B y M a r g a r e t R e g a n
IT WAS A good day to see the new show at Local 803 Artisans Gallery. It was hot as you-know-what and the thick air was smothering. In the southern skies framed by the big gallery windows, you could see some feeble gray rainclouds trying--but failing--to deliver. The heat, the humidity and the longing for rain all made a fine prelude for seeing Tori Arpad's installations and Kristen Groenveld's mixed media woodcuts in the gallery. Both artists use water to plunge the well of memory.
Before Arpad came to Tucson to study ceramics at the UA, she had spent most of her life along the water. Her childhood was played out by a lake in Wisconsin, her early adulthood among the rivers and canals of western Massachusetts.
"Every place," as she says, "had a water connection."
So the desert, where "you have to search out running water," came as a shock. Its cracked riverbeds, dusty washes and unforgiving blue skies naturally got the artist to thinking of clear streams and casual showers. Water, and its absence from her new desert home, inspired her three installation pieces. And though one of the pieces includes a tongue-in-cheek bathing suit altar, she's not just thinking about a cool dip.
The new works are an inviting meditation on the sensuous properties of water--its coolness, its greenness, its musical babbling--and on the connections water has with memory. The main room of the gallery is dominated by "still, yet," a huge floor piece framed by a giant wooden dock, fondly recreated in homage to all those northern lakeside piers. The dock planks hem in a large, square pool of real water, shored up by behemoth sheets of plastic that mimic the murky darkness of a pond. The work is an almost mythical evocation of perfect summers at water's edge (even if you never had a place at the lake) and suggests lost time and memories. Reinforcing that impression are the white sheets of cloth dangling into the water from bedsprings suspended above it: the bed as the place of dreams.
"Grove: Accumulated Urges," the most alluring of Arpad's installations, fills one of the small adjoining rooms with sea-green ceramic bowls whose grainy, cracked interiors summon up arroyos of the dry season. Set on beach sand and ceramic squares incised with cryptic sayings (yearn...once full...garden grove touch), the bowls lead to the bathing-suit altar, which features a green suit dangling from a hanger. For the third piece, "Mnemosyne's Bed," another room-size-installation, Arpad has covered the floor with mud that's now dried and cracked. An old Super-8 movie camera continuously plays a film of running water, which Arpad found after much searching in Sabino Creek near Marshall's Gulch on Mount Lemmon. The water images flicker on an odd screen that's really another old mattress spring, this one embedded in fired ceramic.
Arpad refers to Mnemosyne because she was the Greek goddess associated with memory (think mnemonic device), and presided over the well of remembrance. Interestingly, Groenveld, whom Arpad has only met once, delves into some of the same mnemonic themes in her woodblock prints, using water imagery as the fertile source of her explorations into the subconscious and memory. Her 15 giant works bear little relation to the tidy line drawings of the conventional woodblock print. Instead, she's printed loose images of everyday objects onto huge sheets of colored paper and vigorously painted over these inky giants.
A recent artist-in-residence downtown, Groenveld got her MFA from the university several years back. Her inked prints of everyday objects--binoculars, logs, picket fences and so forth--are repeated again and again, popping up in many different works like recurring motifs from dreams. Most interesting in the context of her joint show with Arpad are the figures submerged in water. "Pendulum" is a long, vertical piece of paper that echoes the shape of a well, with a tiny female figure swimming, or drowning, at the bottom. In "Head Stand," the girl's plunged headfirst into a small pool of water. "Ditching" has the girl in a bathing suit in a stream whose perspective is deliberately ambiguous: She's either floating tranquilly on the surface or rapidly plumbing the depths of the waters.
These new works are not as interesting visually as the large, ambitious paintings I remember from Groenveld's MFA show. Still, as a plunge into the psychologically-charged subject matter of memory and dreams and childhood, they hold a viewer's interest. And paired with Arpad's works, they make a compelling case for water as muse.
Works by Tori Arpad and Kristin Groenveld will be on exhibit through September 9 at Local 803 Artisans' Gallery, 803 E. Helen St. A reception for the artists, open to the public, meets from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, August 19. Regular gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For more information call 882-4625.
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