An Eclectic Show By Women Artists Is Local 803 Gallery's Last Hurrah.
By Margaret Regan
ROZ EPPSTEIN HAS solid credentials as an abstractionist. Her three paintings in a group show at the Local 803 gallery are a fine collection of color-on-color acrylics. These thick paintings on paper have been rendered in carefully modulated color combinations: dreamy pinks, peaches and yellows in "The Lost Moment," more aggressive blue-violet, beige, brown and orange in "Descending."
Another artist in the show, sculptor Susan Vancas, is sort of an abstractionist, though her scary-looking pieces in lumber, driftwood and steel do suggest some kind of horrifying traps. "Of the Same Grain" seems to be a killer set of metal man-made jaws about to devour a hapless piece of natural driftwood, while "Interior Fortification," of driftwood, steel and ceramic, suggests a lethal cage.
Two artists, two abstractionists, more or less. What's the big deal? Well, the deal is that these two are part of a 16-woman show put on by Tucson members of the Arizona Women's Caucus for Art. And if, given the title of the group, visitors come expecting to see a showcase of feminist art, they're going to be disappointed. Because this show, the last ever to be staged by the soon-to-close Local 803, instead demonstrates the wide-ranging interests of the caucus' artists. (It also demonstrates the group's wide range of skill levels.) There are painters, collage artists, photographers, fabric artists, ceramists, a paper-bag sculptor and a watercolorist, and they're thinking about everything in art from portraiture to pure color, from landscape to the imagery of ancient art.
There are several who deal with what we might think of as conventionally feminist themes. Ellen McMahon and Sheila Pitt, both UA profs, make use of the ordinary lowly objects that clutter up the female domestic sphere to make larger points about women's lives. Pitt displays three unabashedly feminist cloth works, some of which were seen at the UA faculty show last winter. "Phallocentric Quilt," a black and white quilt, is printed and stitched with images of her grandparents' faces in every square, with grandpa securely and patriarchically in the middle. Pitts makes her stitching sloppy on purpose, the better to break out of the constraints of the demure needlework once taught to young girls.
McMahon shows the latest drawings in her continuing investigations of motherhood (last summer she showed a maternal alphabet at Dinnerware). This time, in "Suckled," a series of eight charcoal drawings on paper, McMahon uses her characteristic fine line to draw the nipple used on baby bottles. Tugging it into various shapes, including a phallic one, McMahon suggests just how much the original suckler--mom--gets torn in all directions.
But by and large the other artists in this show bypass "women's" themes. In fact, the most explicit socio-political commentary can be found in some works by African-American artists. Trena Howard, a young black painter who graduated from the UA a couple years ago, contributed " Endangered Species No. 2," a mixed-media piece in which a young African American boy's body has been made into a target. Jennifer Oshiki has made five provocative mixed-media wall pieces that attack myths perpetrated against black Americans. Using text, beaten metal, paint and wood, Oshiki fashions works like "Nigger Rig." In this piece, a white picket fence is positioned above a house. Below, down among the beaten metal, is a flimsy ladder for blacks that serves as an all-too-rickety vehicle to the American dream.
The rest of the exhibition is a very mixed bag, both thematically and aesthetically, with the photographers probably making the strongest showing. Kathleen Velo uses a pinhole camera to make dreamlike, painterly evocations of the beach in Mexico. "Tide Pool, Las Conchas" is a distant view of a group of people inspecting the teaming shore life in Puerto Peñasco. Because she stood so far away from her subject, and because the pinhole camera makes such a blurry image, the obscure figures metamorphose into people in a dream or a vague memory.
Photographer Say Dempsey transfers her gelatin silver prints to canvas and delicately colors them with an airbrush. But her images are splintered: Her portrait of the genial older man in "Muy Tata" is broken up into horizontal bonds that are out of sync. Similarly, the front of a bus in another piece has been broken up into six disconcertingly unmatched pieces. Diane Mansfield Colligan does her familiar sophisticated collages of a haunting bent, blending pictures from art history into the staircases and columns of classical architecture.
Among the misses are Scarlett Decker's paintings, emotional, but poorly painted attacks on the way fairy tales disable us, and Julie Conrad's spiritually inspired silkscreens on canvas. In a way, the show is a fitting epitaph for Local 803, which offered up a real cross-section of Tucson art in the last few years, the good, the bad and the aspiring. But its commitment to providing locals with exhibition opportunities was laudable. It will be missed.
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