In Mary Lou Zelazny’s painting The Slumber Party, four middle-aged women with collages of magazine clips for faces ogle themselves in mirrors, play cards, and booze it up in a tiny bedroom spilling with lipstick, bangles, cat pictures, and diet pills.

“I was looking for very cryptic kinds of images that don’t seem to make a lot of literal sense,” says Zelazny. “It has to do with the slumber party idea and also the initiation into the world of beauty products, how kind of crazy and wonderful and nightmarish the whole thing is.”

A particularly female experience, the slumber scene refers to rites of passage that endure throughout a woman’s lifetime. “We all know women who are really into makeup who can put on a full face at a stoplight,” Zelazny says. “That’s fascinating to me, that whole training ground, and adapting to it as you grow older. . . . It’s really silly and absurd and yet it’s very serious. There are all kinds of beauty issues, whether it’s bad skin or thin hair or sagging cellulite. And fighting the aging process. As a woman grows older, how do you deal with your changing face, with still fulfilling the promise of beauty?”

The search for human identity is among the many universal topics Zelazny addresses in her current show, “Living With Memorabilia.” The show deals, she says, with the issue of being a painter who views the world from a woman’s point of view while striving in the manner of the male masters to make grand historical statements.

At the Follies was inspired by Edward Hopper’s painting of a stripper as the tiny and vulnerable object of an audience’s ravenous attention. Zelazny empowers the figure by painting her from behind onstage, making her larger than life. Bathed in the gauzy white glow of a spotlight, the woman raises a veil in which Zelazny has pasted photographic images of the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, planes, trains, and hot air balloons in order to symbolically transport the audience to fantastic, faraway states of mind.

Zelazny reveals her appreciation for the painters Velazquez and Goya in La Puntura, which features a young woman in a huge and uncomfortable wedding gown. “This is one of the last great visual rituals that women put themselves through in the 20th century–putting on an outfit that is alien to your everyday existence.” Into the stiff skirt Zelazny has woven photographs and paintings of insects, reptiles, and other creatures, references to the natural world. “Human activity is important,” she says, “but it is on a much smaller scale than the larger issues of life and death. The power of nature, of the elements, goes on and on.”

Zelazny’s show will be on view at Roy Boyd Gallery, 739 N. Wells (642-1606), through March 31. The gallery is open 10 to 5:30 Monday through Saturday.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.