The Desert In Miniature

Davis Dominguez Gallery's Annual Small Works Invitational Celebrates A Big Year For Local Artists.

By Margaret Regan

THE LAST PICTURE show at Davis Dominguez Gallery manages to exhibit the work of 53 Tucson artists all at once. The only way the small gallery can pull off this numerical feat, however, is by decree: All the art has to be tiny, no bigger than about 12 inches square for a painting; no taller than about 18 inches for a sculpture.

The question of size is partly what has spurred the longtime Tucson gallery's move this fall to a new location on Sixth Street in the booming warehouse district. The gaping spaces of the former Tucson Warehouse and Transfer Building will allow David Dominguez to exhibit bigger art, and bigger shows, than their small space on North Oracle now permits. That's a good thing, for the art and for Tucson's downtown.

Review Still, it's nice to know that Tucson Collection '98: Sixth Small Works Invitational won't be the last of the annual summer manifestations of the miniature, though it is the last show in the old gallery. Gallery co-owners Candice Davis and Mike Dominguez wisely intend to continue their hot-weather tradition in their new place, even if the tiny works won't come near to taking up all the space. The annual exhibition has become an endearing tradition that fans look forward to for its selective visual yearbook of working artists in the Old Pueblo, and its breezy catalog of Tucson styles.

It also offers an entertaining look at the town's big art guns reduced to size. Their characteristic styles are typically undiminished by their work's physical diminution; sometimes, the tiny dimensions even perform a positive service by distilling an artist's art to its essence. Jim Waid, for instance, the popular and much praised local painter of the lavishly large, doesn't suffer at all here. His "Lure #2," an acrylic on canvas that naughtily violates the rules by measuring 12 by 16 inches, is a delightful summation of Waidiana: wild colors like fire-engine red and iridescent blue working as a jazzy whole; layers of paint by turns slathered on thick and scraped away to thin; organic twisting shapes that bear some relation to the natural world.

Fellow famous artist James Davis is stylistically Waid's opposite number. Davis here contributes a small oil on paper, "Polar Installation," that's dark and cool, both in its color scheme--black, gray and white--and its emotional temperature. A stuffed dead bear is going up inside someplace, a museum presumably, and a worker fiddles with the great bear's paw. A collaged photo of a real, live bear is glued to the paint at upper right. Edgy where Waid is joyful, Davis assays the uneasy relationship between humans and nature.

The third of the trio of big-name Jameses in town, James Cook, once honored by a Stonewall show at the Tucson Museum of Art, departs here from his usual western landscape but he doesn't abandon his buttery painting style. Set in damp France, "Rain Shower-Lyon" is a thicker-than-thick oil on linen that makes that rain almost three-dimensional, beating down in a glossy gray fury on the green land below. Among the other well-knowns, UA prof Bruce McGrew checks in with one of his classically flavored paintings of nudes in a landscape; Rancho Linda Vista stalwart Joy Fox shows a pedestal piece, a figure half goat, half woman, in alluring shades of burnt clay; sculptor Ben Goo delivers a sleek untitled abstraction in black marble and anodized aluminum.

DeAnn Melton, who will be part of the three-woman grand opening show at the new gallery (with painter Joanne Kerrihard and sculptor Judith Stewart), for this show slants toward France, too, in "Crab with Tankard," an oil on linen so beautifully, so loosely painted that it materializes into fish and vegetables only at a distance. Outrageous Alfred Quiroz, a UA prof, will be in another three-person show at the gallery this winter, with his boss, art department head Andy Polk, and painter Robert Royhl. It's rumored that in the big gallery Quiroz will tackle Clinton's scandals in one of his humongous political pieces, but this summer, in the old place, he contents himself with "Changa," a small but fiery painted wood construction deconstructing Aztec imagery.

But this show is nothing if not democratic. It routinely gives the up-and-comers in town equal opportunity on the walls. Thus, Betina Fink, a Dinnerware member who works in the interesting old medium of egg tempera, gets a chance to show "II," a minuscule architectural painting of a building facade, fluidly done. Dinnerware alumna Kerrihard has done one of her exquisitely moody landscapes in oils. "In an Instant" has a trademark Kerrihard sky above a truncated body lying on the horizon line. Jean Stern, returned to Tucson after a New York sojourn of many years, exhibits "Desert Wash," a tiny landscape packed with lots of Munch-like anxiety. An ice-blue female nude lies on brown earth beneath snow-capped peaks, while a nearby orange road seems to metamorphose into an ominous human shape. Not bad for a painting that's all of 5-by-7 inches.

The show offers a little bit of photography--Harold Jones' "Bomb VI," a painted photo on canvas depicting an eerily colored nuclear explosion, and Cy Lehrer's "Duckweed Concerto," a dappled black-and-white of a Louisiana swamp. Among the sculptors, Barbara Jo McLaughlin exhibits the fat and funny "Gordo," a satisfying sphere in concrete and copper, while Mark Rossi uses the grand material of bronze for his witty "Kangaroo Rat Visits Arches National Monument."

Tucson Collection of whatever year always raises the question: Is there a Tucson style? The answer is not necessarily, but the strange land of the desert Southwest never fails to make its way into the art. Whether it's the loopy, much-diminished Arches of Rossi's work or the postcard size "Tucson Mountains" in Philip Melton's teensy acrylic on canvas, painted in the peculiar colors of 1950s postcards, the landscape is a major player. It can be dark, as in Phillip Lichtenhan's wintry "Jack's Canyon," a glossy thumbnail acrylic, or luminous, as in Charlotte Bender's "Blue Bars," an oil on board washed with dazzling sunlight. Its desert greens transposed to shocking blue, its ochers intensified to orange, Bender's hyper-bright cactus jungle sings the desert electric.

Tucson Collection '98: Sixth Small Works Invitational continues through Saturday, July 11, at the Davis Dominguez Gallery, 6812 N. Oracle Road. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. After July 11, the gallery is open by appointment only. For more information, call 297-1427. TW

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