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6.10.04 LONGBOAT OBSERVER

OF GRAPHIC EXPRESSIONS AND SUBTLETIES

By Marty Fugate Arts Writer


SARASOTA -- Visual art can tease your thoughts or seduce you with prettiness. Or it can bypass all that and go straight to your neurological hard-wiring. A flash of red- your inner caveman thinks "Fire Bad".

The slash of a sudden shape - your inner caveman thinks "Big rock- not bump head!" and you look.

 

Along with the dirty words and photographs that kids shouldn't look at, visual art that presses your perceptual buttons is called "graphic". This is not the same thing as graphic art, but the two tend to be confused.

 

Art with graphic power is inextricably linked to the evolution of printing - an unbroken chain of illustrations, prints and posters. In the West, it goes back to Durer's awesome woodcuts: primal images of devils, knights, and the apocalypse's four horsemen that burn into your brain. In the East, it goes back to the ukiyo-e prints of Japan and prints in China before that.

 

This printed art is usually powerful art. What's the connection? Powerful images are usually more reproducible. Reproducible images tend to be more powerful. (That's the reason Durer created woodcuts in the first place - it was the printing technology of the time.)

 

The good is that this has led to the creation of much powerful imagery over the years. The bad news: Art with graphic power has had a hard time pulling itself away from the world of printing and standing on its own. Even outside of books, such art tends to look like illustration.

 

But there are artists who can't work any outer way. Every now and then there is a resurgence of their work. The 60's and 70's saw the popularization of Pop Art and an explosion of graphic poster imagery. More recently, our area got a taste of this kind of expression when the "CoExistence" traveling exhibit of billboard-sized prints advocating tolerance hit town.

 

And this gallery (Elizabeth Rice Fine Art) is always filled with examples.

 

Jeffery A. Cornwell plays with the brain's ability to recognize boundries and objects at the threshold of perception. Think in terms of riding into a strange town: the exact second that you notice a church spire or see the edge of the ocean. So: "The Thin Blue Line" offers just a hint of a blue horizon line to tell you the land is ending; "The Point Is..." makes its point with just a smidgen of steeple popping up at the canvas's lower corner.

 

Sonia Delaunay's "Goauche" seems simple and childlike at first glance. But there's a hypnotic intracacy to it. The composition of simple shapes and primary colors seems to spin and move with a life of its own like some graphic perpetual motion machine.

 

Sam Francis' "Trietto IV" is a blast of organic color- shape and writhing color resolving into definite forms like the structures of some gigantic micro-organism.

 

Valentin Popov's "Angel on One Shoulder..." is like some Eastern European totem pole of overlayed scenes-czars, village elders, some offical reading a proclamation- suggesting both personal and private history.

 

James Rosenqist's "Stars & Stripes at teh Speed of Light" is a color lithograph of Old Glory spiraling in and around and through itself like a wormhole opening up into another universe. It's a marvelous mtaphor for American possibility and beautiful to look at, rich and saturated with color. (The original of the print hangs in the American Embassy in Colombia. The work was commossioned by a group called the Friends of Art & Preservation of United States Embassies. Rosenquist created the piece without compensation. sales from the limited edition prints go to support art-as-ambassador ends of that organization.)

 

Swiss artist Jean Weinabum has a series of striking color fields. "Blue Wonderful"- and a wonderful shade of blue it is- offers four panels of raised spirals like the tiny earthworks of some miniature. maze creating civilization. "Singing" offers a series of peach-colored semi-circles dancing around arcs of black and splashes of blue and purple. The song could be a song of color or a hint that what you're looking at are the highly abstracted mouths and tongues of opera stars. That's not the point. The rich, sensual color and play of form, is.

 

Surrealist Max Ernst offers a devilish simplicity with "Tout en un plus deux". It's a swiriling series of spirals and zigzags, part calligraphy, part stylized human figure, part doodle. All very simple- but you just try doing something equally as good on your own.

 

John Knapp employs calligraphic techniques from the Japanese tradition. His repetively titled "Utsukushii XII" and "Utsukushii XIII" show wonderfully spontaneous kanji characters in block panels against irregular backgrounds. ("Utsukushii" means truth and beauty felt in the heart, in Japanese. Knapp evidently is in love with teh phrase.) The inverted "V" of his "Kurosan", from his dark mountain series, is no letter. But it's as simple and primal a reduction of a mountain that it might as well be: a new glyph symbolizing mountain in some universal ideographic alphabet.

 

The work you see here spans the graphic possibilities of visual language. It's attention getting and immediately accessible. You look at it and almost instantly get it. But don't let that accessibility fool you. It's more like an open door...Once you enter, there are all the subtleties you could ever hope for.

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