Close to the Earth 

Show of New Mexico artists offers glimpse into unique aesthetic

Show of New Mexico artists offers glimpse into unique aesthetic

Infusion: Five Artists From Santa Fe and Taos

Through Jan. 29, 2000

The Parthenon in Centennial Park

9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tues.-Sat.

$2.50 adults, $1.25 children and seniors

For information, call 862-8431

This month and next, the Parthenon gets an infusion of contemporary Southwestern art in an exhibition sponsored by the Visual Arts Alliance of Nashville. The show marks a departure for VAAN, a nonprofit group comprised of area visual artists and visual arts supporters, which in the past has presented shows featuring works by its members. According to VAAN board member and Parthenon curator Susan Shockley, the alliance had originally scheduled a membership show but decided to take a different direction when it realized the exhibit would ring out the century at the Parthenon. "We wanted to do a millennium exhibit without being obvious," Shockley says of the decision to showcase works by artists with no direct connection to Nashville.

Shockley and other members of VAAN's exhibition selection committee culled through museum, gallery, and individual artist Internet Web sites and also drew on personal knowledge to choose the five artists featured in the show. A unifying theme of artists working in Santa Fe and Taos eventually emerged. The works range from abstract paintings to figurative sculpture and textile art; media include oil paint, polyester resin, ceramic, wood, metal, and raffia. Some works are specific in their references to traditional Southwest themes, styles, and imagery, while others take a less overt tack. All address in some way the themes of spirituality and reverence for nature long associated with Southwestern art.

The mixed-media works of Carolyn Farris, for example, use as a central component shiny black stones that the artist discovered along a creek bed. In one of the larger works, the rocks are enshrined in individual alcoves arranged in a horizontal line across the surface, which is textured with beeswax, graphite, and pigment. In another large work, the rocks are arranged in a long horizontal shelf inset into the surface, giving the visual effect of an ancient abacus. Farris employs an almost monochromatic palette, one inspired by the black, blue-black, or bronze tones of the rocks. In each of these pieces, the enshrined stones become talismans with powers in both the spiritual and natural realms.

Some of Kenneth O'Neil's abstract oil paintings and monotypes also express a Southwestern sensibility in color and imagery. One monotype called "High Desert" suggests the striated surface of a cliff or butte in its undulating horizontal bands of gold, yellow, and buff. Another monotype called "First Sign of Spring" combines abstract shapes in sage, yellow, and grayish-lavender with a detail of slender evergreen branches on a field of tan. A large abstract diptych in oil on canvas and board evokes the monolithic rock formations of the Southwest but also suggests man-made towers as well.

Of the works in the show, Irv Janeiro's have the most overtly Southwestern look. The artist's figurative ceramic and wood sculptures seem to draw their inspiration from the religious sculptures so prevalent in the Southwest's Catholic-influenced culture. In one work, for example, the delicate ceramic face and hands of a woman emerge from a rough plank of wood. Her hands cradle a smaller face, recalling a rough roadside shrine to Madonna and child. Another work with a ceramic head encircled by a halo suggests the statues of saints that adorn Catholic shrines and churches in the Southwest. The faces of Janeiro's figures have the benign, androgynous look of many such icons, and the bodies of rough wood suggest the hand-hewn crosses also seen in the region.

Enid Tidwell's light-catching abstract sculptures seem futuristic by comparison. The colorful, transparent forms look fragile at first—until the viewer realizes they aren't made of glass, but of polyester resin. The medium, which is also used in boat and airplane construction, is colored by the artist with transparent dyes in turquoise, amber, rust, and other tones often associated with the Southwest; then the resin is poured with a hardening agent into molds designed by the artist. After hardening, the pieces are removed from the molds and shaped with power tools, followed by a sanding, buffing, and polishing process. The finished works invite viewing from all sides as the light plays through them, creating subtle changes from each vantage point.

Jan Janeiro's intricate woven wall pieces, on the other hand, make references to both the future and the past. Though the forms are mostly geometric and non-representational, they sometimes suggest a human presence, as in one work that translates the Japanese kimono shape into a black and tan raffia wall hanging. Other works suggest decaying architectural or geological forms in tones of copper, cobalt blue, and turquoise. In one such work, the artist combines crinkled sheets of copper and woven and painted raffia within the simple outline of a house to suggest the passage of time over natural and man-made structures.

In all, there are nearly 30 works, many of them of substantial size, on view. While by no means an overview of contemporary directions in Southwestern art, the thoughtfully curated show offers an excellent opportunity to see how five artists have been influenced by the unique culture and physical environment of New Mexico. That, according to Shockley, is also part of the mission of VAAN and the Parthenon.

"Art is a pyramidal process, building on what artists everywhere are doing," she says. "The cultural diversity of America is evident in these Southwestern artists, whose spirit is influenced by a different historical background and environment. For the millennium, we wanted to show works that express views that are somewhat uncommon to Nashville."

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