A number of the small galleries just north of downtown proper are exhibiting abstract works this spring, created by artists working in media from conventional paint to toilet paper to nylon stockings.
First, the paint.
On its 10th anniversary, Contreras Gallery has staged a celebratory exhibition of artwork by six women. The gallery generally tends toward expressive landscapes, figurative work and skeletons (gallery co-owner Neda Contreras, painter of skeletons, does not disappoint; she has an adorable but boney chicken farmer in a lovely Tucson landscape). But this time around no fewer than four artists have contributed pure abstractions.
One of the most interesting pieces is "Again, Falling Blue (For Agnes M)," a tribute to the revered Agnes Martin, painted by Tucson artist C.J. Shane. Martin (1912–2004), who spent a good chunk of her working life in New Mexico but also had a successful New York run and was renowned for her large abstractions of lines and grids. Her compelling repetitive works fall somewhere between abstract expressionism and minimalism.
Shane's mixed-media painting—textured gray stripes, interrupted by splashes of bright blue—was inspired by Martin's 6-foot-square "Falling Blue" from 1963. Shane echoes that work's shape but not its size: Hers is 12 inches square. And where Martin's lines are thin and horizontal, Shane's are thick and arranged in grids. But Shane's piece captures the spirit of Martin, whose reputation just continues to grow.
Lionized in a recent career retrospective at the Guggenheim, Martin is one of the rare women abstractionists of heady 1960s New York to have won such plaudits. She had a rare mind—she dealt with schizophrenia much of her life—but she once said that her compositions came to her fully formed. Her job was simply to make those visions real and big and square.
Also at Contreras, Nancy Drigotas has a light, free touch in her acrylic paintings; she makes lively combinations of lines and patches of color against empty background space. In "Untitled #345," exuberant black lines zig-zag hither and yon, shooting through energetic passages of pink and maroon.
Glory Tacheenie-Campoy also works in acrylics; her bright geometries in pink, yellow and green have a childlike joy. Their rectangles and curves faintly suggest houses and landscapes, as a kid might imagine them. The prolific Sylvia Garland, with no fewer than 14 works on the walls, tends toward dark colors and spinning shapes.
Monika Rossa, one of the few non-abstractionists in the bunch, is a painter of dark dreams. In her circular painting "Night Fly," a small girl in a nightgown fixes her gaze on a nocturnal insect. She's outside, alone, under a black sky. Elsewhere in that dark and anxious night, in another painting, a toothy red fox sits below a white half-moon. Even a pomegranate is moody in Rossa's hands; painted the fox's orange-red, the fruit gets an eerie, ominous portait.
The gifted Rossa wields her oils with old-masterly skill. Her colors are glossy and rich, and that old-work gleam is heightened by the shine of her gold-metal frames.
Neda Contrera's paintings sometimes have a bit of that Rossa angst, even when her skulls are grinning. Her lovely landscape, "Cat Mountain," a skeleton-free oil-on-metal pictures the pointy Tucson peak of the title and a cactus wren. It's a lovely landscape, unexpectedly shot through with melancholy.
¡Salud! To Health! 10th anniversary show, through April 28, at Contreras Gallery, 110 E. Sixth St. Open summer hours 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. 398-6557; contrerashousefineart.com.
About that toilet paper—it's clean and it's elegant. And it's at Conrad Wilde Gallery in the old Steinfeld Warehouse. Gallerist Miles Conrad has given over the whole of his serene space to longtime gallery favorite Jessica Drenk. A contemporary artist who can see art in the most unlikely materials, Drenk makes sculptural wall works not only of squished-together rolls of toilet paper, but of waxed snippets of old books and white plastic PVC piping. In her hands, these everyday materials turn into things of beauty.
Jessica Drenk: In Aggregate through May 26 at Conrad Wilde Gallery, 101 W. Sixth St., #121. Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 622-8997; conradwildegallery.org.
Also at Steinfeld, Everybody Gallery is staging a big group show winsomely titled Drawings, Paintings, Maybe a Sculpture 2. Like Conrad Wilde, this adventurous young gallery displays challenging contemporary work, handsomely displayed. Sara Hubbs, for instance, makes wall sculptures out of fishnet stockings, plaster, nylon liner socks and toys. Nazafarin Lofti makes wild, mixed-media "Vessels with Unknown Functions" in shades of white and gray. Olivier Mosset, an internationally exhibited artist who lives in Tucson, usually an abstractionist, makes a surprising turn to a simple pencil drawing, a steer's head that subverts western kitsch. Through May 5 at Everybody Gallery, 101 W. Sixth St. Open by appointment. email@example.com. everybody.gallery/exhibitions.html.
This weekend, Raices Taller 222 opens Mujeres, Mujeres, Mujeres, a popular annual show of works by women. The juried exhibition show always runs the media gamut, from oils to fabric to clay, and from paintings to photography to sculpture. It runs through May 26. Opening celebration with live music, food and drink, 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, April; 21, at 218 E. Sixth St. 881-5335. facebook.com/RaicesTaller.
Up the street, at Davis Dominguez, the excellent exhibition of paintings by Charlotte Bender, 3-D painted wall works by Albert Kogel and floor sculptures by Joy Fox closes this Saturday, April 21. You can still see the show 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., this Thursday and Friday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday. Small Things Considered, the annual small works invitations, opens at the gallery on April 27 and runs through June 23. Davis Dominguez, 154 E. Sixth St. 629-9759; http://davisdominguez.com.
Also coming up, the new Gallery 2 Sun, in the old Baker-Hessendenz space, 100 E. Sixth St., opens a solo show of George Strasburger in May.