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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Balanced Contrast

Art Review

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When an artist is successful, the assembled whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When a curator is successful, the whole is not necessarily greater, but creates tension and visual dialogue among artists seeing the same formal element in different ways.

  At Katie Gingrass Gallery, pastel artist Jody dePew McLeane and wood sculptor Joel Hunnicutt use the classical corpulence of the empty vessel—perhaps the world's oldest and most universally functional art form—to create “Relative Spaces.”

  DePew McLeane's luminous pastel still-lifes borrow freely from the Old Masters. Italian Landscape and Ruins contains a collection of vases rendered in thick, expressive pastel strokes. Intense flashes of scarlet and goldenrod with shadows of indigo inscribe a kind of primary-hued chiaroscuro. In Three Women with Various Vessels, long-haired ladies cluster in the center amid a collection of fruit and ware as voluptuous and decorative as they are. It would seem vessels, in addition to being the oldest functional art form, are among the most loaded visual metaphors in art history.

  Joel Hunnicutt's vessels are built from flat pieces of wood through a technique called segmented turning. In this additive process, precisely mitered pieces of wood are joined together to form rings. Carefully designed, a stack of rings forms a hollow vessel, which is finished on a lathe to smooth rough edges and corners.

  Aesthetically, many segmented wood-turning artisans borrow surface designs from traditional American Indian pottery, and the finished piece preserves the integrity of the wood. In contrast, Hunnicutt works against his raw material, transforming afibrous, rigid and planar surface into a vitreous, volumetric form. The wood grain is nearly obscured by thick washes of saturated color. A series of Hunnicutt's segmented vessels in shaded hues of blue and turquoise are painted matte black on the inside, creating a textural contrast to the intense, glassine surfaces. Cut out pieces, thin like medieval lancets, disclose nothing of the seams within.

  DePew McLeane’s drawings combine classical forms and art historical references with traditional modes of artmaking. Her technique and subject matter work together to create impressionistic spaces that are as much about light as the pleasure of expressive markmaking.It is of tertiary concern to the viewer to ask the motive of three women crowding the center of a drawing already fecund with fruit and empty vessels.

  Hunnicutt and dePew McLeane are obsessive and meticulous builders; the former with bits of wood, the latter through staccato strokes and layers of pastel. It is the relationship between form and material where the artists' bodies of work differ, and where the tension lies in “Relative Spaces.”

  Hunnicutt's Large Red Amphora juxtaposed with the red vase in dePew McLeane's Italian Landscape and Ruins, which hangs above, is a clever curatorial decision that creates a balanced contrast, or a formal contrapposto, which connects and distinguishes the artists of “Relative Spaces.”

  “Relative Spaces” runs through August 38.