I left to see Rosa Ibarra’s show at the Smith College Museum on the most miserable fall day – dark, cold, rainy. Walking into that room was like walking into sunlight.

Ibarra, a native Puerto Rican who now resides in Massachusetts, exhibits paintings that are made of swirling layers of oil paint in mostly golden yellows, greens, oranges. This palette seems as natural to her as…a sunny day (in some other part of the world!). Her thick pointillist impasto technique is quite effective, giving the work an energy that plays against a decorative graphic quality. Beach glass or other elements are used to give heft to a two-dimensional shape, or to flatten the background. For example, in the painting that gives the show its title, a diptych with a woman holding an umbrella, the umbrella is rendered entirely with green and black beach glass.

Her mixed media pictures, such as “After The Rain”, or “Dancing Women” are composed of paper, often stretched over a wood grid, wood, glass and oil paint on canvas. She uses the non-paint materials with restraint and respect, though also rather conservatively.

Although fairly modest in size – most pieces in the show are between two and four feet high — Ibarra’s images possess a monumentality. They remind me of Byzantine mosaics, or altar pieces. The full-frontal portraits, especially, command attention. Her women look out at the viewer with great presence, as if saying, “I have nothing to hide”. Bodies are full, you feel the weight of them, as in Orozco or Diego Rivera. But they are not weighed down.

Ibarra has a particular feel for children. She is able to capture their innocence without being treacly. The girl (with her mother?) in the painting, “Eva” stares out at us with openness and honesty. Likewise in “Boy With Pigeon”, the boy’s large hands so gently but firmly holding his prize. They, and all the beings that people Ibarra’s paintings seems to glow from within.

When I left, it was still raining – but I no longer cared.

Art New England