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Good art, bad air 

V.I.T.A.L. lives at musty mansion.

V.I.T.A.L. ART: This work by Ariston Jacks is part of an exhibit at the Terry Mansion by members of a new artists' collective.
  • V.I.T.A.L. ART: This work by Ariston Jacks is part of an exhibit at the Terry Mansion by members of a new artists' collective.

There's no exhibit banner out front, the iron gate is tough to work and you'll be the only one there, but if you want to see some art by and about black Arkansans, head to the Terry Mansion at 7th and Rock Streets.

V.I.T.A.L. — Visual Images That Affect Lives — is an African-American artists' collective and the show and sale at the mansion is its first. The collective is composed of the experienced, the newly recognized and the emerging, artists finding their voice. The work ranges from primitive to offbeat, and much of it is fine.

At the top of their game are Rex Deloney and Ariston Jacks, sure of hand and skilled with their mediums. The self-taught Melverue Abraham contributes folk art that spills into the abstract at times, illustration at others and is magnetic. LaToya Hobbs, who just graduated from UALR with a degree in studio art, is exhibiting her strong portraits of strong women; Kalari Turner, a fashion designer, borrows from her career to create mixed-media pieces. Michael Worsham, a graduate student at UALR, is showing his oversized portraits, including the improbably aqua and attention-grabbing "Roshanda."

All are colorists, especially Deloney, who though he works figuratively is often off the palette reservation, creating, for example, "Complements of Harlem," a scene of men on the street rendered entirely in orange and blue. His small watercolor "Botswana Brothers" revels in the ochres, reds and yellows that make up the African face and is rendered in delicate strokes; it is a fine little work. Jacks is exploiting his significant linear talents with small complex cartoons, detailed and symbolic, like a black R Crumb. Abraham's strongest works are her black acrylic on paper compositions, including the terrific and so-primitive-it's-modern "Carpenter," which unfortunately has already sold. Her "A Time to Plant" is reminiscent of woodcut illustration; her "A Rebirthing in Haiti," is a loose and whimsical painting of a woman with banana frond hair.

There is a drawback to the exhibit space: A musty smell in the building is nearly overpowering until your nose gets used to it. (The guard assured us the vents had been checked for mold and that they were clear.) The antebellum Terry Mansion — more properly the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House — has been the red-haired stepchild of the Arkansas Arts Center, which exhibited fine crafts there until 2003. It's showing neglect, and the Arts Center — or the city, to whom it was deeded for use as a cultural center — needs to either treat it with respect, or find someone who will.

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