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Shooting Stars 

Tiny works at Davis Dominguez win our critic's Sizey Awards

“Comets” by Barbara Gurwitz, acrylic painting.

Courtesy Photo

“Comets” by Barbara Gurwitz, acrylic painting.

It's time for the Sizeys!

The Sizeys are a contest I made up, in honor of the diminutive, the petite and the infinitesimal. Each year when the northern hemisphere turns toward the sun and Tucson blazes, I confer weird awards on teensy artworks in Davis Dominguez's Small Things Considered: Small Works Invitational. Perfect for the lazy days of summer, the Sizeys allow for art-reviews lite.

This year's entertaining exhibition, the 25th in the gallery's series, features some 80 little pieces by as many artists. The media range widely from oils and watercolor to ink and charcoal and beyond. The digital photographs are particularly inventive, with assorted complicated processes applied and collages mixed in. A strong subgroup of sculptures deploy bronze, copper, glass, wood, clay and—let us give fair warning—urine, happily secured in medical specimen jars.

The rules demand that paintings and other wall works not exceed 12 inches on any side; sculptures cannot be taller or wider than 18 inches. Some artists adhere strictly to these admonitions, as does Claire Campbell Park, for instance, in a silk weaving barely bigger than my thumb.

Some artists disobey, of course—we're looking at you, Alfred Quiroz. Quiroz's 3-D wooden map of the U.S.,"Trumerika," features a terrifying Trumpian head whose long, lying Pinocchio nose stretches from sea to shining sea, easily exceeding 18 inches.

But who's counting? Gallerists Candice Davis and Mike Dominguez take a laissez-faire approach to unmanageable artists.

Herewith, this year's batch of highly subjective Sizeys.

Most Anxious

At a time of possible obstruction of justice, of drought and fire, of murder and terror at home and abroad, many works exude a sense of dread. Matthias Düwel, a Rancho Linda Vista artist and Pima Community College prof, has long made near-abstract paintings of buildings smashed and tumbling down. This time, in "Irrwanderung #6," an oil on panel painted dull greens and grays, shadowy humans wander through the wreckage.

The angsty Düwel wins the prize, with UA prof Barbara Penn's "Staying Present" coming in second with the prize for Slightly Less Anxious, But Still Obsessive. Penn's piece looks like a page from a teacher's grading book, with check marks dutifully recording what has happened each day. It mirrors the sense among the citizenry that we have to keep abreast of each day's horrors, or as the website whatthefuckjusthappenedtoday.com has it, we must "log(ging) the daily shock and awe."

Happiest Abstraction

Art does offer respite. Sometimes the best way to pack up your sorrows is to leave the real world behind and enter the realm of shape and color. Let's make a three-way tie here for a trio of cheery abstractionists. Despite its ominous title, John Birmingham's acrylic "Big Sandy in the Flood" is a joyful layering of horizontal bands of bright colors, loosely painted. Michael Andrew turns out a "Dragonfly" that's a brilliant rainbow-colored dye photo on metal. Joe Hatton's "Thirsty Cactus," cleverly rendered with colored sharpies and whiteout, converts a prickly pear's pads into geometric arcs and curves and gorgeously colors them in pink, yellow and blue.

Loveliest Getaway

I love me some landscapes when it's summertime and the living is HOT. The prize goes to Philip Melton, a talented watercolorist, for his miniscule "Gila Wilderness." Just 3 inches wide and 4 inches high, Melton's delicate painting of the New Mexico preserve with blessedly cool elevations manages to squeeze in all components of the classic western landscape: cloud-filled sky, red-brown peaks, yellow scrub and a thick green forest. What desert dweller could resist?

Most Daring Material

It's no contest. Alissa Marie Neal, a UA MFA grad to watch, bottled her own urine in "Specimen One Offs." The beautifully presented piece—three specimen cups are encased in glass and positioned on elegant slabs of wood—actually chronicles not her urinary but her psychological issues, complete with hand-written logs of her worries. Neal's MFA thesis piece—a wall full of baggies of dirt—was equally minimalist, equally handsome and almost as provocative.

Carrie Seid, creator of the mysterious "Float #3," gets the second-place nod for this 3D work's curves of metal pushing out against a length of sheer silk,

Kindest Salute to the

Embattled French

It's a tie between two Sizey regulars who frequently conjure up la vie parisienne. Jan Olsson's "Places and Things #2" is an expressionist sketch of woman bravely headed through the streets. Amy Metier's "The Eden Project #5," is an explosive abstraction of colors and French words; let's think of it as celebratory Bastille Day fireworks. And coming in second is Julia Andres, whose bronze sculpture "Pique-nique Parisien" of French foods seems to shout Vive la France.

Most Remarkable Pen and Ink

Eric Twachtman's "Last Winter" is a lovely, elusive—and small, very small—drawing in black and white of northern scene: a public square covered in snow.

Most Timely Photo

Regina Heitzer-Momaday conjures up the fears of immigrants in "Call to the World," a color close-up of an old-fashioned pay phone. A red rose lies forlornly on top the machine. But the instructions on the phone itself, a lifeline to home, invites the immigrant to Llama a Tu País.

Best Shooting Stars

This one goes to Barbara Gurwitz's "Comets," in honor of my big brother Billy Regan, who died too soon, too young, last week. The acrylic painting celebrates the beauty of the night sky in summer, with white comets and shooting stars zipping across the blues of deep space and into eternity. A fabulous father and grandfather, Billy was a lover of astrophysics, and Gurwitz's painting reminds me of one of his favorite quotes from Neil deGrasse Tyson: "We are part of the universe; we are in this universe," Tyson wrote, "but perhaps more important...the universe is in us."

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