55th annual Delta Exhibition
The gentleman who guards the galleries at the Arkansas Arts Center gets to see a lot of art, and so he knows whereof he speaks when he notes that there are lots of familiar names in the Delta Exhibition this year: The Grand Award winner, for example, is Mark Lewis, who in 2012 won the Contemporaries Delta Award. Both of the Oklahoma City artist's winners are graphite and paper collages titled "Peoria Avenue" (No. 5 in 2012, No. 7 in 2013).
The other award winners, however, are new to the Delta, my (digital) records tell me, and welcome additions they are. Arkansas artists Neal Harrington of Russellville and Rex Deloney of Little Rock are represented by super work: Harrington won a Delta Award for his "Snake Shaker's Shack" woodcut of snake handlers dancing around a woodstove, hooch in the back pocket of the man and R Crumb lurking (virtually) in the shadows; Deloney won an honorable mention for his commanding "Self Portrait/The Artist as Teacher," painted in a palette of rich blues, reds and purples. William Killebrew of Nashville won the other Delta Award for his Fairfield Porter-under-water "Sun Porch," and Brandice Guerra of Skokie, Ill., won an honorable mention for "Neonate," a small oil on panel rendered in exquisitely fine strokes of a male and female bluebird standing guard over a tiny human infant. Guerra's second entry, of a two-headed cow and a tornado in the distance, is also superbly wrought.
The guard, Bob Thornton, also astutely observed that while some artists have been chosen repeatedly, it's been by different jurors every time, which says something about the appeal of their work. It's not a Delta without paintings by Dennis McCann; his son, Jason McCann, has also racked up a number of Delta appearances (five if I'm counting right). Work by photographers Kat Wilson and Steven Jones, painters Liz Noble and Joey Borovicka and sculptor Niles Wallace may also be familiar to Delta faithfuls.
About Wallace: The Memphis artist won an honorable mention in 2005 and should have gotten some kind of mention this year for "New Normal," his long black table groaning under the weight of what appear to be dozens of cut glass bowls and wine glasses and vases but which in fact are plastic reproductions. The plastic pieces, some misshapen, catch the light and bounce it in all directions. (A commenter on a previous post here on the Delta complained about the lack of sculpture in the exhibit. It could be that few sculptors were among the 800 entries juror Monica Bowman viewed before she selected the 45 works from 34 artists for the show, though that's unlikely. At any rate, besides Wallace's piece, there are a couple of nice small works on pedestals by Marianne Munro of Hot Springs, one a composition in found metal and the other three-dimensional rectangular wood, and an installation by Louis Watts.)
While we're on Delta works that should have won something, Steven Jones' "Red, White and Blue" is an absorbing photograph of three children on the State Fair midway: an indifferent boy with two girls, one with a teen-aged come-hither look and the other with a practicing-come-hither look. Behind them, the lights of the Himalayan ride sparkle red against a black sky; the boy, who is black, carries a blue balloon. Very American, indeed.
Add Catherine Rodgers' "My Summer Vacation," a large painting in various shades of gray of misty bathers in lake backed by textured mountains, to the list as well. Her painting has got a 19th century impressionist spin. I was kind of fascinated by Springfield, Mo., artist Joey Borovicka's "The Scientist," a weird scene of a shed/laboratory stocked with wood and batteries and a figure draped in a sheet with hairy hands and hooves, and much impressed by Herbert Reith's 120-inch by 140-inch stitched and painted fabric piece, "Marsyas and Apollo." Something should also be said about Tad Laurentzen Wright's wall of scribbles and paintings, "Smile Heavy Sessions," comical paintings of smiling creatures placed on a wall covered in pages of sketches.
Though who am I to criticize? I have to say two things. One, why use two canvases when one will do? Liz Noble's separated her figure's fantastically painted head from its body on a second canvas in "Sunday Morning." Why? Also: Why draw a line around your paintings when the edge of the canvas itself creates the border? This is a Southernism that Jason McCann has used in both his paintings in the Delta, "Waterpark No. 1" and "Red Escape." Dare to go to the edge!
There's a lot to see in this 55th annual Delta. It runs through March 10 in the Winthrop Rockefeller Gallery.
