Two engaging exhibits echo a fixed fact of life, that it's the little things that really reveal the big picture.
Thursday, December 14, 2000
Many writers claim that a second-rate novel is easier to write than a first-rate poem. With a small work, there''s no fudging or hiding: Every word counts. Something similar happens in art, as two local shows make clear. "Artists'' Miniatures 2000," an annual fundraising exhibit at the Monterey Museum of Art, and "Small Packages" at Pacific Grove''s Lisa Coscino Gallery celebrate the pleasures of the small during a time of year frequently associated with excess.
For centuries, artists have used the small format to perfect the technique of crafting careful, significant detail. That care is then reciprocated: With smaller-sized paintings or sculptures, we are asked to concentrate our attention, to hone in on the subtleties that might not be noticed in a larger piece.
Continuing a two-decade community tradition, this year a whopping 174 local artists generously donated art for the museum''s year-end show. Patrons may buy single raffle tickets for $5 or a book of six tickets for $25. Museum-goers then simply place one or more tickets into the box underneath their favorite pieces and take a chance on winning an original work of art. (Drawings will be held on January 2.)
From abstract to traditional, bold mixed-media constructions to gentle watercolors, a wide range of artistic styles and subjects is on display, offering something for everyone.
The viewer is first greeted by David Ligare''s Verum, a single luminous orange that illustrates with breathtaking color the painting''s titular inscription honoring the philosophy of truth and beauty.
Continuing along the first row of works, several interesting landscapes leap to the fore. Indeed, landscapes make up the dominant genre of the miniatures on display this year, reflecting the inspiring natural beauty of the Central Coast that has long beckoned so many creative spirits.
Several artists have risen to the challenge of capturing a landscape in a small painting (5-by-7 inches maximum) by zooming in on specific aspects of the big picture. Four superb pieces--Heidi Hybl''s Horizon Line, Peeking Through, Mary-Louise Rouff''s Landscape, Joy Colangelo''s The View and Ellen Henrici''s Under the Oaks--evoke with intimate intensity the experience of focusing one''s gaze on the lines and thresholds that bind together nature''s rich colors.
Beva Farmer''s The Sun and the Moon invests its familiar objects with the warm hues and exotic textures of traditional fabrics.
In the gorgeous and strange Point Lobos #11, Susie G. Sarpkaya prompts an original way of seeing the much-depicted coastline by turning its shapes into a thing of fractal beauty, at once organic and otherworldly.
Margaret Leutzinger''s Six Silver Trees is a deeply intelligent response to the challenge of the miniature landscape. Rather than portray an entire grove of trees, she invites us to examine just one section of trunks. By forgoing the more charismatic leaves and branches, Leutzinger invests these elegant fragments with a new kind of artistic weight, making the painting seem much larger than it is.
One trend in contemporary art is to show the human body, for centuries the gauge of an artist''s skill and perception, in an ironic light, as just one more object among others to be disfigured, detached from a human context. A glorious exception to this trend is Paula Walzer''s charcoal Seated Nude. The thick handmade paper on which she draws emphasizes the wonderfully fleshy feel of the piece. The rock and the subject''s body together suggest an image of solidity, yet her touch is light. It is a beautiful work.
Photography is also well represented in this year''s show. Stephanie Jones'' The Lion intriguingly juxtaposes two urban views, drawing out the small frame architectural qualities of space and depth, shadow and light.
More humorously, Sandi Holt''s Polaroid photograph offers a glimpse of a glimpse and seems to suggests that small, fleeting surfaces may conceal large emotions.
Several of the works exhibit a certain compositional purity, a clarity that is especially important in a small piece. Beajojce Stojanovski''s Marbles contrasts strong design elements with thickly expressive shapes, as if the players themselves were marbles arranged upon a small canvas.
Wilda Northrop''s Flower in a Jar is a graceful watercolor in which the flower and its shadow fan out from the central Mason jar in deft, convincing strokes.
Beached Boats, an image transfer by Jane Olin, exudes a kind of beautiful melancholy. The pale sky seems to be pushing the darkened boats back into the sea, yet they are already lost, abandoned, and this tension heightens the work''s mood of tender despair.
An untitled drypoint etching by Robynn Smith features a horse in its stable, yet a furious energy enlivens this pastoral subject and hints at great drama taking place just outside the frame.
