The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - ARTS -

The great Amer­i­can writ­ers about the sea, like poet Hart Crane and nov­el­ist Her­man Melville, were al­ways fas­ci­nated by the sketchy, evanes­cent line where wa­ter meets land and each dis­solves into the other, time­less yet ev­er­chang­ing. That’s one rea­son why we hu­mans do like to be be­side the sea­side, as the old English mu­sic-hall ditty puts it: to feel a part of what Crane called “the vast wink of eternity,” the per­pet­u­ally flow­ing in and flow­ing back out of waves and tides.

San Fran­cisco pho­tog­ra­pher Meghann Riepen­hoff em­ploys a dis­tinctly un­tech­no­log­i­cal method to cap­ture what are in essence “wa­ter­col­ors” of the ocean’s con­ver­gence on the shore, the re­sults of which are on dis­play in the ex­hi­bi­tion “Lit­toral Drift,” through March 26 at Mem­phis Col­lege of Art’s Rust Hall. Tra­di­tion­ally, the cyno­type, a 19th cen­tury method, was used to fix im­ages of plants and flow­ers or man­u­fac­tured ob­jects on a piece of chem­i­cally treated pa­per through the ac­tion of sun­light. The re­sult is a ghostly im­age on a back­ground of un­earthly blue, and the rea­son why blue­prints are still called by that name.

Riepen­hoff de­parts from tra­di­tion by mak­ing mois­ture the cat­a­lyst. The la­bels for the pieces at MCA de­scribe the process suc­cinctly: “rain­storm and mist, seven hours”; “down­pour, two hours”; “twenty-three min­utes in tidal stream, wind tossed”; “two min­utes on tidal flat with ferry waves.” In other words, rather than ex­pos­ing the photo-sen­si­tive

Meghann Riepen­hoff, “Lit­toral Drift #296” (de­tail), cyan­otype trip­tych, 24-by-57 inches.

pa­per to the sun, the artist ex­poses it to waves, tides, pools, rain and snow and wind. The pieces, most of them made on Bain­bridge Is­land, Wash­ing­ton, are over­whelm­ingly beau­ti­ful and evoca­tive. They also beg to be touched — don’t do it! — be­cause even in their seem­ing fragility they of­fer a sense of tex­ture and ir­re­sistible phys­i­cal pres­ence.

The el­e­ment of chance plays an im­por­tant role in th­ese works that seem para­dox­i­cally to move and flow and shift, even as they feel im­printed in some com­pro­mised form of per­ma­nence. Leav­ing the treated pa­per in, say, a tidal pool for some num­ber of min­utes means that the ac­ci­dents of na­ture dom­i­nate the artist’s part in cre­at­ing the work. In three tall, nar­row twosided pieces that hang from the ceil­ing, for ex­am­ple, the streams of white and gray and blue, the whorls and swirls and lines of force, were de­ter­mined not by Riepen­hoff but by the en­ergy of the

wa­ter, a form of land­scape hi­ero­glyph­ics im­posed be­yond the artist’s ken.

Most of the works re­sem­ble dista nt land- and seascapes seen from an air­plane high in the ether, at the same time as they feel close-up, in­ti­mate and, in a few cases, slightly men­ac­ing, as do all nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena over which we have no con­trol. The pri­mary ex­am­ple is the mag­nif­i­cent “Lit­toral Drift #284,” an ex­pan­sive square arena of many sheets that seems to em­body all the mythos and pathos of the hu­man re­la­tion­ship to the oceans that sur­round us, as well as be­ing a sort of star map to the neb­u­lae and deep space be­yond. The fear of the void is here, as well as the gor­geous­ness of the ex­haus­tive and vis­ceral ex­pe­ri­ence of na­ture. Look closely, and you’ll see bits of sea­weed in­cor­po­rated into the sur­face of some of the sheets and tiny rents in the pa­per that seem to in­di­cate some­thing of the force with which it was pounded by the waves. It’s an im­mer­sion, an un­for­get­table en­counter. Through March 26 at Mem­phis Col­lege of Art, Rust Hall, 1930 Po­plar Ave. in Over­ton Park. Call 901-272-5111, or visit ANF Ar­chi­tects, 1500 Union: Bill Price: “Buoy­ancy and Bal­ance,” ends Thurs­day. Sculp­tural forms. 901278-6868. ASU Mid-south (Don­ald W. Reynolds Cen­ter), 2000 W. Broad­way, West Mem­phis: “Art and Soul III,” through March 29. Cu­rated by DELTAARTS, ex­hibit fea­tures mul­ti­me­dia pieces (150 pieces for sale) cre­ated by more than 80 clients from Mid-south Health Sys­tems. Email, or call 870-732-6260. Cir­cuitous Suc­ces­sion Gallery, 500 S. Se­cond: “Strong Women,” through March 14. Pho­to­graphs by Lawrence Ja­sud. 901-229-1041. cir­cuitous­suc­ces­sion. com Dixon Gallery and Gar­dens, 4339 Park: Joshua Brin­lee: “Amal­ga­ma­tions: A Dig­i­tal Reimag­in­ing of the Dixon Gallery and Gar­dens Per­ma­nent


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