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A faculty in order 

UALR biennial and Warrick’s one-man show are instructive.

NATURE INSPIRED: Warrick sculpture.
  • NATURE INSPIRED: Warrick sculpture.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is exposing its visual art students to a wide range of expression and substantial talent, its Faculty Biennial in Gallery I suggests. Conceptual art, woven art, two-dimensional narrative pieces, splashy oils, sophisticated ceramics, bronzes, photographs, knitted phone wire and bottle trees are the visual voices of UALR’s art chorus. Since students often take up the styles of their instructors until their feet are on firmer ground and their hands know the way, the more variation the better. Even instructors find new expression. Sculpture professor Michael Warrick, who has a one-man show in Gallery II, has found his voice in new work inspired by the texture and form of pocket-sized pieces of flora and fauna and expressed in bronzes with vivid aqua patinas. The work is sure; it’s monumental without being big. The pieces take the shapes of seed pods, leaf folds, coral wings, their surfaces complexly eroded and patina-crusted, some still bearing corkscrew curled stems. The backs of the bronzes are often inscribed with parallel lines recalling the gingko leaf’s unique and ancient vein system. Warrick has included samples of his natural inspiration — coral, bark, lichen, gypsum, nut shells and pods — as part of the exhibit both as explanation and, perhaps, by way of exposing us to pure, non-manufactured art. The website www.michaelwarrick.com illustrates the steps in the bronzing technique. In Gallery I’s Faculty Biennial across the hall, works most representational of the instructors’ styles could serve as catalog for the prospective student. The work is, in some cases, not the most recent, but the most iconic. Small charcoals on paper by David Bailin are in his narrative, mythic style: A boxer punches flying geometric shapes and leaves; a man leans over a spouting geyser, apparently considering corking the flow with a rock. Aj Smith’s monotypes in saturated jewel-toned inks demonstrate his control of the medium and sense of composition. Catherine S. Nugent’s twine-and-tulle-knit fancy dress, “Orange Squeeze,” resurfaces, this time paired with a giant apron-in-progress, knit from colored phone wire and hung from three pairs of giant knitting needles. Strong conceptual pieces are shown by gallery curator Brad Cushman and conceptual artist Carey Roberson. In his “Bottoms Up: Re Made Ready Made,” Cushman places wine bottles neck-down on the spokes of a metal frame (think bottle tree). Photocopies of vintage and (unintentionally or not) homoerotic photographs of men in various poses of strength — nudes playing ball on the beach, men flexing their muscles or in gymnastic clinches — are bottled up inside. Roberson’s “Tattle Tales” places two wooden boxes atop poles fixed to a wooden platform. Framed on the facing planes of the boxes are piezographs (digital prints) of talking mouths. Spilled on the floor between the boxes and around the edges are thousands of tiny pieces of paper, each with an accusation printed on it: She hit me. He did it first. She’s copying me. He’s looking at me. Voices from the backseat on a long car trip, eternal and unstoppable. New ceramics instructor Missy McCormick has several items in the exhibit — a softly collapsing rectangular box, a vase that moves from a rounded square to a squarish oval, another thrown vessel that’s been cut and folded at the top. They’re lovely and unselfconscious, fired in understated and delicate overlapping colors. Katherine Strause has been considering ancestry in her colorful representational work, painting portraits of a woman — her mother? — on the back of a ’50s vinyl kitchen chair back and on a background of stretched plaid cloth. A plastic hanging shoe bag includes two hilariously lewd seed packets, appearing (at least) to be vintage, one cover picturing a woman holding a “yard long cucumber” and on another a woman holding two “giant delicious tomatoes” where her breasts would be. Strause is a wonderful painter; her small watercolors here of strict-looking 19th-century types are deft impressions made uneasy with her inclusion beneath the portraits of phonetic flash cards, “bite” paired with the woman and “kiss” with the man. Win Bruhl’s maple bench with its arcing white oak support is not for sitting, but it begs to be stroked, as does Alberta Pearson’s marble sculpture; Lisa Hansen Mantle’s strong oils command; Gary Cawood’s night photos are quiet and strong, and Eric Mantle’s pages from a book in progress for art students — a graphic project — is a terrific explanation of the mystery of color. The faculty biennial runs through March 12; Warrick’s show goes down Feb. 15.
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