Embracing Color

For years, Catherine Angel had been dancing salsa, but one look at the movie “Tango,” and the artist was hooked.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I want to dance like that,’ ” says Angel, a professor of art at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

She took a year of lessons in Las Vegas, then journeyed to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the real tango exists.

“Argentine tango is nothing like ballroom tango or the kind you see on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ ” Angel says. “It shows the beauty between two people. It’s very masculine-feminine. You have to pay attention to what’s going on, to be in the moment. It’s not an easy dance. For people who dance the tango, it can become a way of life.”

Angel was so taken with the dance that, after two trips to Buenos Aires and with the urging of a friend, she began photographing it. The results can be seen in her exhibit, “The Embrace of Tango: Recent Photographs by Catherine Angel,” on view through Aug. 17 in the Jessie Metcalf Gallery, located on the second floor of the Richard Tam Alumni Center at UNLV.

What captured her interest was the dance’s transparency. “You really feel who the person is,” she says. “If the person is hiding, you can feel it. It’s like there’s a wall there.”

The dance often is misunderstood, the artist says. “It’s sensual and intimate, but very respectful.

“This is much different work than what she’s known for,” says Jerry Schefcik, director of the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery and the Jessie Metcalf Gallery. “Black and white is what her reputation is built on.”

Angel, who earned a master’s degree in photography from Indiana University in 1988 and a bachelor’s degree in photography and drawing from the University of Oklahoma in 1985, usually works with a large format camera in black and white and in mixed media collage. Even the mixed media works that used color featured only black and white photos.

At first, Angel photographed the Argentine tango in black and white, but found it looked “too nostalgic, too old-fashioned.”

She also took some digital photos in color and found the dance came alive. “It needed the color,” Angel says. “And you have more control (of the image) with digital.”

She learned to use Photoshop software to manipulate the images. “This is the first body of work I’ve done in color. I darkened the images and color-shifted them to create the mood I’m looking for. They’re not documentary photos. I’m showing what I’m feeling about tango.”

Angel still goes to local tango dances, and she plans to travel to Buenos Aires with her three teenage daughters next month. “I think they think it’s pretty cool that I have interests of my own,” Angel says of her children, but they don’t dance the tango. The trip will be a learning experience for them.

For Angel, the dance is a part of her life. “It’s important to live fully and completely and alive,” she says. “As an artist I have that built-in permission.”

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