Bird Brains

A flock of summer-lite artworks gather Sizey prizes at Davis Dominguez

Mike Dominguez claims that 2013 is the Year of the Bird.

He may have a point.

Hyper as a hummingbird, he darts around Davis Dominguez Gallery, pointing out all the birds in Small Things Considered, the gallery's 21st Small Works Invitational.

Dominguez, who co-owns the gallery with his wife, Candice Davis, pounces on seven avian examples, all in wildly different media.

To wit:

Mark Rossi's fallen "Allan's Cardinal," as dead as a bronze bird can be.

Julia Andres' "Raven Not Cuervo," a deft drypoint in silhouette of every poet's favorite bird.

Katja Fritsche's frosted glass bird perched on a glass frame in "Gift," a reverse painting on glass.

Gail Marcus-Orlen's painted bluebird and sparrow, alighting on a woman's shoulders in "The Red Hat #1."

Michael Contreras' "Quack," a metal and wood sculpture of two long-necked, decidedly un-ducklike waterfowl.

Charlotte Bender's two charming painted "Birds with Butterfly Wings."

And finally, from bird painter Moira Marti Geoffrion, one more pájaro from her seemingly endless supply, this one a rooster, in "Another Bird and More Bees."

What's the meaning of this abundant arty aviary, apart from providing me the opportunity to use that word in reviews two weeks running?

The simple explanation is that it's summer in Tucson, a time when brains fry and our most discerning residents, feathered and otherwise, flee the coop.

For those of us who remain, Davis Dominguez's annual summer Small Works Invitational is a bracing blast of lighter-than-air creativity. Eighty serious artists compress their big-sized ideas into teeny summer-lite formats, making paintings no bigger than 12 inches square and sculptures no more than 18 inches high.

And their herculean efforts to make Lilliputian art allow me to stage my annual Sizey Awards, a lighthearted contest that allows me to hand out silly prizes of my own devising. Let's call it bird-brain reviewing, summer style.

Here are this year's winners:

BEST EVOCATION OF SUMMER: The sunny oranges and golds of Beata Wehr's "RLV 16" readily summon up Arizona's blazing summer. The encaustic artist piled her luscious colors thickly onto the backing, and, before they hardened, dug deep furrows into the wax to make a loopy checkerboard in the hottest of hot hues.

MOST SURPRISING GLASS: Veteran glassmaker Tom Philabaum also turned to the yellow and orange of the sun in "Fused Glass Painting," an abstracted layering of geometric shapes in the steamy colors of summer. It's fun to see Philabaum moving from 3-D sculptural pieces to 2-D wall works. Bob Hassan's "Don't Throw Stones," an intricate tapestry woven in strands of colored glass, is like a magic carpet, set on edge and put on a pedestal. The aforementioned Fritsche's "Gift" is a startling combo of glass frame, fat glass bird and glass painting. Hard to choose: I'll declare a triple crown for this trio, and award a Sizey to all three innovators, with a tip of the glass shard to longtime innovator Philabaum.

MOST MUSICAL WOOD: Abstract sculptor Barbara Jo McLaughlin took some plain old plywood for her entry, "Unfurl," and cut and burnished it to a fine sheen. Her three curving spirals of pale wood look like G clefs on a measure of music, or instruments ready to crank out a tune.

BEST MORNINGS: Landscape painters Debra Salopek and the late Bruce McGrew are often neck and neck in the Sizeys, both having turned out beautiful painted worlds in miniature. The smallest Salopek I've seen yet, "Morning Walk," is an oil of her new habitat in the middle of America, where the morning gleams cerulean in a big sky daubed with patches of pale yellow-pink. McGrew's untitled watercolor of his beloved Scotland has a brushy ultramarine sky, a dark gray hill and green islands floating in the sea.

BEST DOG: I'm no dog lover—have I mentioned the dog bite I sustained last year in a vicious kitchen attack (ouch and ouch)?—but Albert Kogel's wooden "Chapo" is one pooch that will never bite. This lovable specimen is made out of non-nipping wood—he's been assembled out of flat boards fitted together like pieces of a 3-D puzzle. As a bonus, his maker gouged stars into his wood hide, tricking out Chapo as a Fourth of July pooch.

BEST SILK PURSE OUT OF SOW'S EAR: That is to say, best drawing made with an ordinary black pen on cheap notebook paper. Albert Chamillard, following up on his well-received recent show at ATLAS Fine Art Services downtown, exhibits an untitled plain posy made entirely out of black lines drawn on light-green lined paper. Chamillard's million strokes—vertical, horizontal and crisscrossed—are wild and disciplined at the same time.

MOST NOTICEABLE ARTISTIC INTERACTION IN A FAMILY GROUP: Painter Matthias Düwel is married to painter Emily Stern Düwel; painter Jean Stern, a co-founder of the Rancho Linda Vista art colony, is Emily's mother. Berlin native Matthias turns out another abstraction, "Last Exit: Babylon," that conjures urban chaos, with fragments of buildings tumbling into rivers of ruin. Emily moves in a Matthias direction in "Beautiful Things Grow," an acrylic with colors—lavender, green—close to her husband's, and a garden dismembered, like his cities, into bits and pieces. Stern's oil on paper "Repository" keeps her own colors, but her grays and blues and shots of orange seems to merge Matthias' urban structures with Emily's plants.

MOST UNREFORMED DAREDEVIL: Intrepid lightning photog Jeff Smith usually turns up with an up-close-and-personal shot of Tucson's lightning storms, filled with electrified bolts close enough to kill. This year, though, his "I Remember the Desert" is a dreamy color view of saguaros in radiant sunlight. At first you think he's reformed into a safe and sane artist. Look closer, though, and you see that Smith is up to his old tricks. He may not be putting himself in real-life danger, but through a trick of the lens he's turned that beautiful sun into a fireball that's engulfing the cacti. The more things change ...

MOST POLITICAL: Barbara Penn's "Weapons of the House and Senate" expresses everyone's weariness with the scorched-earth battles in Washington. An old-fashioned all-American cabin, wistfully painted in subdued earth tones, sits atop a generic scorecard of votes. Wherever the Democrats have voted yes, Penn has the Republicans voting no. And vice versa. This tapestry of disgust is ironically stitched together with a delicate needle and thread.

WORST VACATION: Juan Enriquez records the true story of the near-drowning of a boyhood friend in the mixed-media painting "The One-Eleven." According to Dominguez, Enriquez and his buddy were swimming fully clothed and unsupervised in a lake when his friend began to sink. The artwork commemorates the moment when an alert boater sped to the rescue and the drowning boy managed to grasp the boat with his hands. The boy's face is a deathly white, and the water is a deadly yellow green.

BEST VACATION: Don West's classic oil "Pacific Beach" depicts where I'd like to be right now: on a lovely beach, with the ocean crashing onto the sands. West also gets an honorable mention for double dipping: He has a retrospective on view now at Obsidian Gallery in the old Southern Pacific train depot downtown.

BEST BIRD: You knew I'd get back to this, didn't you? Rossi's "Allan's Cardinal" is a shoo-in for BEST DEAD BIRD. Could there be a better vehicle than bronze for rigor mortis? And BEST LIVE BIRD? Let that go to Charlotte Bender, for her beautiful blackbirds with the butterfly spots on their tails. One peers into a house, but the other is aloft in the wild blue yonder, above and beyond the Catalinas, patchily and beautifully painted in shades of green, purple and clay.

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