The Sizeys Return: Small Things Considered

Artists at Davis Dominguez lean toward beauty in a dark time

“Ventanilla” (Small Window) by Emilia Arana, oil on board.
“Ventanilla” (Small Window) by Emilia Arana, oil on board.

In these dismal times, when our democracy seems to be cracking apart, war is threatened and our leaders castigate terrified refugees as invaders, artist David P. Brown has the right idea.

He sails away to a soothing place of solace.

Or at least his piece at Davis Dominguez Gallery does.

His "Dreamboat," colored the pale blond of unstained wood, has a tiny 3-D wooden boat floating on a calm flat sea. A ladder in miniature—this is the Small Works show, after all—is the boat's only passenger.

Brown has long used little ladders as a stand-in for Everyman in his art, and the one in this wall sculpture has executed the escape many of us are longing for these days. The plucky ladder has quite sensibly left the land, its leaders and its chaos far behind. This smart "Dreamboat" wins the Sail Away to Sanity prize. Would that we could all climb aboard.

The Sail Away is a brand-new award in The Sizeys, the contest I created that each year has me mulling over the merits of the minuscule in the annual Small Works show. (By decree of Davis Dominguez, wall pieces in the show must be 12 by 12 inches or smaller; sculptures may be no more than 18 inches high.)

Some 81 artists made it into the invitational show, with petite paintings, wee weavings and small-scale sculptures and photos. It's a wide-ranging show that shows off the breadth of the mostly-Tucson artists. But the art that's catching my eye the most this year are lovely abstractions that distract me from the disorders of the day.

Emilia Arana's gorgeous "Ventanilla" is a case in point. I love this painting's lush, sensuous oils, colored in pastel pinks and yellows and rich sienna. Except for its name, the Spanish word for "window," the work is mercifully divorced from any narrative, from any real-world references. It's pure beauty, nothing more, nothing less. And Pure Beauty is the prize it gets.

Painter Joanne Kerrihard is halfway between Arana and Brown, mixing beauty with the healing powers of the sea. Her "Waves," an oil on canvas, is a bold abstraction of the ocean's waves, painted like a kid's artwork in big white curves. But the colors between those waves—yellow, green, lavender, red—are luminous. The whole thing is downright joyous; you just want to jump right into that glistening sea. Let's give her the Splendid Waters prize.

There are plenty of other seductive seashore works; after all, what's better in summer than sand, sky and sea? Keith Marroquin's poetically named "The Distant Sound of Waves" is poetically crafted of wood, plaster and ceramic. It pictures a wide green beach and, far away, an alluring swathe of ocean. David Andres, respected curator of the Bernal Gallery at Pima College, regularly explores the Sea of Cortez. Here he uses photogravure to capture the contours of staghorn coral, one of the many wonders of that sea. Both of these seafaring artists get Splendid Waters, second place.

In the interesting array of work by photographers, inventive photos vie with classic. Cy Lehrer's "Chimera" is one of the classics in black and white but it cleverly plays with a surreal composition. The viewer is in the interior of a bar looking out through a big window. The painted words on the glass outside appear backward from the inside; adding to the confusion, an untethered hat—shades of surrealist René Magritte—is sailing through the air.

Jo Rubran's "No-Tel Motel" is a hoot, a photo portrait of the naughty motel's sign rendered in old-fashioned cyanotype blue. Patricia Carr Morgan, who last winter exhibited riveting photos of the Arctic that dangled in the air at TMA, makes another blue piece using both photogravure and paint. Let's make it a triple, giving Best Photo to all three photographers for their imaginative takes on photography.

Quite a few artists have made pretty paintings in multiple techniques. Wildest Painting goes to Thomas Rossi's "Long Drive Home," a very small, very bright abstracted western landscape in the wild tradition of the fauvists, French for wild bead. This tiny and, yes, wild painting manages to squeeze rough pink and blue clouds in the sky, blue-gray mountains on the horizon, and a swathe of land in yellow and orange onto panel no bigger than a hand. The runners-up are Albert Kogel's, "La Virgen," a richly colored acrylic, and Beata Wehr's joyful "Abstraction" in watercolor and inks, featuring a playful array of colorful circles.

Best Place for Me to Go on Vacation has to be Jim Waid's pastel "Cloudcroft Study #2," a typically gorgeous Waid-ian work, this one picturing the landscape in his summer stomping grounds in New Mexico. And speaking of New Mexico, oil painter Debra Salopek's "Red Bluffs, Abiquiu" captures the state's expansive skies.

Aside from all these delicious works striving to delight, there are works that scream in protest about the evils of our day. Marvin Shaver's "Bit," is a conflagration in plaster, paint and newspaper, apparently blackened by fire, an apt metaphor for the president's denunciation of America's free press as the "enemy of the people."

Clay artist Gary Benna made a small sculpture of a multi-colored Statue of Liberty holding baby Trump—not unlike the giant baby Trump balloon that followed the president everywhere in England last year. This clay baby Trump has a dirty diaper, and Lady Liberty is holding her nose.

Alfred Quiroz, a noted dissident artist, created a small sculpture that commemorates "Mexico's 1st Payment for the Wall," a payment that has not been forthcoming.

The scornful monument, in glass and metal, challenges Trump's oft-repeated claim that Mexico would pay billions for his cherished wall. But embedded in the little monument is a 10-centavo Mexican coin—worth about 10 cents. It is you and I, after all, who will pay for the new wall destined to defile Arizona's precious wilderness spaces.

For this, Quiroz gets the laudable prize of Most Defiant Artist.

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