Bring on the Sizeys!

Davis Dominguez's 'Small Works Invitational' yet again offers up a variety of impressive little creations

Yo! The Sizeys are upon us.

The unscientific annual awards competition, now in its fourth year, lionizes the little at Davis Dominguez Gallery. As the contest's self-appointed inventor, rules-maker, judge and jury, I get to honor the miniature artworks in the annual Small Works Invitational, with admittedly dubious prizes. (Actually, there are no prizes, just titles.)

Many of the same artists return year in, year out, albeit with new works. If my inner feminist will forgive me for saying so, it's kinda like judging the same Miss America contestants every year for years on end, only in different dresses. Nevertheless, somebody's got to be Miss America, right? Likewise, somebody must be named Best Cardboard Artist or Best Political Critic or Master of Shiniest Trash.

The Sizeys have no rules, but the exhibition does. The gallery's proprietors, Candice Davis and Mike Dominguez, decree that painters must limit their work to 12 inches on a side; sculptors are limited to 16 inches. Artists get in only by invitation. This year, 68 small works made it to the walls and the pedestals. Davis and Dominguez don't know what they're getting until the pieces arrive.

"There are no stinkers this year," Davis said with some measure of relief.

With that standard in mind, here are the winners of the Fourth Annual Sizeys:

Best Cardboard: Pioneering this new category is Bob Hassan. His "Sphere Ascending in a Square" is ingeniously constructed in brown corrugated cardboard, the same material fourth-graders cut up to make, say, a U.S. Capitol. The sphere has been cut out, layer by layer, from the square, leaving a nice, crater-like hole. Then Hassan re-assembled the sphere in the outer space behind the square, putting all of us Mars-addled Arizonans in mind of a soaring planet.

Best Tin: The Tucson Weekly's own Rand Carlson, a cartoonist in his newspaper life, is peerless (and fearless) in tin. He's meticulous, too, just like his cardboard confrère Hassan. Carlson cuts jillions of tiny strips from old cookie tins and other tossed-out junk, and reconstructs them into painterly pix. This one, "Pretty Window," is a teeny Western landscape, maybe 3 inches square, but complete with purple mountain majesty and turquoise sky, framed by multicolored stripes.

Best Female Nude: OK, there's nothing innovative about this category, but female nudes are a time-honored genre, and Judith Stewart's are deliriously lovely. Following up on the larger clay figures in her recent two-person show at the gallery, Stewart made "Oracle," a small seated woman, in clay. Tinted a delicate peach color, the figure is so roughly surfaced that you can imagine it at once as a piece still under construction--with Stewart pressing her fingers into the yielding clay--and as a final piece that never seems finished. It's fresh as a sketch.

Miss Havisham Award, or Best Bride: Winner last year in Best Use of Natural Materials, Rancho Linda Vista's Selina Littler comes back with another sculpture made entirely of desert materials gleaned in the RLV artists' colony near Oracle. Her "Bride" is an ethereal, vaguely human figure wrought out of sticks and twigs, and dressed in a gown of feathery netting and plant pods. Dead flowers cascading from her head form a veil.

Volley of the Valleys: Two painters conjure up Western landscapes, idyllic but compressed. Duncan Martin's pint-sized "February, San Luis Valley" has all the standard components of the genre--big sky, distant mountains, sweep of ocher in the foreground--loosely rendered in oil. Philip Melton's watercolor "San Rafael Valley," even tinier, is similar, only vertical and more detailed, with rock shadows the size of a fingernail clipping, and miniscule trees that could dance on the head of a pin. I admire Melton's diligence, but I'm going with Martin's broader strokes.

Visions of Sugar Plums Prize: Earl Wettstein paints up a storm o' candy-colored cookies and cakes in "Ventana Canyon Dessert Tray." But Robert D. Cocke upends that tray in "Night Voyage" with meticulously painted toys remembered from childhood. Long and skinny, this dreamy night painting in acrylics pictures a toy horse, an alphabet block, a board-game-playing piece, a wooden ocean liner. Mementoes of the past, the toys glow in the moonlight.

Shiniest Trash: Hands-down, photog Cy Lehrer wins for his glittering "Shreds," a pigmented inkjet print of a pile of junk, shot from on high. The silvery shards push out to the edges of the paper in every direction; there's no horizon, and no exit.

Best Watery Blue: Joanne Kerrihard is a perennial winner in the Best Boat category, but in the absence of many nautical vehicles, she gets the nod for coolest sea-green blue, in the oil-on-linen "Koi Pond."

Best Vacations: Tim Murphy's "Swimmers in a Lake" is a beautifully painted oil that abstracts a summer day into the pale colors of Cezanne's bather paintings. Flesh-colored bendy stripes suggest joyful swimmers in a minor key, splashing in subdued blue-gray water and cavorting on an ocher shore. Debra Salopek's "Road Trip #2" meanders down an endless road curving between mountains; never mind that little brush fire to your left.

Worst Vacations: Darla Masterson's sculpture "Flight" scatters black dots like sand over layers of acrylic, and John Davis' "Aground" is a rusty steel paddle crashing into a real rock. Put them together, and you get the holiday from hell.

Most Vivid Despair: Between you and me, quite a few of the artists seem a little on edge. Two artists tackle pain--psychic or physical--but one goes narrative, the other abstract. Albert Kogel's "Between Surgeries," a painted head that's a cross between sculpture and painting, is suffering, and no wonder: The head has been sectioned. One set of eyes and a forehead have been lifted away from the man's face, and underneath, there's another set of eyes. Miles Conrad does the job abstractly. His "Inside Out" is encaustic on panel, a waxy 3-D wall work in bloody maroons and black. It looks like tortured skin; a couple of holes have eaten into this flesh, and a pair of poxy blisters poke painfully out. Ouch. Let's make it a tie to ward off more suffering.

Best Political Critique: There are three contenders this year. Sound familiar? But none of these political campaigners has kind thoughts of the current administration. Painter Phil Lichtenhan's "Wreckage," a fairly realistic acrylic, pictures a flag-bedecked U.S. ship going down at sea. Herb Stratford goes conceptual in his 3-D "America," with an old-fashioned glass negative of the U.S. flag inside an antique found box. In the topsy-turvy world of the negative, the flag is out of whack. The stars are dark, the field behind it white, and the whole thing is bathed in clouds.

Alfred Quiróz doesn't bother with that kind of poetic allegory, favoring instead what we might politely call the carnal metaphor. His sculpture "Doin' Amereeka" shapes a metal map of the Middle American states into a rape victim who is being violated at both ends. An aluminum Dick Cheney is the rapist working the hindquarters. George W. penetrates the mouth. Considering all that's gone wrong in Bush's America--expansion of presidential power, torture of military prisoners, internments of foreigners without trial, the interminable war in Iraq--the metaphor is, shall we say, juste.

I cast my vote for Alfred.