Size Matters

Davis Dominguez showcases the biggest little art in town

This year, the biggest little show in Tucson has gotten even bigger.

Davis Dominguez Gallery's 13th Annual Small Works Invitational boasts some 80 artists, "our biggest number ever," says co-owner Mike Dominguez. "Last year, we had 71 or 72."

One reason is that Dominguez and partner Candice Davis remodeled the lobby of their Warehouse District gallery, creating more exhibition space. Another is that the roster of Tucson artists just keeps growing. Most of the artists exhibiting are from Tucson or thereabouts, with big names including Nancy Tokar Miller, Fred Borcherdt and Alfred Quiróz, along with such up-and-comers as Joanne Kerrihard, Mike Stack and Monica Rossa. (For the truly cutting-edge youngsters, you'll have to look not here, but in the Biennial over at Tucson Museum of Art.)

Others had Tucson ties at some point, including painters Pamela Marks and Jan Olsson. Two other artists are beloved Rancho Linda Vista veterans "back from the dead," as Dominguez says, showing work posthumously. Bruce McGrew is represented by a small untitled oil of a figure in a watery landscape (one of his luminous large-scale oils is on display elsewhere in the gallery). Charles Littler has a charming pencil drawing of a totally cool dude-cum-motorcycle.

Size matters when Davis and Dominguez ask the artists to make their paintings no bigger than 1 foot square, and their sculptures no more than a foot-and-a-half high or wide. The fun is seeing the artists distill their familiar styles down to their essence.

It's not always easy on the artists' egos to scale down, Dominguez confides, but "people have been great this year. Nobody came in with something twice as big as I asked."

It's impossible in this small newspaper space to enumerate the virtues or vices of each piece. So herewith is a subjective compilation, of Best Of awards. Let's call them the Sizeys.

Best Distillation From Big to Small: Claire Campbell Park's "Summer Promise." The weaver miniaturizes her standard wall-sized hanging in this tiny work the size of a bookmark. A plaid weaving of minuscule paper strips, it's delicately painted lawn-green and blue.

Runner-Up: Jim Waid's "April." The painter easily compresses his usual big plant-inspired swirls to a canvas just 10 by 12 inches. This little work is a mélange of brilliant reds, purples and gold acrylic paints.

Best Abstraction: Nancy Tokar Miller's "Nocturne," a moody acrylic on canvas that mixes curves and rectangles in black, muted green gray and dim lime. In her trademark style, she achieves the seemingly contradictory: brushstrokes that are wide and visible and colors so thin and transparent they stain the canvas.

Runner-Up: James Schaub's "Cane Mill Flower," an entrancing mix of maroon and orange, in depths both thin and think; acrylic on canvas.

Best Clouds: Debra Salopek's "Dust Cloud," hands down. This wonderful Arizona painter, transplanted to New Mexico, makes paintings gorgeously layered in Old Master oils on board. But her aesthetic is modern, and her landscapes spare. This tiny stripped-down one features a big, dark gold cloud, a giant turquoise sky and a narrow swathe of earth below.

Runner-Up: Duncan Martin's "Light Study, Plains of San Augustín," an oil on panel that's both luminous and buttery.

Best Use of Fire Equipment: Barbara Jo McLaughlin's "Double Dribble," a sleek abstract sculpture that has a cloth fire hose connecting two ovals carved of pale pine. Nice mix of textures within a controlled palette.

Best Use of Yellow: Tim Murphy's "The Yellow Box." This overlooked abstractionist painted a thick oil-on-board in a delicious pale yellow. He finger-painted a simple box--or house?--into the thick paint, creating crevices that allow a gold under-layer to shine through.

Best Figurative Sculpture: Judith Stewart's "Hussie" and "Hussie With Hat." Stewart is the only artist who won two slots in the show, and deservedly so. These little female nudes, no more than 4 and 6 inches high, are loosely rendered in bronze. But the soft patina Stewart gives them makes them look like pliable clay.

Runner-Up: Mark Rossi's "Burrowing Owl With Beetle," if birds and bugs count as figures. This bronze realistically captures these creatures, whose every feather and carapace is carefully etched.

Most Op-Art: Ben Goo's untitled painted wood sculpture. A bright blue triangle is the base for a circle and little pyramids and trapezoids painted yellow and green.

Most Mournful Painting: Susan Conaway's "Five O'Clock Shadow." This small oil on canvas manages to picture a trio of squashes monumentally, darkly looming over the viewer in chiaroscuro shadows and glints of gold. Ties with Olsson, below.

Most Mournful Sculpture: Gary Benna's "Immortal Barbie." This elaborate glazed clay piece is bona fide funerary art, with a female corpse reclining on a coffin on top of an elaborate pedestal. Open the lid, and inside, you'll find her skeleton.

Best Boat: Joanne Kerrihard's untitled oil on canvas of a stylized rose-pink dory on golden sand, against a cerulean sea.

Best Figure in a Landscape: Peter Kresan's "Escape," a gelatin silver print photograph, picturing a female nude in a cave. Suggesting the Canyon de Chelly photos of every Western photog, the striped-rock cave is delicately rendered in an array of grays.

Most Buttery: James Cook's "Greystone Study," a painting of snow-capped mountain and sky. Cook's paint is so glossy and luscious that this classic subject avoids western-art cliché.

Most French: Jan Olsson's, "Since You've Been Gone." Olsson lives in Paris but still spends time at Rancho Linda Vista. This grief-stricken piece, an acrylic on board, pictures a woman in black lines against a vertical pastiche of colors. Its tricolor tones--red, white and blue--seem remarkably French, and the drawing-on-color combo calls up French painter Raoul Dufy.

Runner-up: Lee Chesney's "Boogie Baby," a delirious spattering of primary colors in gouache on thick paper. The painter divides his time between Paris and California, and his "Boogie" conjures up a jazzy Paris boîte.

Best Glass: Who else? Tom Philabaum, and his kiln-cast glass "Diablo," a suitably tri-horned demon's head in a glowing amber.

Most Immortal: See McGrew and Littler, above.

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