The "Delta Exhibition," the Arkansas Arts Center's annual showcase of art being made in our middle part of the country, is deep in its offerings of good works this year. Beside the top three prize winners — a photograph by Tim Hursley, a charcoal by David Bailin and an installation by Katherine Toler — are other standouts, including a quilt that hovered between automatic drawing and representational stitching, ceramics that defied the ceramic form and a Rockwellian painting devoid of sentiment.
Hursley's chromogenic print — of highly saturated colors — of a stuffed two-headed calf, a paean to roadside America, won the top prize. Hursley bought the calf from a man in Pocahontas, which is what the photograph is named; he made the photograph in the cluttered storefront in which he found it, with other discarded odds and ends, including a scale that purports to tell your fortune ("your wate and fate") and framed squirrels.
"Pocahontas" is about the material; David Bailin's "LAMP," on the other hand, is a representation of memory — ghostly, blank in places, faces you can barely make out. With his deft charcoal line and draw-you-in large scale "LAMP" (and other piece, "SOFA," featuring a trace of a remembered blanket pattern, a car, Devils Tower in the background), Bailin again proves he can erase and create at the same time.
Toler's installation "Hush/Flux" features small crocheted cups, stitched paper and fabric pieces pinned to a wall. It is paired, smartly, with her painting "Isle," a two-dimensional work of the same aesthetic, with ovoid shapes and large white spaces, very Noguchi-like.
Toler, Bailin and Hursley are Little Rock artists. The Contemporaries Group of young Arts Center supporters chose the Norman Rockwell-like but non-nostalgic "Portrait of Gabriel Sword" by Lawrence McElroy of Alexander. In McElroy's 78-inch tall painting depicts an older African-American man leaning against a brick wall and holding a piece of cardboard with "change" written on it. His shadow reveals the bricks; the rest of the wall is painted in a pale yellow to create the hot light the man in which the man is posed. His cane rests against the wall and a valise is at his feet. He can be read as a beggar, but better as a figure warning us to change. It's a very fine painting.
In his ceramic pieces, Kentucky artist Hunter Stamps has worked clay like thick folded fabric or rubber or skin. "Vicissitude" is drooping tubular shapes in dusty red stoneware; "Metamorphosis," its glaze a cracked yellow matte, is hard to describe — an octopus collapsed in on itself will have to do. These are surprisingly fetching works, thanks their mysterious abstract form and use of glaze. It easier to create compelling abstraction in three dimensions than in two, as Stamps' work illustrates.
Much of the two-dimensional abstract work in the show, with the exception of Toler's and a few others', is more decorative than meaty. Again, a medium more known for its decorative and functional qualities — quilted fabric — combines representation (hive cells in orange thread and clouds) with abstract linear stitches to come up with something beyond craft that you can sink your teeth into.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock artist in residence Heidi Hogden's masterful and enormous pencil drawing of a tangle of vines, which is combined with tree stumps of concrete ("Detached"), is another high-caliber work. For fantastic trompe l'oeil, see Anne Greenwood's "Ecosystem" and "Stag Beetle Specimens," paintings on board of insects and brooches and a string that appears so real you'll want to touch it (but don't). For narrative fantasy, see Little Rock artist Anais Dasse's large charcoal "Kids are Terrible People Too," featuring people in fantastic garb — a beak hat decorated with Mesoamerican drawing, a coat printed in guns — observing a cock fight.
Two seems to be a theme: Along with the two-headed calf, many artists are represented by not one but two of their Delta entries. In this way, Juror Elizabeth Garvey, owner of Garvey-Simon Art Access Inc. in New York, made a more emphatic statement about the quality of their art-making. That has been a boon for this "Delta," as has the wide variety of media selected, from quilts to clay forms, to large-scale drawing and lots of photographs, including Honorable Mention winners by Pokey Alrutz of Springfield, Mo. ("Swamped" and "2121"), and Michael Elliott Smith of Alexandria, La. ("Megan Visits the Sanctuary" and "Juniper and Moon"). It's a good "Delta," and not to be missed. The show runs through Aug. 28.
In North Little Rock, the second annual "Delta des Refuses" provides those artists whose works were rejected from the Arts Center's show some gallery time. My favorites in that show include Barbara Satterfield's ceramic rock, which would have made a nice counterpoint to Stamps' ceramic abstraction; James Volkert's "Uncertain Sun Shot: After Homer," a framed painting of seafarers who you can make roll on the waves by turning a small brass crank; Spencer Zahrn's unusually composed work "All My Dreams are Dragons"; Alex Moomey's long horizontal photograph of frolicking beach people "Finding Bright Places"; and some nice sketchy pieces by Jason McCann (a streetscape) and Tanya Hollifield (a portrait). The show is at the Thea Foundation, 401 Main St., and is organized by Rachel Trusty, who has also created a website, deltadesrefuses.com. The show runs through July 17; there will be a reception 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, June 17, as part of the monthly Argenta ArtWalk after-hours gallery event.