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Best Local Artist/Visual

Jim Waid

READERS' PICK: Jim Waid's desert riffs filled almost the whole of the Tucson Museum of Art last Christmas, in a sumptuous, hyper-colored show called Natural Elements. The exhibition was a fitting tribute to a big-time artist who's stayed in town since he came here for grad school. Over the years he's won kudos from art lovers both in his adopted hometown and in the big art cities like Chicago and New York. (This is not the first time loyal Tucsonans have picked him as Best Artist.) Waid's done some yeoman art community service, too, teaching at Pima College for many years and being visibly supportive of younger artists. Anybody would have sworn his gigantic show at the TMA had to be a lifetime retrospective; but it covered just the last six years in the life of this hard-working, preternaturally productive artist. The big acrylics on canvas were full of typically Waidian energy. He pumped up his colors to the high contrast of stained glass, and he curved thick black lines across intricate compositions. He lavished onto his canvases layers and layers of paint, and then scraped them off again with tools from combs to tile spatulas, creating paintings that undulated from three-dimensionally thick to as thin as could be. At this point, the wild abstract plant shapes in his paintings have ventured far from the real-life ones in the Sonoran landscape, but our beloved desert is still his sine qua non. We can hardly wait to see the enormous, 50-foot mural currently underway and purportedly coming soon (well, soon in government terms: It might be in about two years) to the new Federal Courthouse under construction downtown.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Another of Tucson's hard-working and productive artists, the ever-popular Gail Marcus-Orlen, is this year's runner-up. More than once she's been the top pick; her second-place finish may be owing to the unusual fact that she hasn't had any big shows in the last year. (Faithful fans can run over to Etherton Gallery this month to see what she's been up to in the last year and a half.) On her last public outing two seasons ago, Marcus-Orlen's Paris sojourn brought an interesting French froideur to her hot desert surrealism: Somber autumnal leaves and carefully lettered French words floated into some colored drawings, and Old World arches planted themselves ever more firmly in her Southwestern dream landscapes. But her works are still Gail after all these years: cats and cacti, cloth flowers and fruit blazing across interiorscapes that are part desert, part architecture, and wholly the realm of the imagination. With a style that's perhaps the most immediately recognizable of any artist's in town, Marcus-Orlen's works at the Tucson Airport always stand ready to greet the weary Tucson traveler with a hearty welcome home.

A REAL SCREAM: We're right fond of Jim and Gail, but we like lots of other artists around town, too. Michael Longstaff's poetic, painterly artists' books, full of photographs hand-painted in white, were one of the highlights of this year's Arizona Biennial at the TMA. Joanne Kerrihard paints quiet, eerie landscapes in a classical style full of dreamy pillars and Italian cypresses: Somehow they evoke timelessness and heartbreak. This year at Dinnerware, she put these still works into raucous sculptural circus constructions. William Holzman, the unschooled folk-artist who turned-out fabulous alligator chairs with outrageous snapping teeth, among other amazing oddities, died at the age of 94 shortly after his fine exhibition at Tohono Chul Park this summer. A retired farmer, he worked at his art until just a few months before his death. His inspiring irreverence will be missed.

Case History

1998 Winner: David Tineo
1996 Winner: Gail Marcus-Orlen
1995 Winner: Way Station

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