A Little Creativity

Davis Dominguez's 'Small Works Invitational' is bigger than ever before

The Small Works Invitational has hit its 17th year at Davis Dominguez Gallery, and this year, it's the biggest little show ever.

"We got 80 to 82 pieces this year," says co-owner Candice Davis. "They're all good pieces. Almost everyone who we asked came up with something."

The annual mini-ganza of tiny art exhibits paintings 12 inches on a side and sculptures no more than 16 inches high. That's the only rule.

My companion Sizey contest, an annual exercise in mini-art reviews, has only one rule, too: I get to make up the categories as I go along, and I can judge the wee works as I please. Like most awards contests, the Sizeys are unabashedly unscientific and totally partial, but they're all in the name of summer fun.

Herewith the 2009 Sizey Awards:

Best Outsider: The Small Works artists are usually from Tucson or thereabouts, but an out-of-towner has turned up this time. Gallery owners Davis and Mike Dominguez invited Amy Metier of Boulder, Colo., because she's their newest gallery artist. She debuts with a fine little abstraction, "Light Study," a geometry of pinks and peaches that goes dark around the edges, turning brown and ultramarine. The vertical rectangles suggest an architectural space; the pale colors conjure up light coming through a window.

First Prize Tomato: OK, Earl Wettstein's is the only tomato in the whole exhibition, but it's so red, so round and so fetching that it's deserving of far more than a Sizey. A blue ribbon in the county fair is more like it. An acrylic on canvas, "Voluptuous!" pictures a giant cartoon tomato rising up into the pure blue sky, dwarfing its desert backdrop. A lone saguaro juts up from the ochre landscape. What it all means, I don't know, but at least Wettstein is eating—or painting—his vegetables. Last year, he was a runner-up for the naughty Visions of Sugar Plums prize for his Wayne Thiebaud-like candy-colored cookies and cakes.

Artiest Kitchenware: Alfred Quiroz wins hands-down for his shiny aluminum tortilla press/functional sculpture. "Tortillas de la Virgen" has two metal plates, joined by a working hinge: Pour the dough in, put it over the fire, and you're good to go. The art part is a 3-D image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that Quiroz has etched into the plate. The Virgin's familiar image will be stamped into any and all tortillas the press produces. No need to look for a Virgin in the scorch marks of an ordinary tortilla. Buy this, and you've got an instant miracle-maker.

Runner-up is Bob Hassan's teapot in oak and mahogany. "Tea Time for Picasso and Me" deconstructs the round belly of the teapot into a series of Picasso planes, in a work of 3-D Cubism.

Most Contemporary: Miles Conrad checks in with his characteristic encaustic in "Stacked," a thickly layered and pungently colored work in orange wax. A stack of rings—condoms? onion rings?—are trapped and tripping into the thick goo.

Cutest Packrat: Mark Rossi makes charming, old-fashioned sculptures of desert critters, realistic down to the fur, or the feathers, on their backs. But I can't decide which of his two on view is cuter. I'm torn between "Packrat #2," a bronze replica rat curled up in sleep, its long tail curved around him, and "Packrat #1," the rat peering over his pedestal at his pal steeped in slumber. It's neck and neck.

Best Nude: Perennial winner Judith Stewart nails the prize yet again for her "Tiny Torso," another of her tactile figures in bronze. Typically, Stewart carries over the finger marks of her clay into her metal, and she assembles the final figure out of fractured pieces. "Tiny Torso" is a lovely example, a female figure stretching 8 inches from clavicle to kneecap, and colored a golden brown.

Best Rejuvenation of Another Artist's Work: Julia Andres is the only contender here; no matter, her "Datura Arborea" is haunting. In 1920, a certain G.E.P. Smith pressed some leaves into a pleasing composition. Andres somehow got hold of this 89-year-old work and reconstituted it into a print via an etching process called polymer photogravure. Smith's old leaves float darkly against pale gray, a ghostly echo of the past.

Coolest, Temperature-Wise: Erik Twachtman's mixed-media "When I Went Back Flicka Was Gone" abstractly evokes a chilly northerly landscape, all green firs and turquoise waters.

Dueling Roses: It's Mike Stack, art professor at Pima Community College, vs. Maurice Sevigny, who recently stepped down as dean of the UA College of Fine Arts. In "Rose Peak I," Stack champions almost pure abstraction, painting a thousand precise lines of pink and rose and violet horizontally across a square linen. Sevigny goes for a surrealistic landscape in rose tones; his trees are psychedelic orange; his clouds are purple; and his furrowed field is lurid lavender. Stack wins for the greater delicacy of his approach: His painted lines are minutely engineered to suggest light breaking over that peak.

Dueling Villages: Barbara Gurwitz and Nancy Prevo have both painted rural fantasies, in acrylic on canvas, of perfect villages in perfect landscapes. The colors are crayon-bright in Gurwitz's childlike "Mid Summer's Eve"; in Grand Canyon oranges and purples, they conjure up an Arizona mesa beneath a starry sky. The red-roofed church in the village below has a New England-style steeple. The white Mission church on the horizon in "The Farm" signals that Prevo's bucolic idyll is in Mexico. She zooms in closer to her landscape than Gurwitz does, picking up small details like a yellow truck hauling hay, chickens pecking in the yard and laundry billowing on the line. The nod goes to Prevo, only because her muted secondary colors, like the pale green on her hillside, promise a more relaxing trip.

Most Invisible Portrait: I can't find any faces at all in George Welch's "Portraits," a nice acrylic and watercolor that swirls some abstract organic shapes around in olive and orange. The closest I come to human features are a few dots that may pass for eyes.

Best Graffiti: Brooke Grucella's strange oil on panel, "The Repercussion of Our Past," is a vertical vision of a young boy tumbling out of the sky, face-down, feet trailing behind. Dressed in a black T-shirt and gray shorts, he's falling through shots of color, cloud-like bursts of teal and purple. Comic-book darts of red, yellow and blue are aimed dangerously at his falling flesh. The words "Long Shadows" are lettered across the surface, turning this memory piece into a work of art-gallery graffiti.

Most Metaphorical Sticks: John Davis wins in a landslide, for "On File," in which nature's branches have been captured and clamped down by three metal vises attached to a manmade box of cold metal.

Coolest Bubbles: Matthias Düwel has no rivals. Painted bubbles in pale colors float through every inch of his self-explanatorily named "Bubble." The only deviation occurs below the bubble-scape, where a minuscule female nude relaxes incongruously on a lounge chair.

Most Alluring Road Not Taken: A perennial winner in landscape and skyscape, Debra Salopek has painted another vision of the land that's palpable with longing. This time, in "Penumbra," she has a road curving toward tomorrow through a forest that's a gray-green blur.

Place I Most Want to Go to This Summer: Philip Melton's "El Moro, New Mexico" is a classic tripartite landscape: blue-gray sky above, a long gray of mountains in the middle, and a stretch of land in ochre and green below. It's a delicious watercolor of the infinite West.

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