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Monday, Jan. 23, 2012

James Weber Shows Basics Matter at Grava Gallery

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James Weber's recent paintings and linocuts will be on display through March 3 at Grava Gallery in the Third Ward's Marshall Building. I cruised adjacent venues on floor one (Elaine Erickson Gallery and Cranston) to see earlier examples of his paintings prior to visiting his Shorewood home/studio, where works include Italian street scenes, admirable portraits and beyond.

Weber is the senior vice president of property and casualty operations at Willis of Wisconsin Inc., which may explain why his early images teeter toward spectral figures balanced in space, flirting with casualty while clinging to a narrative edge (in addition to a 1978 bachelor's degree in studio art from UW-Madison, he earned a master's in journalism).

After he showed me work for the Grava event, I came away sensing a bona-fide artist who understands line, the value of contrast, and the use of positive and negative space. And he knows how to talk intelligently about his work. His output over the past six months no longer has multiple figures teetering in space. They currently fly solo on solid ground, as if the artist has his feet firmly planted.

Get a gander of Long-Necked Lady. What attitude in her sweep of golden hair; what drama in her full red lips. Orange Tights Lady harkens back to his looser explorations of funky fun, but her feet are on a blue strip of terra firma. Red dreads radiate from the head of Spiky-Haired Lady. Move over Medusa.

Making good art is way more than throwing stuff at a canvas and seeing what sticks. Oh sure, slap-happy and half-baked do have a kind of messy populist appeal, but the basics matter. Weber has the basics.