The exhibition is supported by the Andre Simon Memorial Trust in memory of all who have died of AIDS.
The first hint I got that the Arts Center's 38th "Toys Designed by Artists" exhibit was a notch more mature this year was the fact that so many toys were protected behind plexiglas. There was no guard with white gloves stationed in the gallery to turn cranks and pull knobs and so forth, as in yesteryear.
My feelings were confirmed finally when I got to a case that contained small toys in silver, gold and copper, where I spied Miriam Saavedra's clever "Playing With Myself (Dexterity Puzzle Ring)," a ring set with labial folds and a little ball that you could make roll into an indentation where a clitoris would be. I could be wrong, but I don't remember the toy show having fun with vaginas before.
There is also a toy-turned-political-symbol, Joe Casey Doyle's "A Gay Boy Wished," which features the back half of a "My Little Pony" affixed to the wall with a long tail of pastel ribbons.
It's all fine of course — the show is toys designed by artists, after all. It's included several sardonic pieces in the past, including one I bought: A wooden crank toy in which a woman nods yes to a man nodding no, named "The Honeymoon's Over." A little anniversary gift it was. And there was the army tank made of concertina wire and razor blades, and the dead rat pull toy, wheeled feet in air, made of walnut. It's just a little wide of the traditional mark.
There was one toy that gallery-goers can play with: Elizabeth Barenis' "Freebird," a musical toy that when cranked plays "The Shadow of Your Smile" while a turning wooden object, lit by a small spotlight, casts a shadow of a flapping bird. I would also have liked to play with Kevin Zust's "Brass Rolling Ball Sculpture" to see if the balls really made loop-de-loops on their way to the bottom of the sculpture. And I would like to see if the little coffee cup atop a coffee can ("Wowzers!" by Gary Schott) would spill.
Rachel Trusty's "The Flock," first exhibited at the University of Central Arkansas, little wailing faces on stuffed cotton heads set on duck feet, is somehow wonderful. My favorite works in the show: Wendy Malinow's "Dirty Root Rattle," a polymer carrot/parsnip-type root with multiple eyes and teeth, and Douglas McKee's nearly 4-foot-long "Octopus Skateboard," which is actually a great idea for a toy.
The show this year is in the permanent collection gallery, but it doesn't quite live up to the honor, in my view. There is nothing exquisite in the show, as there has been in the past, though there are finely made things, like Bill Price's .38 Caliber Drake (a decoy with a pistol head, much like his 2010 entry, "Sheriff Rubber Ducky"), Chang Gon Jung's dragon "Pendant for Hoiw," and Dongwong Lee's "Chimpalloon," a silver chimp blowing a silicon balloon.
I love the story of Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, the New York art collectors who lived on his post office salary so they could spend her librarian salary on contemporary art. But it was with some trepidation that I went to the Arkansas Arts Center’s new show, “50 for Arkansas,” fifty works from the Vogels’ collection donated to the Arts Center, because I thought it would be dominated by minimalist art. Ditto with the Smithsonian exhibit “Multiplicity,” which has been properly paired with the Vogel collection.
To this reviewer’s eye, there’s good minimalist art and there’s dated minimalist art, and there were both varieties in the show. Call me a philistine (I can hear you already!), but Brice Marden’s lithographs on paper in the “Multiplicity” exhibition — at least the ones in this particular exhibition — haven’t worn well. That might be because these fat brushstrokes and thin lines against flat stripes of white or black have been imitated to a fare-thee-well by succeeding artists; we’ve all seen something like them. Compare them to “Multiplicity” work “Untitled” by Caio Fonseca, an aquatint that, like Marden’s lithos, is composed of tightly etched abstract forms in black and a dirty white. But Fonseca’s composition of black and white shapes with fine stitch-like lines running through the space is gorgeous and not a bit trite. Fonseca’s drawing dates from 1998 and Marden’s from 1972, so it hasn’t had as much time to become familiar.
