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I stopped dead in my tracks in front of Laura Laser's 6-by-4-foot canvas “No Stopping Now.” Her painting of two African-American women — a Delta Award winner — pairs sketchy, flat, highly saturated color and Gaugin-like details with a deftly-painted background that reads both figuratively and abstractly, and she does this at a perfect scale.
That's just for starters in the 51st annual Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center, which rambles from the atrium to the Strauss Gallery and beyond into the new acquisitions space in front of the Rockefeller Gallery. It is worth the walk, a tour that features excellent photography, a nod to installation art, small-scale sculpture, textiles, drawings and paintings. Juror Eleana Del Rio, director of the Koplin Del Rio Gallery of contemporary art in Culver City, Calif., chose some of the most honest work ever to appear in the Delta, less self-conscious and derivative and often reflective of regional interests.
Among the biographical works would be Ariston Jacks' painting “Forrest City Recollection” depicting a man napping on a couch with visions, rendered in sepia tones, of an extended family on a Delta farm; Melverue Abraham's stylistic but smart pen-and-ink “Life in the Delta”; and Sarah Mattingly's “The Miles of Winston County,” 3D art in which a beautifully rendered face backs a box that holds a pair of long kid gloves.
I'm weary of shrine/box art, I'll have to say, but I loved the two-dimensional version in “The World Outside My Box,” Margaret Harrell's witty, precisely representational and terrifically detailed gouache painting of certain fantastic objects — a kewpie doll and oversized insects and marbles and so forth — resting in a wooden frame set before a view of snow-capped mountains.
Dennis McCann's fine “Autumn Morning” pastel is straightforward landscape, clapboard buildings in a hard light stand before a back-ground of neatly drawn purple, red and black trees; it's my favorite McCann ever. Sculptural works address original sin (Joe Barnett's “Adam and Eve”), war (Diana Ashley's “Fallen”) and impossibility (“Hurdle” by Dusty Mitchell, an aluminum and wood hurdle in which the bar is too high to clear). Vicki Mott Matthews' 16-inch-tall clay figure of Stephano (“Snappy Stephano”) is charmingly non-heroic, showing the Little Rock artist seated, slightly hunched over, holding a paintbrush.
David Rose has returned to Arkansas, and one of his nostalgic miniatures is here: “Slim's Diner” has a For Sale sign in the window, its stools lined up along the counter are empty, there's broken furniture out back and someone has made a fire next to the building.
There is abstraction in the show, but not much: “Alluvium,” a felt-tip pen line drawing by Robert Lansden, is the exception and won an honorable mention. The other Delta Award went to Deborah Kuster for her pieced, quilted and stitched composition picturing pomegranates “Wait Until I'm Four” and the Grand Award went to Kendall Stallings for his surrealist painting of a man seated in a chair at the edge of a bluff “Entitlement.” Many more of the 57 works in the show are worthy of note. The exhibit runs through Nov. 16; see it along with the Warhol show (To-Dos, page 28).
*The second “Sculpture at the River Market,” a show and sale that benefits the Riverfront Park Conservancy, fills the pavilions of the River Market Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 18 and 19. The show is free; a $100-a-ticket preview party is set for Friday night.
Twelve artists from Arkansas and 36 from the National Sculptors Guild will exhibit more than 800 sculptures; two purchase prizes — one for an Arkansas artist and one for a guild artist — will be awarded. The 12 Arkansas artists in the show are Diana Ashley, John Deer-ing, Bre and David Harris, Hank Kaminsky, Kevin Kresse, Bryan Massey, Hunter Stamps, Margaret Warren, Michael Warrick, Susan Williams and Jan Woods.
The National Sculptors Guild has funneled public art all over Little Rock, with pieces at the airport, along the Arkansas River and at War Memorial Stadium.
Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.