Playing With Fire: Paintings and Drawings by Heidi Taillefer, currently on view at Michael Berger Gallery, is not to be missed. Taillefer was introduced to Pittsburgh audiences last year, in MBG's East Meets West group exhibition. This year's offering is a stunning representation of an artist whose skill is matched only by her imagination.
The Montreal-based Taillefer envisions mermaids, goddesses, cherubim, plants and animals distorted by the disruption of one organic structure by another, or the organic supplanted by the mechanical. A sea nymph whose torso boasts a ship's wheel, rope and anchor exhibits a mass of writhing, shimmery eels where we would expect a tail ("Silence Is Golden"); limbs of syringe-wielding cupids are dislocated by cogs and gears ("Sovereign Side"); body parts are multiplied and pop up in strange places.
Each creation is portrayed in the act of mutation. Flesh gives way to metal, fire births birds, snakes breathe smoke transforming into jellyfish, and nothing is or ever will be still. Skin drips off bone reborn as snails, silk bleeds into water, and the revolution is perpetual. The impression is that even what seems inalterable will eventually mutate; while fish and eyeballs appear trapped within glass orbs, it's clear that boundaries are temporary.
Taillefer's beings don't appear threatened by the conversions that besiege them; on the contrary, they feed upon and are fueled by them. And each of the female forms invented is imbued with her own power, whether clearly visible, as with a skull-helmeted Amazon, or of a subtler strain. For the latter, see "Try as They Might." A nude maiden has her back turned to the approaching Minotaur who fuses not only man and bull but machine as well ... yet even so, we're pretty sure that he's the one who's actually in peril.
Her apparitions will take your breath away simply based upon the innovation required, but the ingenuity plumbed here is only the beginning. What takes things even further is that these fantastical creatures are rendered with hyperrealistic precision; were this same clarity applied toward factual subjects, her paintings could easily be mistaken for photographs. As you gaze upon a cloven-hoofed, prone divinity who's interrupted her hookah recreation to gaze right back, her stare is so immediate and candid it's unsettling; the surety that she's about to speak or move might set you back a step. Taillefer will make your jaw drop.
In addition to the works on view in the gallery space, also on exhibit is the Infiniti G37 Coupe "Ligozzi," a sports car handpainted by Taillefer to commemorate the model's 20th anniversary, as well as the 25th anniversary of Cirque du Soleil. (Taillefer, who's also a commercial illustrator, has done work for both outfits.) The one side of the car that can be viewed is glorious, but it would be helpful to be able to walk around the vehicle in order to see the entire thing.
No matter. While the Infiniti is a lovely curiosity, it's the paintings that enrapture to the extent that they may compel viewers, immediately upon exiting the gallery, to send a message to all friends that they have to come and see this show. They did for this one.
Playing With Fire: Paintings and Drawings by Heidi Taillefer continues through Dec. 18. Michael Berger Gallery, 30 S. Sixth St., South Side. 412-441-4282 or www.michaelbergergallery.com