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Black magic 

Women's work in wire, metalpoint, fabric, glass, cut paper at Hearne.

click to enlarge 'FACE THE SUN': A goldpoint drawing by Marjorie Williams-Smith.
  • 'FACE THE SUN': A goldpoint drawing by Marjorie Williams-Smith.

Hot colors and sharp edges make for memorable viewing at Hearne Fine Art's new exhibition, "Beyond Magic," work by five African-American women artists working in a variety of mediums. I point out the ethnicity both because of the subtitle of the exhibition — "Black Women Artists Master Non Traditional Media" — and the vivid palette of oranges, purples and reds that finds its way into art by many African-American artists.

The fieriest colors come from the stitched images by New Jersey artist Bisa Butler, who renders Josephine Baker in quilted and appliqued cotton, silk and netting sequins in "Paris is Burning," and who uses strips of tulle and pieced fabric to create a plaid in her stitched portrait "Benin Beautiful." The particolored pieces are riotous and joyful. She can do subdued, though, too: See the blue of her stitched portraits in denim portraits.

Californian Phoebe Beasley, a nationally known artist whose collage work has been compared to the paintings of Jacob Lawrence, uses angular shapes and objects in her sometimes sweet, sometimes sad work. The latter is expressed in "A Gathering of Stars and Stripes," in which a family is posed graveside; a dog tag and medal are affixed to the painting in a box atop the coffin. The strength of Beasley's "Simple Pleasures" is its composition: Two women sit together on a couch having tea; a flat Christmas tree is in the foreground. Beasley says there's "a presence of a spirit" in her work.

The painted wire mesh sculpture of Philadelphian Anyta Thomas is more fun than profound: Her people dance, play instruments, exult and, in larger pieces, make love. Thomas gives a softness to wire; opposite her work in the gallery and opposite in experience are compositions in shards of glass by the aptly named Atlanta artist Lillian Blades. Blades stripes her surfaces with slices of mirror and other objects in shared palettes. Found objects — frames and buttons and painted glass and magazine cutouts in sizzling oranges and reds — give way to a horizon of unpainted glass and a paler palette in her composition "Hue Doo." The broken glass in Blades' work makes the viewer uncomfortable, which is a good thing. Some of the objects she's pasted to her work are cheap trinkets, which, in this case, is a bad thing. Two-dimensional images of Blades' work are reminiscent of Klimt, thanks to all the rectangular shapes, but the real thing, in which you, from afar, can see an image of yourself in slices, is a different aesthetic altogether.

Not to be a homer, but the work of Little Rock's own Marjorie Williams-Smith is a standout. Her metalpoint drawings on black gessoed surfaces whispers where the works of her sisters in nontraditional media shout; her lines are exquisite. In "Face the Sun," she renders a patch of sunflowers in goldpoint and silverpoint: Yellow petals in various shades of light and dark emerge from a dark background of stems. It's an astonishing piece of work, as is another small silverpoint of a single dried coneflower, petals facing down.

Butler, Beasley and Williams-Smith will be at a reception for the show from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, March 31, and there will be a panel discussion about the show at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 1. Thomas, Blades and Williams-Smith will attend a reception from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 19; a panel discussion will follow at 2 p.m. May 20, when "Beyond Magic" will close.

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