EX.EX. V: Excerpt Exhibition, La Tienda shopping center, Eldorado, 466-2838 (information); through Jan. 10
The fifth incarnation of EX.EX.: Excerpt Exhibition, organized annually by Santa Fe artist Dean Howell, holds no surprises except for the venue. Installed in adjacent buildings at the new La Tienda shopping center in Eldorado, the exhibit spaces are nice enough, but the show has a slight disconnect because of the separation. The total square footage, wall space, and roster of invited artists exceed that of previous EX.EX. shows. And as in previous installments of Howell’s exhibition, there is the very good and the very bad in a gamut of mediums, including painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, drawing, mixed media, computer-generated imagery, collage, woodwork, printmaking, and cast glass.
With nearly 100 pieces by 36 artists, there is a lot to consider. But the most accomplished painter in the group in terms of realism and knowing his way around the color wheel is Braldt Bralds. His two oil-on-panel paintings— The Gentle Man and Stilled Beauty— are small gems that convey a sensibility toward Italian Renaissance painting with illusionistic effects of trompe l’oeil. Both display rich palettes and skilled draftsmanship. The former piece is a straightforward head-and-shoulders portrait of a man in 16th-century attire, while Stilled Beauty is a study of a felled bird. Bralds’ framing choices may be a bit constrictive in comparison with the size of his paintings, but the overall presentation is professionally conceived. Too bad his work wasn’t mounted in a better location.
Featured prominently in both exhibition spaces are paintings by Eldorado artist Sheldon Krevit, whose style is best described as nonobjective pointillism — imagine a monochrome painting of an isolated section of wall done by Georges Seurat or Paul Signac. Whether Krevit is presenting a macro or micro vision with his dabbed surfaces in Love Is Love (a diptych) and That Is What (a triptych) is anybody’s guess. In each work, Krevit explores subtle color shifts, one in shades of blue, the other in yellow and tan, while allowing his gessoed support to peek through. Of the two, That Is What feels more complete, with the two densely painted outside canvases playing well to the more airy middle canvas. But one may ask whether Krevit’s work is fine art or simply a design concept. And why his triptych is installed a foot higher than need be is another question.
Two mixed-media paintings by Steven Boone — Straw Bearer and Spinning the Wheel — are, at a glance, impressive. Both depict an individual, one hauling a bundle of straw on his head and the other running beside a hoop propelled by a stick. Boone’s combination of abstract and representational imagery is nice, but one can’t ignore his surface treatment, which is laden with hardened globs and drips of wax. The added encaustic component does nothing to enhance what appears to be enlarged photo-based imagery on canvas. His collaged fragments of actual straw in the former painting make sense and give that particular piece an effective three-dimensional quality. But the wax overlay on both paintings is overdone and too deliberate.
Another culprit when it comes to tinkering too much and not knowing when to quit is John Stevens. Added to his mixed-media work are such things as brass finials, porcupine quills, strips of ribbon and tape, and porcelain eggs, all of which compromise what otherwise would be some very good painting. In 104-IX, 104-V, and six other pieces in the show, his expressionistic mark-making and occasional allegories using collaged photos and stenciled letters and numbers work well. But the attached minutiae around the edges of his work read as afterthoughts and convey a lack of confidence in his abilities as a painter.
Constricted, an unassuming clay vessel by Mike Walsh, visually defies the material from which it is made. Like a flexible rubber ball forced within the confines of four vertical steel rods set in a base, Walsh’s short-necked ceramic vase compels one to touch it. The illusion of its elasticity is compelling, and it’s hard to believe its bulging bowl hasn’t already popped like a balloon.
Rodney Estrada’s clay piece, Head— made up of a wood base and a found object— is a dynamic bust of a male figure that looks like a bronze. Its textural quality is not unlike the impressionistic surface treatment seen in Rodin’s figurative work in that Estrada elected to leave his residual handiwork visible rather than smooth it away. The piece has a sense of movement due to its rough exterior illuminated by the raking light reflected from different vantage points. Mighty peculiar, however, is part of a meat grinder attached to the top of Estrada’s Head. It’s a tad silly, yet suggests symbolically the mental workings of the mind or maybe a grinding headache.
The most sophisticated use of found objects— and there’s a bunch in EX.EX. V— is by Howell in his Naked Journey of Humankind: Primal Experience #1 and Douglas Duffy’s Dick in the Box. Howell’s piece, a wallmounted assemblage of natural grasses, dried brush, wood, rope, fabric, and metal, is a four-legged, hybrid desert creature. It is part of a group of work alluding to the artist’s belief that there exists in all living beings a vital, intrinsic bond. Considering the material from which it is conceived, it is eerily realistic.
And can a work of art be deranged? Duffy’s adultoriented jack-in-the-box may be just that. Although inoperable, the pieced-together metal compartment with gears inside and a large crank handle outside is occupied by a frightening bogeyman-like head impaled on a projecting spring. Looking like a cross between Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films and Heath Ledger’s personification of the Joker in The Dark Knight, it’s the stuff of nightmares. But its bizarre persona, coupled with Duffy’s craftsmanship, draws you in for a closer look.
While some of the work in EX.EX. V will make you cringe for its lack of artistic merit, Howell’s idea of showcasing the spirit of creativity is fulfilled. And despite having heard the man say that he may not do the show again because of its taxing demands, one hopes he will continue to do so— if only to buck the high-end gallery scene of polished, pretty, and pretentious little things in Santa Fe.
— Douglas Fairfield
Dean Howell: Naked Journey of Humankind: Primal Experience #1, mixed media