True Characters

Obsidian displays works with the theme: 'Persona'

Grace is amazing.

She's a cat, a very fat cat. She sits regally upright against a pillow like a human queen, her huge belly spilling over the hind legs splayed out on either side. Evidently, she's just finished a meal. Her front paws are at rest, but with her tongue, she licks her lips with gusto. And surrounding her in a grid are inset pictures of all her favorite treats, cans of cat food and plastic mermaids (think Chicken of the Sea), along with a couple of Virgins of Guadalupe to sanctify them.

Grace is the star of the mixed-media photo "Amazing Grace and Holy Mackerel" at the Obsidian Gallery summer show Persona. The invited artists were given only this theme, says gallery owner Elouise Rusk; their art could be about themselves--or any other persona they deemed worthy. Charles Hedgcock evidently considers the sovereign Grace a personage eminently worthy of art.

Best known for his exquisite black-and-white photos of bugs and lizards, Hedgcock puts a color frame around the darks in this cheerful photographic mélange. The cat at center is in elegant black and white, while each of the cat-food delicacies surrounding her are in brilliant color. Each one floats in a square colored--what else?--royal blue.

Plenty of the 43 artists in this entertaining exhibition had as much fun as Hedgcock did (or as Grace), stepping out of their usual strictures. Sculptor Barbara Jo McLaughlin has recently been working in a firefighter vein, making earthbound works of real fire hose and carved wood. This time around, she happily takes to the air.

Her "Self-Portrait: Airborne Yet Grounded" has a fragile stretch of membrane tethered to sticks; it dangles from a ceiling wire and wafts delicately in the air. Below, on the floor, is a painterly anchor, a sturdy rounded triangle made of painted drop cloth. Whatever McLaughlin's metaphor might mean (happily aloft but still rooted?), her piece is engaging.

Photographer Linda Rosenfield jumps genres, dipping into paint for an untitled mixed-media work. The underlayer, peeking through the paint, is a black-and-white photo of a balding man lighting a cigarette. This photo, almost entirely concealed, serves as a slick paper canvas for Rosenfield's painting in teal. A painted pink moon lights up the work's nighttime blues, and a tiny red house floats in the sky. Clearly, the artist enjoyed working with the new textures, scratching a curlicue of smoke and a tangle of bushes into her lush wet paint.

Painter Lynn O'Brien turned to collage in "Waiting in the Garden," a nuptial piece featuring a bride with a photographed face and a dress made of real lace and buttons. She's set against a red background painted with flowers, and a photo inset of an old-fashioned bride and groom hovers nearby. But a note of foreboding intrudes on this charming scene: A spotted snake slithers purposefully among the blooms.

Quite a few artists did innovative work in photography, a genre not in Obsidian's usual line. (The gallery specializes in fine crafts.) Rosanna Salonia transferred a lovely monochromatic photo of a woman's back and neck to a piece of fired clay in "Sara, Liguria, Italy." Properly called a photo transfer on ceramic, the work has sensuous irregular edges. Likewise, Leslie Ann Epperson attached a tiny photo to a ceramic tile in "Face." A woman's ghostly white face emerges from a dark crowd, in what might well be Tucson's All Souls' Procession.

Elizabeth Frank glued tiny old-fashioned photos inside old cookie cutters in her series Cut-Ups. A 19th-century girl in a dress is at the center of "Little Angel," a clover-shaped metal cutter to which Frank has added a pair of tin wings. Eric Jensen put grainy photos of a man and a woman on either side of a sheath of stoneware in "Travelog 2"; the two figures match up precisely, with the man facing forward on the front, and the woman seen from behind in the back. They're like two halves of one person. Michael Hyatt checks in with some straightforward photography, including a nice black and white of masked Mexican boys on the street, circa 1974.

One of the few straight paintings in the show is Gwyneth Scally's "The Virgin and the Unicorn," an old masterly oil in which the mythical unicorn is transformed into a bulldog. In the ceramics category, Hirotsune Tashima provides the exquisitely crafted "Sushi Boy," a barefoot figure cut off at the waist, the better for a tray of sushi to balance on top. John Salgado makes ceramics, too, but combines them with found objects. He retrieved an old wooden cabinet as a base for his "Trinidad Eterna," a trinity consisting of white ceramic arms grasping a real globe, a print of da Vinci's "Ginevra de Benci" surrounded by silver stars, and a white horny toad crawling toward Ginevra.

Other distinctive materials in the show include the colored threads Scott Ellegood used to embroider a fauvist portrait on linen in "Being Phoebe, Too" (a companion portrait hung in June at Platform Gallery, which Phoebe McDermott runs). Aimee Baker's "Study for the Dressing Room" is a jewel box in mirrors. Inside, though, is not the usual jewel-box ballerina but a silvery brain on a pedestal reflected endlessly in the infinity mirrors.

In "Persona," Beata Wehr twisted a couple of found wires into a provocative portrait consisting wholly of eyeglasses and eyes. Thomas Hill used wires, too, to fashion a pair of fetching birds. His "Elegant Crested Tiramou" are like drawings in air, deftly rendered with just a few of twists of steel copper enamel.

With their peering eyes, sloping bodies and cocked heads, his birds mimic real birds' endearing mixture of awkwardness and grace. And come to think of it, Hedgcock's pal Grace would undoubtedly find these arty tiramou exactly to her taste.

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