In Tuscany by Alex Gonzales, trees and buildings cluster and emerge out of the paper in a way that makes an age-old perspective seem vividly up-to-date.
There are many other fine works of art at this exhibit, and one of the challenges for any viewer is to decide into which boxes one will place one''s tickets. But even if you don''t win your favorite piece, this delightful show makes everyone a winner. The artists get fresh exposure through new audiences. The museum raises funds in an inclusive, creative fashion. And the entire community benefits--not just the lucky 174 winners of these wonderful miniatures, but all of us who love art and want to see it thrive on the Monterey Peninsula.
Looking up at the Underbellies
In "Small Packages" at the Lisa Coscino Gallery in Pacific Grove, the focus is on how "working small" can communicate themes of meditative clarity and artistic perception. The show''s strength lies in its prints, paintings and photographs, for it is in these intimate genres that one can best follow the artist''s discerning eye to the "small" yet powerful places revealed via a fresh perspective.
An exemplary work is Nicole Strasburg''s Overpass Series. Eight views looking up at the underbellies of freeways in San Francisco would hardly seem to hold much promise as a subject for art, let alone for a series of small, delicate prints. Yet Strasburg''s keen aesthetic intelligence turns the ponderous, the ugly and the frenetic into quietly captivating images. Two monoprints by Strasburg, Grass/Field and Field/Gold, distill the experience of landscape to its core elements--meadow, wind, earth--yet this careful minimalism also hints at expansive layers and depth.
Another quiet work is Dianna Cohen''s pair of insect paintings, Green Fly and Japanese Flies. Insects and their intricate bodies have long appealed to artists wishing to represent the wondrous minutiae of the natural world, and Cohen respects and invigorates this tradition in her work. Floating in washes of watercolor, these colored pencil and ink flies transform the commonplace into objects of contemplation.
Bird Island, a dynamic watercolor by Natalie Bieser, depicts the fragmentary nature of perception. Cliffs, birds, shadows, wisps of shoreline--all are presented as inky moments of sheer movement. The painting itself is divided into two sections of thick, uneven paper, as if to emphasize the non-linear, spacious nature of how we see and remember things.
Bud Gordon''s oil paintings take the opposite approach. These thickly painted works anchor his subjects to their canvasses in a manner that feels more calm than confining. In a stunning piece of his, Pair of Runners, four pleasingly grubby sneakers evoke Van Gogh''s Pair of Shoes while remaining very much in the here and now.
The show''s photographs offer a full range of emotions and images. In Untitled (Broken Window), Kevin Flynn, who also has some enticing collages on display, fashions out of the window''s dark, shadowy cracks a psychological abstraction of disturbing power. His other photograph, the monumental Untitled (Moss Landing), with its astonishing beauty and hint of wisdom, dissolves the usual nature/civilization tension without ignoring the presence of industry along our lovely coastline. Moss Landing''s smokestacks--surrounded yet not submerged in the photograph by miles of clear water, sky and earth--act as a kind of knowing eye looking back at the viewer, mirroring all of us who would look out upon nature as if it, and we, were separate things.
Nancy Monk''s three painted photographs--Alligator, Bird House and Chinese Man--all of small wooden carvings, seem to set forth a new visual alphabet of artistic meditation. Monk applies restful bands of painted color--white, cream, gray and green--around her photos, gently directing our attention to what we might miss by neglecting to see the beauty of the small as we plow through life searching for that perfect parking space, that perfect mate, that perfect destiny.
It''s fitting that Monk''s photos are the concluding works of "Small Packages," for they sum up the best qualities not only of this exhibit but also of "Artists'' Miniatures 2000": attention to form, a rejection of excess and an appreciation for simplicity that is anything but simplistic.
"Artists'' Miniatures 2000" will be on display at the Monterey Museum of Art, 559 Pacific, through Sun., Dec. 31. Hours: Wed.-Sat. 11am-5pm, Sun. 1-4pm. The Museum will be open on Thurs., Dec. 21, until 8pm. For more info, call 372-7591 or visit www.montereyart.org. "Small Packages" at the Lisa Coscino Gallery, 171 Central, Pacific Grove, runs until Fri., Jan. 5. Hours: Tues.-Wed. 11am-2pm, Thurs.-Sat. 11am-5:30pm and by appointment. For more info, call 646-1939.