Black and white works were common in both “Multiplicity” and “50 for Arkansas”; the oversized lithographs of Kara Walker (in “Multiplicity”), who enlarged engravings from “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War” and then placed against them silhouettes of slave figures, their features exaggerated but their worth diminished, are magnetic (the engravings themselves are quite beautiful as well). Donald Sultan’s “Black Roses” (also in “Multiplicity”) are lush black aquatints, flattened images of roses and leaves, fuzzy around the edges, against the white paper.
The minimalist works in “50 for Arkansas” turned out to be minimal. There’s much that’s figurative here, like the charming drawings of cats by Will Barnet and the funny line drawing by Michael Kostabi of a couple, he with a plug head and she with a receptacle head. There’s fantasy, such as Daryl Trivieri’s airbrush and inkwash drawings of a girl child whose torso, arms, legs and head are marked with line drawings — a bird’s head torso, fish on one arm, a peacock’s head on the other, work that is fascinatingly weird, though not as weird and funny as his frog-fish head paintings, wrought in equally odd technique. There’s abstract work as well, like the mixed media paintings by Charles Clough — fingerstrokes of paint across printed images that are surprisingly and happily fresh given how widespread compositions of that sort are.
In the good-but-I-don’t-care-anymore category of works in the Vogel collection are the tangled lines of William Anastasi. There’s conceptual work on paper by Robert Barry and wood by Jene Highstein that those with a finer eye and more cerebral nature than I will appreciate.
The star of the Vogel collection is, to my mind, a ceramic vessel by Michael Lucero dating to the mid-1980s. (My contemporary craft slip is showing, I know.) This flattish form is like a closed vase with ears, is painted in jarringly different abstractions, juxtaposing Robert Delaunay geometrics with dark scratchy landscapes. I liked it better every time I passed it.
The Trinity contemporary art gallery of the Historic Arkansas Museum and the hallways outside are hung with art by four artists who know their media and their minds. Nate Powell, mentioned here earlier, is a master of the pen and ink graphic novel and his works, original sketches for pages from his books, show a sure and unique hand. Emily Wood uses plywood as a metaphor for her subject matter — scenes of family relaxing in the country — and as clever way to add atmosphere and texture to her sketchy acrylic and graphite portraits. Jason Powers has perfected the use of the pencil and airbrushed graphite so that he can get right to the point in his work, some of it so detailed and abstract that it would be right at home in the Arkansas Arts Center's drawing invitational, "Singular Drawings," works that feature an obsessive line. Tim Imhauser knows exactly what he's doing with his wood, though of the four he is the only one who is all over the place in style, with neatly turned vessels, bowls with metal inlays and barely worked chunks of wood that have been carved and painted. They have all reached a point in their careers where their footing feels sure, if not rooted in one spot.
Powers' "The Ritual" — one of the obsessive works — uses abstracted images of animal forms that come from the creepy crawly world of herps and weird animals: fins and spikes and eyeballs and hoses and articulated tails and scales and frogs, things that are drawn beautifully and deeply uncomfortable to look at. (Please forgive the quality of the phone photos that follow.)
In his portraiture, Powers uses a soft line (sometimes airbrushed) to create dimension, so that while we don't have the satisfaction of seeing the individual strokes the way we would in, say, Chuck Close, there is a sculptural effect. It verges on the superficial at times but is still finely done:
Wood on wood: smiling, warm happy people, the sketchy pretty opposite of Powers' nightmarish and tightly drawn figures. In a painting of two men, she shows that she can go beyond sketch into more completely rendered faces, as the detail below shows.
One of my favorite Imhauser pieces is called "Tribute to Elizabeth," as in blacksmith Elizabeth Brim, whose terrific work you might have seen at UALR in the 2009 exhibit "Form Follows Function, Or Does It?" and elsewhere. Imhauser has added a forged iron knob and legs to his spalted ash bowl:
Some years, the Arkansas Arts Center's Delta exhibit has had a distinctly Southern look about the art. (No surprise there.) But regionalism takes a back seat this year, its 54th: The best work in the show rises above Southern themes and whimsy; the work succeeds without funny words scrawled across the surface or white edges around the picture plane, part of the Southern code.
