Past and Present

The Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery hosts a show capturing the "Then and Now" of four artists who got their MFA at the UA

The quintet of artists in

"Then and Now" have at least one thing in common: all four got an MFA from the UA years ago and then embarked on farflung art careers.

Photographer and filmmaker Ann Fessler is director of photography at Rhode Island School of Design.

Painter and printmaker Pamela Marks teaches at Connecticut College.

Painter and graphic artist Jan Olsson lives in Paris, working in the historic artists' studios at La Ruche.

Tom Savage is a painter in California.

Their handsome group show at the Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery – which has samples of their work from then and now—shows just how early all four artists hit upon what would become lifelong preoccupations.

Way back in 1979, Savage was experimenting with abstraction, but he wasn't quite there yet. The objects in his oil on canvas "Levitation" – a pink carpenter's sawhorse, a cluster of pyramids and a zooming lavender jet – are almost, but not entirely recognizable. They float in an undefined modernist space that's painted in thick and lively vertical stripes.

Fast forward to 2014, and Savage has moved into a pure and beautiful abstraction. "Solitude #2" is gorgeous, a loose geometry of glistening gold and cerulean painted on wood. A dynamic black drawing cuts over the paint, angling and zipping across the colors. But Savage still has that old interest in odd, vaguely symbolic objects. In "Right Now," a big 2009 acrylic on canvas, is patchily painted in shiny silver and gold. Various abstracted shapes drift across the surface, painted in thick red or black, or quickly sketched in charcoal.

Marks, an early artist at the old Dinnerware cooperative, likewise showed her fascination for mark-making early on. Her "Directional Focus #1," a 1979 mixed media on paper, is a vertical cascade of soft-edged stripes in beige and rust and blue. (Marks' pattern paintings are exhibited at Davis Dominguez Gallery through Dec. 6.)

Her current work, though still abstract, has its roots in the real world. "The Displacements," a 2014 series of solar plate etchings in color, is a response to fracking, the controversial method of gathering natural gas from the earth by splitting rock with powerful streams of water.

Each of the series' 15 pieces has an elegant grid of tiny circles, neatly arranged in horizontal rows inside an 8-inch square. The circles change color in each piece – turning pale yellow or blue or green – and coalesce into an image suggesting environmental degradation. "#8" has an ominous white cloud leaking out over red and yellow circles. In "#13," gray spots mar the paper, its blue circles are fading and a larger circle of decaying black and white swallows up the whole.

Olsson exhibits a deftly executed pencil drawing from 1982, "Hand Mirror." With its gloves and necklace strewn across a dressing table, it presages her skill in using objects to convey human moods and desires. Her current series, "Dessins sur Mesures," has ink drawings of people and their things sketched atop pages from a French literary review. These vases and coffee cups and pitchers intensify the portraits.

As long ago as 1979, Fessler was making found-image collages about the place of women in 1950s America. Two works here used old advertising images of cheerful housewives to demonstrate the ways women were belittled for their domestic labor.

A black-and-white Fessler movie dated 2001/2013 travels parallel terrain, hauntingly conjuring up the tale of a pregnant teen—Fessler's birth mother—in the mid-century Midwest. "Along the Pale Blue River" is filled with lovely faded shots of river towns and farms, and a wrenching voiceover by Fessler recounts her physical and psychological journey into her own—and her mother's—past.