Facing It 

Nine artists explore human expression.

For "Something of Our Common Feeling," the current exhibition at Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts, curator Elizabeth Alley has gathered together six local artists and three out-of-towners. These nine artists deliver a show that captures humanity's shared and unruly qualities. There's beauty here and raw energy and uncertainty and plain, old common courage.

Portland, Oregon, artist Elliott Wall's No One Wants To See This explores sexuality and mortality with postmodern appropriation and esoteric references. A black candle burns beside the black-haired, black-eyed woman who dominates the composition. Her nude body is an exquisite merging of subdued colors that brings to mind Titian's Venus of Urbino. Her left hand, like that of Giorgione's Sleeping Venus, relaxes across her sex rather than protecting or hiding it.

Instead of the dog or kitten one often finds in nude masterworks, Wall has placed the skeleton of a small animal curled up at the figure's feet. Directly over her left breast is a crescent moon encompassing a star (a reference to Ingres' Turkish odalisques?, an allusion to arcane knowledge?). Across the deeply shadowed background are faintly written words that translate to the biblical "Pride goeth before a fall," warning of the dangers of exalting oneself. The subject of Wall's work could represent the larger idea of "Beauty" and "Death." But instead of wielding power over others, Beauty, completely nude and hence completely vulnerable, lies down with that skeleton Death. It's a complex and provocative work.

Adam Shaw's multifaceted past works -- dark, ominous cartoon frames; deeply shadowed, charcoal nudes; and paintings of refracted bodies in water -- intersect beautifully in the paintings presented at this exhibit. The four midnight-blue oils on canvas are dark and atmospheric, but one can still make out the beachcombers in Tidepool and the nude swimmers in Amphitrite, Swimmer (Naiad), and Swimmer II.

Kurt Meer is known locally for his subtle landscapes. In the mixed-media work Endorphine, Meer's signature earth tones become the raw siennas of a rusted-out model of an automobile and the corrosive browns of the aging skin of a woman who is burning her candle at both ends. Endorphine makes for an uneasy recognition, and it also lingers. Here we all are -- members of a fast-paced society consuming both the buyer and the bought.

Some of the exhibition's most unsettling figures appear in Beth Edwards' studies of domesticity. With devastatingly numbing effect, Edwards perfectly weds a slick, tight painting style with tightly scripted gender roles. Bored husbands stare at their watches (Watch), sleep (Troubled Sleep), or sip iced tea (Susannah), while their hapless wives cry alone or sit naked and unnoticed.

Los Angeles artist Jason Alexander confronts mortality. In Self with Muses, two almost skeletal corpses display an easy body language, leaning back with legs crossed at the shins and hands loosely draped over their loins. These rotting muses appear to be reflecting on what it all meant and what it all continues to mean. The "Alexander" of the painting neither attacks nor shrinks back. His shoulders are relaxed and his head cocked downward. His left hand rests on the edge of a shroud that surrounds one of the corpses. He is listening, considering, engaging in a dialogue with himself, his art, his own mortality. With lessons learned from Degas, Odd Nerdrum, and Egon Schiele and Julian Schnabel, Alexander has created the show's most expressive figures and a world where neither debilitation nor death impedes the reflective/creative process. Alexander's bravura artistic skills persuade us that his vision could be real.

Other notable works in the show include New Yorker Gary Murphy's sumi ink drawing, Emblem, which captures the beauty of an unkempt, unselfconscious face as it daydreams. Alan Duckworth fills a medium-sized acrylic painting with the deeply etched lines of a young woman's laughter (Saturday Afternoon), and in Laugh he paints broad planes of almost-white on a young man's laughing face on what may be that same sunny Saturday. Mel Spillman's nimble lines and deft washes of gouache create mesmerizingly appealing designs in My Look Turns to a Stare. And, finally, Vitus Shell's mixed-media Sister II Sister is a poignant African-American portrait whose missing eyes and indistinct features suggest the challenges of developing a clear sense of self. n

"Something of Our Common Feeling" at Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts through February 26th

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