Robyn Horn's dramatic "Landslide," massive chunks of redwood fitted together, is masterful; the Little Rock woodworker's piece would suit the Museum of Modern Art's garden perfectly. I'm not sure why it wasn't the Grand Award winner, though the sculpture that did take the prize, Ron Moorhead's "9 Zen Nuns," striding female clay figures that recall the terracotta warriors of China, is strong. Niles Wallace's sculpture is the Delta's annual nod to the organic, a huge knot of bundled carpet circles that one can't help but like (and can't help but think a cat would, too).
The photography in the Delta is particularly strong. This year, the public can vote on a People's Choice Award; mine would be Steven Jones' "Taste." The Fort Smith photographer's archival pigmented print has the palette and lighting of a Vermeer, though not the subject matter: The photo is of a chilly naked woman clutching silverware at a table set with a bowl and salt and pepper shakers. The blur of the otherworldly green shakers, the detail of the napkin and the goosebumps on the (headless) figure's arms, the slant of light, the repetition of twos — breasts, fists, shakers — it's captivating.
Benjamin Krain's metallic endura print, an aerial view of Joplin after last year's devastating tornado there tornado, is a detailed shot that demands the viewer come close to see the homes turned to sticks or upended; cars overturned, people walking about, in a grid of destruction. Then stand back to see Kat Wilson's 48-by-60 inch "Rye Hill, Fort Smith," a "Where's Waldo" of the art world: The Fayetteville photographer has posed a couple in front of their fireplace with objects that define their lives — guitars, children's books and shoes and alphabet, elephant figurines — carefully arranged about them. Keliy Anderson-Staley of Russellville has made gorgeous wet-plate collodian portraits ("Kevin" and "Helen") that shimmer in places, much like the Chuck Close prints shone last year at the Arts Center. "Helen" is a Delta Award winner.
The strength of David Bailin's Delta Award-winning "Cars" is its near monochromatic field — coffee and charcoal and water are his media — interrupted by a clearly-drawn hand covering a central figure's face.
I'm not sure why Eszter Sziksz didn't win some kind of recognition for her mesmerizing 9-minute video of screen-printed ice — that's right, ice discs with images on them — melting and, in reverse, refreezing to their original state.
Besides the winner, other strong ceramics included Aaron Calvert's "Drift," of a leaf-tattoed man and a mummy in canoe. It's quasi-mesoamerican in style; the frog the man is offering on a leaf is wonderful. Great work.
The exhibition runs through March 28 in the Townsend Wolfe Gallery. You'll pass through "Masters of American Watercolor," works from the Arts Center's collection, to get there. Review on that excellent show in future. There's a slideshow of more work from the Delta here.
One of the great things about the annual “Small Works on Paper” traveling exhibition sponsored by the Arkansas Arts Council is the publicity it gives to artists whose names aren’t yet a household word.
Kimberly Kwee is one of those artists, though she’s surely known to students she taught at Pulaski Technical College and to Chicagoans who saw her fall show at Halfmoon Gallery there. Her work in the SWOP exhibition, “Wild World,” combines pencil and ink line drawings of squat figures on paper and overlain sheets of vellum cut into shapes that have been neatly stitched to the paper. The figures are not unlike James Tisdale’s squat ceramic folk exhibited last year at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. (The name she tagged on the website image of “Wild World” is “Beasty Bush,” surely in reference to one of the figures.)
Work by Kwee and 38 other artists is on exhibit at the William F. Laman Public Library in North Little Rock, the first stop on a year-long journey across Arkansas. Winning purchase awards were William Barksdale of Cotter; Ginger Grahn of Paragould; Neal Harrington of Russellville; Dennis McCann of Maumelle, Jason McCann of Maumelle and Mike Means of El Dorado.
All the winners were worthy, but “Swimming Hole/Buffalo National River,” a photograph by Don House of Fayetteville (who is not among the unknowns), should have gotten some kind of award (though perhaps expense figured in; the six winners shared $2,000). In this photograph, a girl in red tights stands on the rocky bank of the river facing a boy in burgundy swim trunks on a rock mid-river; he is warming himself with his arms clasped over his torso. House has emphasized the figures’ pale skin and red garb and kept the river and bluff in the background dark. Intentional or not, there are shades of Sally Mann in the posing of the subject matter; though the girl’s back is to us, she’s topless and just tall enough to be on the verge of puberty.
