Chicago artist Deb Sokolow’s “Drawings and Stories” opens in Wriston

Peter Boyle

(Courtesy of Deb Sokolow )

Keen-eyed students who work or study in the Wriston Art Center have probably noticed that no gallery guard has been on duty and that the galleries themselves have been shuttered for the past two weeks.

The three previous installations — Chris McGeorge ‘10’s curatory project, “A Roman Retrospective,” ceramic artist Karen Gunderman’s “Beneath the Surface” and senior Jordan Severson’s examination of Björklunden’s primary artist in the Kohler Gallery, “Gathering Perspective: A Look at Winifred Boynton,” which all went up during first week — will be coming down, and three new exhibits are taking their place, effective today.

The two smaller galleries will house staff-curated exhibitions from the university’s permanent collection. The intriguing new installation, however, is the Kohler Gallery exhibit, “Deb Sokolow: Drawings and Stories.” The exhibit, on loan from the artist, will consist of three large, multi-faceted works.

It’s difficult to describe Sokolow’s art in tidy art-historical terms. She works in mixed media, but those words usually conjure something specific in an art lover’s mind, like a piece by Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns — invariably something involving lots of paint on a piece of disused furniture. Sokolow’s style instead co-opts the maddening flow of tangential factoids that one may find enveloping the walls of a conspiracy theorist’s apartment.

“Secrets and Lies and More Lies,” one of the pieces in the exhibition, makes odd leap after odd leap, darting from an office confrontation to an investigative jaunt in a famous haunted mansion in San Francisco. All of the text is written in the second person, and notebook-style white-outs, jottings, brief sketches and oil paintings fill out the narrative.

The piece is all crafted on sheets of paper of various sizes and shapes, pinned to the wall in precarious order. Small strips of paper link the larger clusters together, and in a site-specific variation, will bridge the work’s leap across a corner of the Kohler gallery.

It seems goofy at first, and another one of the works, “Understanding Scarface,” will certainly have the more cinematically minded viewers in chuckles. An annotated description of an experience with that film, written again in second person and augmented with illustrations of Fidel Castro, Oliver North and Nancy Drew, apparently inscribes the inner monologue of a slightly paranoid Gen-Y slacker on a dark night in.

The artist provides nearly zero biographical information on her website, but it’s easy to imagine that Sokolow speaks about her life through her art. Most of us dismiss our more free-associative ideas, yet the aim of “Drawings and Stories” may very well be to document those channels of impertinent thought. By elevating these “ramblings” to the status of art, she highlights the real paranoid anxieties motivating the sillier notions.

It also comes across as very personal work, rooted in experience. What are you thinking, for example, when you’re in the checkout line at Barnes and Noble with an armful of books about detective work? Why did the local diner shut down? How is it that you still have yet to sit down and watch “Scarface,” anyway? Sokolow’s work captures the essence of these moments precisely in the details, the situations coming to life in minute penciled annotations.

The artist will be speaking in the Wriston Auditorium 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, and there will be an opening reception afterward.