L Ross Gallery's annual show "Works on Paper" affords talented newcomers and already accomplished artists an opportunity to play with ideas and experiment with signature styles.
Chuck Johnson's latest watercolors are brighter and more transparent than his encaustics on panel and take us deeper into botanical worlds that Johnson (an avid gardener) knows well. The iridescent insects, burnt-sienna fronds, and opalescent-blue waters take us beyond polluted rivers and depleted farmlands into still-teeming pools, still-fecund tracts of earth.
Small ink-and-gouache portraits in Clare Torina's Matriarchy Series include a surly teenager, a blind child, a woman with green-tinged skin eating a green ice cream cone, and a battered middle-aged man. At the center of this challenged slice of humanity is a large sleek dog, a healthy creature that adds a much-needed touch of equanimity to Torina's fierce, funny, and honest exploration of human experience.
Bobby Spillman's ink, gouache, and coffee paintings are mesmerizingly detailed but never over-worked. Spillman keeps our eyes moving across his pictures with flocks of birds that swoop in and out of view and fly above the floods and whirlwinds that have roared through earlier installments of this artist's "Spillmanville Series."
Mountains of sweets are everywhere in Spillmanville. In Twin Cake Towers, condos for the town's fine-feathered citizens are layered with irony as well as tiers of icing, strawberries, donuts, chocolate cakes, and jelly rolls. Frosting coils like a serpent near the top of the condo on the left. The penthouse is crowned with what looks like a cherry bomb as well as a cherry. These touches of treachery, excess, and explosives suggest that humankind, as well as Mother Nature, has played a part in the imminent collapse of the condos that are about to topple.
This show marks the return of Jeri Ledbetter, who has been exhibiting in Santa Fe for the past five years. We can see the influence of the Southwest in her new oil-and graphite works on paper. We also see an artist moving toward pure abstraction. In Valensol II, Ledbetter's softly glowing, subtly modulated ochre-and-gray color fields suggest sunlight's reflections on sheer rock faces. Ledbetter's expressive, inventive linework evokes naked branches struggling for life in an arid landscape. Somewhere between representation and abstraction, Ledbetter's elemental landscapes no longer depict the forest or the trees but something closer to the source of things.
Recent University of Memphis graduate Lea Alexander transforms highly textured, silken, and transparent fabrics into images of weather patterns, rolling black hills, and shifting sands. In her especially evocative digital print August 20th, rays of light break through a late summer rain pouring down the face of a mountain.
David Comstock's sinister, sharply angled abstraction Untitled looks, in part, like a mountain on the verge of an avalanche or a hulking figure in cloak and top hat. The figure is frayed in just the right places to also suggest a prehistoric creature with fangs. Stay with this dark mass for a while, and it becomes a compelling Rorschach that calls up any fears that need processing.
In Carl Moore's serigraph American Economics, everything has gone black and gray except for the searingly red figure that floats in a pitch-black void above the American flag. A steel spike, pointed toward the figure's buttocks, suggests the man is about to be skewered, broiled, and served up rare. The same startlingly red figure has been stabbed in the heart in Pursuit of Happiness. In Heartland, he floats helplessly above the sharply pitched roof of his Midwestern home. Scene after scene of economic freefall grabs our attention and makes us squirm. With some of the most sardonic, beautiful, and terrifying artworks we've seen this year, Moore incites us not to riot but to get off our collective asses and find a way out of our financial and emotional morass.