Paragould artist Grahn was another revelation. Her illustration “When Smelly Met Stinky” is a comic but elaborate pencil drawing of a long-nosed elf (?) patting a skunk’s head while a rabbit holds his nose. A flying squirrel and a possum watch from branches above.
Suzanne King of Fort Smith, an arts educator whose work has been selected in several SWOP exhibitions, and Dennis McCann of North Little Rock have finely-wrought pastels in the show. King’s still life “Pitcher and Bowl” is in deeply saturated blues and deep yellows; McCann’s "East 18th” street scene is in a less complicated palette, picturing a block of identical green-roofed houses with cars lined up at the curb in front.
Thank goodness for Robert Reep, I always say: Here at last is a conceptual piece in a weird medium (finely ground up leaves and dirt), which the fastidious Reep has used to form a square background topped with letters (also in leaves) that spell YARD.
In a nice break from his perfect-body nudes, Victor Chalfant’s “Matchstick Man” is an appealing digital print of a man spotlit in a forest with his head on fire. Benjamin Krain’s iphone photo “Boy v. 2.0” is a baby picture that the talented Krain has pixilated in places and otherwise fiddled with to make an engaging portrait.
Laman keeps SWOP until Jan. 29; next stop is the National Park Community College in Hot Springs.
Painter Matt McLeod, the fauvist painter of the local scene, is having a "Holiday Art Show and Sale" tonight from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Pulaski Heights Christian Church at 4724 Hillcrest Ave. His notice says the show will include both new works and previously exhibited paintings and that he'll be serving up a "cup of cheer." Cash, checks and major credit cards accepted.
I was talking to a friend earlier in the week who loves art — but can't quite get with the program on contemporary craft and was wondering why the Arkansas Arts Center was making such a fuss over it. Which made me wonder — are there others put there who have trouble loving the work of craftsmen engaged in making fine art?
If so, they should hie themselves to the Arts Center to see "Cast, Cut, Forged and Crushed: Selections in Metal from the John and Robyn Horn Collection." The metalwork here is, like abstract work, about form and texture but with the added excitement of dimensionality.
Take Hoss Haley's work above, recurved planes of polished iron, both connected (by rivets) and moving in different directions: I can see this work as a drawing as well as a three-dimensional piece. Mitchell Lonas' engraved plate of steel from his nest series is drawing, whirling scratches on steel that recall the miraculous thing birds do with grass. Gordon Chandler flattens 3D space, smushing and cutting an oil drum into the shape of a kimono — hanging against the wall just as painting, the genre that pleases my friend, would do.
Elizabeth Brim's "Pillow" is metal cut and bent to appear to be full of air, textured with square and rectangular indentations reminiscent of an arts and crafts design. Marc Maiorana plays with reality with a tall pedestal, a splinter of which has broken away from the corner and become round. John Rais "Sunlight Sifter" is a flattened oval basket of pierced metal that he's made to look as if it was created for another purpose and appropriated for his sculpture. These works are as much about beautiful lines as any drawing, as sleek as Japanese brushstrokes.
The show, sponsored by Marion Fulk and Jeff Rosenzweig and the Munro Foundation, will be in the Jeannette Rockefeller Gallery through Jan. 15.
"So Many Open Houses"
Freelancer Blair Tidwell attended the "So Many Open Houses" art installation last weekend arranged by Low Key Arts in the empty spaces of the crumbling, historic Moutainaire Hotel in Hot Springs. Here's her review; watch for her byline in the future:
Maybe a grassroots organization like Low Key Arts can’t completely restore Hot Springs’ Mountainaire Hotel buildings to their former glory, but it successfully reconciled the Spa City’s glitzy past with today’s lively art community. For two days, “So Many Houses” took over the pair of 1940s-era art moderne buildings that have been vacant and slowly crumbling since the 1990s. A curious public seemed excited to explore the mysterious structures — a work of art in themselves — which landed a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Judging from the site-specific installations on view, the artists were inspired and awed by the unique architecture, too.
