior space, removed from a red light outside. Red is the warmest of colors, but it also symbolizes things to avoid: Hot. Stop.

And then there are the bird wings, the feathering effect that covers the compositions of most of his later paintings. One work, Icarus, refers to a legend that must have had profound meaning for him. Icarus was the son of Daedalus who made for both of them sets of wings so they could fly. But Icarus flew too close to the sun, causing the wax fastening the wings together to melt, and he crashed to his death.

Before It Is Too Late (1976) sets up an interaction between the organic and the geometric, yet perhaps there is meaning in this coolly linear composition invaded by a burst of feathers.

The last work in the chronology is Winter Solstice Zuni (1982-83), which depicts 10 kachina dolls in ritual dress. Ernst visited Hopi and Navajo reservations soon after his arrival in the United States. The painting, one of several referring to kachinas, can exist simply as a stunning decorative piece _ until one realizes that the dolls represent the Kachina, regarded as a medium between the living and the spirits of the dead.

Ernst died suddenly in 1984 while promoting his book, A Not-So-Still Life.

The show comes to the Tampa Museum of Art through the request of Dallas Ernst, Jimmy Ernst's widow, who maintains a home near Sarasota, and was more than two years in the planning. Ernst's children, Eric and Amy, are professional artists who have exhibited in the Sarasota area. Many of the works on display belong to the Rimrock Foundation, which also provided funding for advertisements in ArtNews, Art in America and the New York Times.


What: "Trials of Silence: Jimmy Ernst, Works 1942-1983."

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 13.

Where: Tampa Museum of Art, 600 North Ashley Drive, Tampa

Cost: Adults $3.50; seniors $3; students with ID $2.50; children 6-18 $2. Free 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays.

Catalog: $12.50 in Museum Store.

Etc: Sponsored by GTE.

Call: Call 274-8130 (Tampa).

Also on temporary display:

_"Abraham Rattner: Biblical Themes" through Oct. 30, with focal point program, Oct. 18, noon, included with paid admission.

_"History/Mystery: The Photographs of Jerry Uelsmann, 1957-1993" through Oct. 30 (reviewed Oct. 7.)

Up next:Still life