First century frescoes, toys for 2004 

New shows at AAC, UALR, Hearne.

ARM LEGOS: Toy show bracelet.
  • ARM LEGOS: Toy show bracelet.
Ancient frescoes from Italy, modern toys designed by artists — what richer contrast can you get? The Arkansas Arts Center’s “In Stabiano: Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite” exhibit should attract lovers of art, architecture, Italy, history … even food. The 32nd annual “Toys Designed by Artists,” 60 playful objects by 51 American artists, is for those who like their art fun, maybe even useful … and available for purchase. Fine fresco and stucco fragments recovered from the first century resort town of Stabia — smothered in ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii — detail the aesthetic and power of rich Roman families. Painterly representations of Diana and other gods in the ethereal hues of the era join artifacts from the town, excavated in the 1950s. The works are part of a touring exhibit organized by Pompeii archeologists collaborating with a foundation established to restore the town. Southwestern University (in Texas) architectural history and design professor Thomas Noble Howe, the coordinator of the foundation, will give a talk at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 17, in the Arts Center’s lecture hall on the art and political life of Stabia. The lecture is one of several events scheduled around the exhibit, including the Fine Arts Club’s talk, “Dining Like a Roman,” set for 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 21, in the Arts Center atrium, and a Family Day event on March 19. Giovanna Imperia sounds like an artist from Stabia, but in fact she’s from Katy, Texas, and is a “Toys Designed by Artists” purchase award winner with her silver Lego bracelet, “Never Stopped Playing with Toys.” The juried exhibit also features works by invited artists who’ll be familiar to regular toy-show goers, including Bill Reid (this year’s work, “Toynado,” is a painted steel push toy) and Jamie Maverick (known for her buxom women in wood, this year perched on an ice cream cone in “Big is Beautiful”). The Arts Center is considering an end to art sales from its galleries to bring it in line with standard museum practice. However, a price list will be provided for the toy show objects, and buyers may purchase directly from the artist. The Arts Center no longer takes a commission. Aj Smith, professor of printmaking at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, will show new drawings in Gallery II of the Fine Arts Building starting Wednesday, Feb. 23. In an artist’s statement, Smith writes, “Drawing is basic, it allows me to carefully study my subject in a way that establishes a direct connection between myself and the object of my pencil. But the true agony and ecstasy of it all is during the heat of battle (the process); at this point the torment as well as the satisfaction is almost unbearable.” Smith’s graphite portraits are worth the torment — certainly to the viewer. A reception for the artist will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27, with the support of the Office of Campus Life Minority Advocacy Program. “From the Palette,” paintings by realist watercolor artist Dean Mitchell, goes on exhibit Friday, Feb. 18, at Hearne Fine Art in the Museum Center at 500 President Clinton Ave. Mitchell paints urban scenes, landscapes and portraits in a pale palette; the works draw their power from their fine draftsmanship and atmosphere. Meet the artist at 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 11; he’ll give a talk at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 12.

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