Visitors strolled from room to room, discovering works (most were not labeled with titles or artist names) in every available space: bathtubs, toilets, closets, floors, walls, balconies, stairs. Whimsy abounded, bringing color and vibrancy to an otherwise dreary reality — the fact that this incredible building is falling down. Balloons and flower arrangements filled dirty bathtubs; a children’s birthday party complete with streamers, cupcakes and party hats enlivened a room, but also highlighted its vacancy; dark brown wigs were carefully draped down a staircase, cascading from step to step; bright strings of pom-pom balls sprouted from light sockets and dribbled from faucets. Many works encouraged participation with the art, the building or the artists. Visitors were invited to draw on the floor with chalk, scribble their dreams on a set of sheets and pillowcases, have their fortunes read and peer through a peeping neighbor’s telescope. In effect, the run-down buildings were turned into a playground, with new surprises around every corner.
But not all of the works on display were playful and light-hearted; some used the dilapidated surroundings to heighten the already eerie aura. In one bathroom, pristinely clean in contrast to the other grimy examples, a faded image of a woman was projected onto the white tub. The ghostly likeness swayed as if in water. A collection of candles flickered on the side of the bath. A vase of red roses rested to her left. The scene recalled the dramatic flair of Hollywood’s film noir classics, popular in the 1940s, the same era of the Mountainaire Hotel’s construction.
Others highlighted the space’s past neglect and hope for renewal. One multimedia installation combined fallen bricks from the building, tree stumps and a bird cage strung up by a broken fishing reel. Inside the cage, a scattered nest held a vintage photograph of a woman. Across the room, underneath another black-and-white image, the word “lost” was scribbled on the wall. The individual objects felt like lost parts, gathered in a forgotten building. On yet another wall, a key hung from a rusted Chevrolet door; written on the door in chalk was “found.”
The administration of the University of Arkansas isn’t interested in giving the public access to its excellent exhibitions, since it sacrificed its very limited visitor parking to expansion of its college of engineering. There’s a tempting parking area space next to the Fine Arts Building, a lot where construction equipment was once parked, but it’s roped off. Even the handicapped spaces are a distance from the Fine Arts Center, which includes the Stella Boyle Smith stage.
But persevere, because there are three fine shows up now until Oct. 2: “Advancing Tradition: 20 Years of Printmaking at Flatbed Press”; “Thoughts from China,” ceramic figures by James Tisdale; and “ROUX,” narrative printmaking by four African-American women.
The work from Flatbed Press in Austin, Texas, includes etchings and other prints of huge dimension (thanks to Flatbed’s oversized press; there’s work in this show that’s 7 feet long) and boundary-pushing technique. Printmaking has come a long way from the days of simple etching into grounds of various hardness or drawing prints from lithography stones.
For example: In her “Women’s Studies” print, from her “Bible Studies Suite,” artist Julie Speed has combined photo polymer gravures of Dore illustrations (from her own damaged Bible) and chine-colle prints of her own drawing (in a style imitative of woodcut), hand-coloring the result. The inky flat black and sharp lines of the Dore illustrations (scenes of stoning and King Solomon with the baby in this particular print) contrast with the faint curving lines tracing the landscape of the faces and necks of two women. This is but one of dozens of works to spend time with in this exhibition. Another is late artist Luis Jimenez’ “Abu Ghraib,” a powerful lithograph of three rope-bound and naked men, inspired by Goya’s “Disasters of War” etchings. Another war piece, Robert Levers’ “Victory: The Celebration,” is a 37-by-45-inch soft-ground etching that features skeletons and a marionette soldier in epaulets and tall hat dancing on an empty plain with faint details of burning oil fields in the background. A small abstract by Greg Murr, “St. Lawrence Walk,” is a wonderful embossed etching of torn-edge shapes in black, gray and silver.
Only a few of the works seem to be more about process than end, but experimentation has its value as well.
Katherine Brimberry, the co-founder of Flatbed Press, will give a lecture at 1:40 p.m. Sept. 29 in the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall. Stow your car somewhere near campus, put on your hiking shoes and try to make it.
