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I was staring at this year's Delta Exhibition winner, Kyle Chaput's “Oso Bay Site 47,” a lithograph, trying to figure out if I liked it last week when the Arkansas Arts Center guard gestured to me to join her at the back of the room. “Do you see the bat and the rat?” she asked. And taking up her vantage point, I did see the bat and the rat. She was looking for more there, too, she said.
Which is why I decided I liked Chaput's technically superb lithograph. The Corpus Christi artist is offering more, and while he may not intend for the viewer to stand across the room and find animals in the work, he has removed interpretive boundaries. The drawing is vaguely disturbing up close, thanks to its psyche-jarring biomorphic ambiguity. It's not a drawing of driftwood, though a first glance suggests that. The string that wraps around what might be a branch is familiar enough. But the string doesn't end properly, and why does that part of the — wood? — drape the way it does? Why not bat? Why not rat?
Martha Tedeschi, curator of prints at the Art Institute of Chicago, was the juror of this year's Delta exhibit, which highlights
the work of contemporary regional artists, and while one or two pieces look out of place, there is strong work here. Figurative works on paper are many (though Kathy Bay of Little Rock won a Delta Award with her abstract collage “Txtrd Msg”) and paintings are few. Tedeschi found a lot to like among Arkansas entries to the regional show, such as Little Rock artist Dominique Simmons' fine “The Devil is in the Details,” an etching of a dark, devil-enveloping cloud, in the shape of the United States, looming over a treeless field and crossroads; and Batesville artist Sheila Cantrell's soft colored-pencil still life “Pitchers and Pears.” Yet she passed up an exquisite silverpoint, “Cannas Gloria” by Marjorie Williams-Smith, also of Little Rock, for a prize.
I couldn't stop looking at the painting “Jump” by Jimpsie Ayres (born in Stuttgart, lives in Memphis), in which an African-American child, rendered in a painterly fashion, leaps into a stylized blue pool making stylized, snowflake-like splashes against a yellow and red splotched sky. It produced the kind of edgy feeling you might get if you saw Michelangelo's David placed on a shag rug.
The Contemporaries group at the Arts Center gave its prize to “Powdered Graphite,” a neat cut-up and charcoaled paper sculpture that blooms off the wall by Timothy Harding of Fort Worth.
Now, a tiny criticism. The label for LaToya Hobbs' linoleum-cut triptych of a woman in profile, beautifully done, titled it “Jamie on Stage.” The prints themselves were named “Jamie in Stages.” It seems the label needs fixing. We also wish Greer Farris had named her prickly wood sculpture “Epines Si'l Vous Plait,” instead of “Si,” but perhaps I'm being too prickly myself. The rose, pine and bois d'arc piece is nice nevertheless.
The show, in the Strauss and Stella Boyle Smith galleries, runs through March 14.
Speaking of Kyle Chaput: His work also appears in the “2010 Delta National Small Prints Exhibition” at Arkansas State University's Bradbury Gallery. ASU has a fine niche exhibit here, attracting printmakers and photographers from Washington State to Maine. Juror was David Kiehl, curator of prints at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, who judged the first “National Prints” exhibit seven years ago. In his preface to the catalog for the prints, Kiehl takes note of the use of rubber-stamped words and letters in several works, including ASU professor John Salvest's. Salvest takes on incomprehensible literature with his “Great American Novel,” a circle filled with words stamped in every direction and overlapping. It's harder to read than Pynchon, which is, I guess, the point. Beauvais Lyons of Knoxville, whose fantasy paleocreature lithographs were shown at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock earlier this year, is also represented.
The show runs through Feb. 21.