Round and round and round it goes, where the monsoon stops nobody knows.
Of all the artists in the Chubasco (monsoon) show at Raices Taller, Lisa Bernal Brethour comes closest to capturing the fickle nature of this year's elusive summer rains. She's created a gambling game, "A Summer Bet," complete with tokens, a checkerboard and a monsoon wheel of chance.
The roulette wheel has 18 tiny painted pictures. If you're lucky, it will roll to a stop on "Downpour," a picture of a fierce rain tumbling from a thick cloud. If you're not, the spinning disk will land on a burning yellow sun or the egg frying on the sidewalk.
And if you're just destined to be tortured for the rest of the day, scanning the skies and wondering if that distant storm you see will finally pay a visit to your neighborhood, the wheel of fortune will come to rest on a no-action-Jackson—a teasing painted cloud.
It's no secret that our much-longed-for summer rains have played favorites this year, gloriously flooding some parts of Tucson while leaving others parched and pitiful. (My mail carrier recently marveled that on a day my street was an arid wasteland, a neighborhood a mile away was so flooded he'd wished for a boat to make his appointed rounds.)
In this enjoyable annual show, exhibiting some 50 artists working in a wide range of media, Brethour is not the only one to decry the unfairness of this fair-weather monsoon season.
The Navajo artist Rezmo suggests turning to the Almighty for help. His "Praying for to (Rain)" is a spray-painted mixed media work of stylized indigenous design, with a female figure reaching out to a water jug, which, one hopes, a divinity will soon fill with sparkling H2O.
Bob Torrez acknowledges that we're all apt to go bonkers on our 112-degree days. His photo "Desert Hallucinations" delineates our delusions when we insist that surely this dusty wind or that dark cloud is a harbinger of a storm to come. His black-and white image of saguaros, sand hills and stormy skies is suitably hard to decipher. Is that gust dust or drizzle? Is that cloud damp or dehydrated? Only the monsoon gods know for sure.
Vickee Sotelo Lopez converts the season's painful dryness into a fish story. She's made a lovely, liquid watercolor of a dead fish in the dry-as-dust Santa Cruz. According to gallery manager John Salgado, Lopez swears that her fish tale is true: Her dog found the fish carcass tucked in between some rocks on the Santa Cruz riverbed.
The most reassuring pieces are those that definitively show the rain. Kristy Thomas records the pleasures of an honest-to-goodness gully washer. Her oil on canvas, "Through My Window," pictures an evening storm through glass: lightning bolts flash in the gray-blue sky and rain pours down on the mountains and her neighbors' rooftops, while birds clutch to the electric wires. Best of all, Thomas paints shimmery raindrops clinging to the windowpane.
Richard Trible's black-and-white photo "Avra Valley" delves into the drama of stormy skies high above the flatlands. Deep-black clouds clash with paler ones, while a fierce downpour rages in the distance.
Trible also traffics in rain in the city in the color photo "4th Ave. Rain," a classic look at walkers hurrying across wet streets that reflect flashes of yellow from cars' headlights and the red and greens of a traffic light.
Monica Zavala Durazo and Chris Chandler hung their "Lluvia Impetuosa y Repentina (Impetuous and Sudden Rain)" on the gallery rafters, where it quivers in the swamp cooler's drafts of air. It's a paper sculpture made with sewing patterns and thread, and its impetuous streams of rain are rendered as wide paper cylinders.
The show's youngest artist, 12-year-old Cason Claxton, painted a lively Expressionist view of A Mountain in a storm. The saguaros in the foreground seem to be rejoicing in the cloudburst, raising their arms up to the heavens. The artist takes the liberty of painting the rain coiled into circles, instead of streaming down vertically. But then again, true monsoon storms often take liberty with the laws of physics.
Claxton's mother, Casney Tadeo, ponders the fate of migrant mothers and their children crossing north in violent storms or searing heat. "(The Storm Is Coming) Blessed Mother of Weary Travelers," an acrylic on canvas, features a modern mom clutching an infant and hovering in the air between bars of the border wall. In the sky above, a tempest threatens.
Several artists have abstracted the beauty of the rains. In "Rillito," Ciri Johnson painted a memory of the river's seasonal waters, using acrylics to make gentle violet ripples on a small square of canvas. George Welch, a retired Pima art prof, imagined the storms in pale pastels and elusive shapes in the handsome "Monsoon Global."
Glory Tacheenie-Campoy painted a light-hearted watercolor of "Raindrops and Umbrellas" dancing through the air, each the size of a thumbprint, shaped like a raindrop and colored in crayon brights. You can't look at it without hearing the cheerful old song "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head"
Turning to serious subjects, a mother-daughter pair, Hughette Nordin and Trina Davis, used the monsoon as a metaphor for life and death. Together they painted a large diptych of the monsoon sky, with dark clouds on the left, white on the right, and, in between, a post-storm rainbow.
Nordin, a talented painter who made a perfect agave acrylic for the recent "Mujeres" show, is suffering from a serious cancer. So she and Davis skipped the typical artist statement, and instead wrote a dialogue about dying.
The onslaught of cancer is like the storm in the painting, Nordin explains, while the compassion and love that family and friends lavish on a patient are the clouds' silver lining. And in dying, as in living, "the bright side represents the good days," she says, "and the cloudy side is maybe the sadder days."