Tisdale’s exhibition of ceramic child-sized figures in Gallery II, across the hall from the main gallery, has its own rewards. Tisdale, known for colorful glazes, made this particular work in China, where he adapted to the limited materials at hand. Only the faces on Tisdale’s hat-wearing elfin creatures are glazed in high gloss, their cheeks streaked with reds and blues and eyes darkly outlined. They are a wary bunch, these squat figures; one is tempted to snatch them up.
“Fore-mothers” are the subject of Gallery III’s “Roux” by women printmakers, including Little Rock’s Delita Martin. Martin’s largish lithographs place portraits of women (and women’s things, like a skillet) atop stenciled patterns. Ann “Sole Sister” Johnson has printed family portraits on magnolia leaves and feathers and Lovie Olivia has used ink transfers on poured plaster. Rabea Ballin has intricate solarplate etchings of twisted and braided hair — what she calls “headscapes.” It’s work that’s as inventive as the Flatbed prints, but never self-conscious.
Made it to three galleries last night, two on the 2nd Friday Art Night art troll (by trolley) — Arkansas Studies Institute and Hearne Fine Art — and another reception in the Heights, at Boswell-Mourot. Lots of fun, lots of people and lots of fine art.
The ASI's "The Art of Living" exhibit of art made at the Rohwer Relocation Camp during World War II was packed with art lovers and historians; the son of internee Sam Yada, Richard Yada, was there with his wife. He was thrilled to see the work framed and on the walls. I spent a lot of time with the carved and painted wooden birds, made into pins, and other woodwork, and looking at the wonderful drawings, which hadn't been lit when I visited pre-show. There's much to learn about human nature from this study collection. It's in Concordia Hall.
Hearne artist Charly Palmer was on hand to talk about his work, which must be seen in person to be appreciated. The paints are luminous and his stained-glass approach adds a nice angularity — a sharpness — to the subject matter. Hearne arranged for Palmer to spend Friday going around to schools to talk to kids about art — great move — and he said a middle school student asked him, "What is art?" It was a question that he loved, and he talked about the creative process and that art can't be boxed in or fully defined. Palmer's subject matter included the Little Rock Nine, religion and love; one of my favorites was of a little African American girl (Palmer's granddaughter, he said) clutching a doll with a white face.
Samuel Gray's large work at Boswell-Mourot was a hit with the crowd; the young artist is in love with surface and the way charcoal softens an image. One piece, of a woman falling amid balloons, was quite fetching.
Next Friday night: Argenta ArtWalk.
Eye Candy never writes about advertising, but an art-loving friend sent me a link to a story about AT&T's worldwide advertising campaign that uses painted hands. Here's the website, where can see more of the painted hand advertisements.
I can't figure out who the artist was behind the ads, but they are stunning.
The thing about the paintings of Benini, the Italian-born artist who helped build Hot Springs’ art scene and now lives in Texas, is that they sometimes require you to befriend the circular and the shaped. That doesn’t come naturally. Shaped canvases fall into that netherworld of beings that straddle form, like tadpoles and toads, caterpillars and butterflies — sculpture and painting. I find them hard to like; circles put edges on images in ways that rectangles, thanks to our Western eye, don’t. Ken Noland turned his square paintings 45 degrees to make them diamonds, and that drove me nuts, because they were no longer about lines and color in space but about line trapped in a shape.
But Noland was all about flatness, and Benini is all about dimension and light. Even when he’s working on a flat surface, Benini’s images curve. The circular and shaped canvases make a kind of sense.
So keep all that in mind, or at least some of it, when you go to Greg Thompson Fine Art in Argenta to see the current exhibit, “Benini: The Painter’s Journey.”
The show offers up some atmospheric paintings from his Kaos series of the past several years and some earlier works, like aluminum roses and ribbons from the 1980s and 1990s. Benini lately combines his precise airbrushed trompe l’oeil glow with thick (and highly controlled) splatters around (and standing out from) the edges; think Jules Olitski walking in space.
Benini joked at the opening reception for his show last Friday, during the third Friday Argenta ArtWalk, that he’s gotten old so now he drips. He will be 70 this year, his wife and tireless promoter, Lorraine Benini, said, but he has in no way gotten old; his strength shows in the large canvases and careful, intentional application of paint.
