The Sizey Prizes

Artworks of beauty and social commentary win big in Small Works show at Davis Dominguez

“This Way” by Pamela Marks, watercolor
“This Way” by Pamela Marks, watercolor

It's summertime, and the art's getting smaller.

That can mean only one thing: Davis Dominguez is showing the tiniest art imaginable, in its annual "Small Things Considered" exhibition.

Wait. Make that two things. The second is that it's time for me to award my annual Sizey prizes. I honor the best of the Lilliputian, choosing winners from among the show's 75 small-size paintings, sculptures, weavings and photos.

The award for Most Miniature goes to Claire Campbell Park for "Meditation: Spring Promise," a delicate paper weaving that, like Thumbelina, is no bigger than my thumb. David F. Brown nabs runner-up for "Etude," the teensiest piano I've ever seen. It's an adorable little sculpture that's the size of a steno pad.

This year's edition has a good showing of sober political art (see below).

But much of the work is joyful, and the many exuberant abstractions, sprightly florals and lush landscapes offer up a respite, however brief, from our troubled times.

The Most Cheerful Abstraction category is crowded with contenders full of gorgeous colors and dancing shapes. Pamela Marks has fun with a bouncing cornucopia of signs and symbols in her lively watercolor "This Way." Chock-a-block with bold black signs, a hinted high-rise and pastel ovals as pretty as Easter eggs, this piece recalls the optimism of early modernism, when artists like Stuart Davis were painting buoyant urban geometries.

Marks shares the trophy with Jim Waid, the Tucson painter whose pastels are up at Etherton through Saturday. While Marks alludes to the city, Waid's acrylic "September Song" zeroes in on the natural world. A glorious near-abstraction conjuring the writhing life of plants and critters in the underbrush, it's painted in dazzling oranges and yellows.    

Among the host of worthy runners-up are Lee Chesney for "Triumph," a pure abstraction in gouache painted in the jubilant colors of the setting sun. James Schaub, curator at Tohono Chul, paints meandering lines in lime and orange over a sparkly red background in "Osotidof no. 1."

The flowers are blooming brightly in works that are beautiful but unsentimental. The prize for Painterly Gardener goes to Maurice Sevigny, whose "Orchids Make Me Happy" is a splendid splash of flowers in a lovely peach and red. Gail Marcus-Orlen, an old hand at surrealistic blossoms, scores with "A Rose Is...," in which a giant red rose occupies a gleaming room painted pink. She shares the tie for runner-up with Benjamin M. Johnson. His meticulously painted "Pomegranate Bloom" pictures a dignified rosy posy standing in a pristine glass of water.

In the always delightful category of Places I Want to Go this Summer, James Cook easily wins with his gorgeous "Española." Masterfully painted in broad strokes of oil on linen, the piece conjures up the northern New Mexico town, all sweeping mountain vistas, clouds rolling across the sky and enviable greenery below. Runner-up Bruce McGrew, though long-gone, still blesses us with a luminous watercolor of the Scottish sea.

Keith Marroquin, an artist to watch, gets Best Mixed Media for his "Arroyo to the Sea," a dreamy landscape of cacti and sky, rendered in steel, glass, wood and plaster.

And speaking of Desert Charms, we have a trio of co-honorees celebrating those of our beloved Sonoran. Gary Benna's "Twist and Shout" is a fun clay and glass sculpture of a fantasy coiled snake. Betina Fink paints a luscious and creamy saguaro in "Sweetwater Trail" and Kris Nicola's bold "Monsoon Mushrooms" is a lively watercolor enhanced with pen and ink.

The Good Old-Fashioned Realism goes to Will Whitehouse for his lovely "Near the Railroad Crossing on 6th Street," a softly painted oil on linen of the Steinfeld Warehouse intersection, enlivened by the strong diagonal of the street. Second-place honors go to Mark Rossi for his realer-than-real bronze

Fractured Architecture is the domain of two young up-and-coming Tucson artists: Jenny Day, whose "Dwellings," a glittery acrylic that has building fragments flying hither and yon, and Leah Lewman, whose collaged print "Cropping the Ideal View" imposes a building blueprint on a now-spoiled desert.

Patagonia painter Paula Wittner is the clear winner in the rare double category of Inspired by the Renaissance and Honored in Mexico. Her intense and surreal figurative works, including "Late Show" – a clown at the ocean with a fish – have won her solo exhibitions at the modern art museum in Nogales and at the University of Sonora in Hermosillo.

Getting back to the sober political works, in her accordion book "Recuerdo," Jo Andersen mourns Arizona's migrant dead, decries the border wall and rages for José Antonio Elena Rodriguez, the 16-year-old shot to death in the back by a Border Patrol agent shooting through the border wall. A Tucson jury recently acquitted the officer of second-degree murder. Barbara Penn warns of the growing authoritarianism of our government in "Autocracy Trending," a chilling black-and-white collage silkscreen that features a Caesar-like bust.

And in "Mass Shooting," a painting on wood, Alfred Quiroz laments the plague of gun deaths and notes white shooters are described as troubled, and non-white shooters are labeled as terrorists and criminals. All praise to these Warriors for Justice. And kudos to Moira Marti Geoffrion for "Alfred," an affectionate portrait in oil of the outspoken Quiroz.

Finally, the heartfelt Keep On Keeping On prize goes to Tom Philabaum, the longtime glass artist. Diagnosed with Parkinson's, Philabaum is soldiering on. He's scaled back on the demanding practice of blowing hot glass and embraced an alternate process, fusing sheets of colored glass together. The fused-glass piece here, the perfectly titled "X Marks the Spot," features a bold red circle over an equally bold X. Keep on marking that spot, Tom, and keep on making that art.

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