Besides creating circular paintings, Benini also dares paint in pink. His 30-inch-by-40-inch (rectangular) “Courting Kaos: Open Pleasure,” for example, is a rosy glow framed by gold and pale pink splatters; the splatters are so thick they run together, obscuring the pink background but not blending themselves. A dominating 73-inch-by-48-inch acrylic, “Face of God: Dodici,” completed just before the exhibit, is also on the Kaos theme — a canvas that seems illuminated in its center, in this case saturated in red, receding from its edges of gold and pink splatters. In “Courting Kaos: Between” Benini offsets a rusty red background that changes from dark to light in a horizontal, rather than central, fashion; here the splattered edges, in black, gold, gray and white, nearly converge, squeezing the background from left and right. The palette’s combination of colorless/deep color is tremendous.
I’m still uncomfortable with the circle-shaped paintings, though their conjured spherical images are wonderful. We're not supposed to be comfortable with art, anyway; Benini avoids the decorative, which is fairly hard to do in abstract art.
One of my favorite pieces in this show is from the 1990s: a metallic ribbon that furls about a red star. It’s Benini’s paean to Texas, where he and Lorraine now have a Hill Country sculpture ranch on a hundred-plus acres once owned by LBJ.
The show runs through May 18. Greg Thompson Fine Art is at 429 Main St., North Little Rock.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has loaned George Bellows' 1908 masterpiece, "Excavation at Night," his depiction of the construction of Pennsylvania Station, to the National Gallery of London for its current exhibit "An American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan School." You can read a review of the show, which the writer calls "electrifying," in the Guardian here.
Maybe "Excavation" will be on the walls of the museum when CBMA opens in Bentonville Nov. 11, 2011.
(Editor's note: Crystal Bridges part 1 has been deleted from the blog; my notes had the date of the art lecture wrong.)
U of A art professor Marilyn Nelson stared at her late father’s deck of Navy signal flags for several years before she found a way to use them in her art. It took her another 10 years, but she's completed a series of lithographs incorporating every flag with photographic and drawn images. They are both intensely personal and aesthetically beautiful.
I stumbled into a talk by Nelson at last Friday's 2nd Friday Art Night event at the Historic Arkansas Museum (she drew me in, so I missed what was reported to be an excellent talk by Dr. J.W. Wiggins about his Native American collection, a sample of which is on exhibit at the Arkansas Studies Institute) and was so glad to hear her provide the background to the pieces.
Nelson’s drawn on her childhood as the daughter of a career Naval officer — aboard a minesweeper — in creating imagery around the lithos for each of the 26 flags (they represent both the letters of the alphabet and a message). In the example above, Nelson has paired the flag for W - whiskey (I require medical assistance) with silhouettes of the minesweeper ships and cutout-dolls representing her family — mother, father, three daughters. "M - Mike My Vessel Is Stopped; Making No Way" (below; sorry about the picture quality) is a feminist piece combining the flat with legs wrapped in rope. "B - Bravo I am Taking In, Carrying or Discharging Dangerous Cargo" includes an image of a rocket with a drawing by Nelson's daughter (one Nelson said was strangely like one she made as a child) of someone parachuting from a plane next to a house.
Nelson is thinking of making a book out of the pages that would include the story behind each image. It would have been nice if the prints at HAM had included those stories. You can see small images of the series here.
Fayetteville artist Michael Davis Gutierrez also talked about his small stone sculptures, which I'd describe as limestone landscapes, blocks of stone on which he's placed tiny carved trees and chairs. Jonesboro art teacher Claire Coppola's work includes large repurposed signs from out-of-business fuel companies; they're pretty wonderful as art, and Coppola is using them as wry symbols of a fuel we're struggling to rely less on.
A&E Feature / To-Do List / In Brief / Movie Reviews / Music Reviews / Theater Reviews / A&E News / Art Notes / Graham Gordy / Books / Media / Dining Reviews / Dining Guide / What's Cookin' / Calendar / The Televisionist / Movie Listings / Gallery Listings