"Artspace," a 5-by-6-foot wallboard at the P&H Café, is one of the world's smallest galleries. It flanks a small stage where bands play bluegrass and rock music. Beyond the stage, artists and writers gather for late-night probings into the human condition. Emily Walls' exhibition "Are You Still Holding?" is a perfect fit for such a place.
With small, untitled ink drawings, smaller scraps of Naugahyde, and even smaller pieces of unfired polymer clay, Walls creates poignant, passionate, ever-hopeful bits of life. Walls packs a lot into a small installation in which each stroke of pen and twist of clay feels sentient.
A thumbnail-sized sculpture with a Cornish hen body and a head that looks like a bright-red sexual organ sits on top of a piece of wood proclaiming, "Good times are coming." In an untitled drawing, a little black-and-white mutt inside a tiny wire pen invites us to play. A discarded Christmas tree drawn on a piece of plywood (so delicately rendered we can almost feel its soft needles) hangs above a Naugahyde snake that coils out of the wall and sniffs us with its felt-tipped nose. And bits of clay scattered across a dollhouse-size mantel look like sections of an earthworm, that rudimentary but remarkable creature capable of regenerating itself after it has been cut in two.
At the P&H Café through February 2nd
The sculpture in "Nancy White: New Ceramic Images" at the University of Memphis' Jones Hall Gallery reveals another ceramic artist working at the top of her form. What comes across strongest is White's deep love for the earth and its creatures. With smoked clay, chloride, glazes, and a finesse that comes only with years of experience, White creates an exquisite series of impressionist scenes of a sunny afternoon on Audubon Lake. Umber and off-white bodies of a flock of Canadian geese blur into sunspots, into light dancing on water, into a complex mosaic of blue-green-ochre that colors the grassy waters where the geese feed.
Rabbit Proof Fence? explores our complex relationship with a creature we adore, abuse, and consume. In this sculpted wall hanging, White's smoked clay becomes the soft fur of three rabbits pressed against a barbed-wire fence. An actual strand of barbed-wire stretches across the rabbits' bodies and attaches to the ceramic frame that surrounds the scene like a burnished altar to the beauty/danger that characterizes much of the natural world.
At Jones Hall Gallery through
Another accomplished Memphis sculptor, Andrea Holmes Lugar, has mounted "Mixed Media," an impressive exhibition of clay and bronze sculpture at the Levy Gallery in the Buckman Performing and Fine Arts Center. Some of the show's strongest works are large bronzes. These are not polished monuments to the powerful and famous -- Lugar is after something more personal and poignant.
Vissi d'Arte -- Vissi d'Amore ("I lived for art, I lived for love") looks like a ripe brown melon that has been peeled in one seamless motion, its golden pulp scooped out. This large bronze pulls us into its nearly empty shell, unwinds our point of view, and thrusts us back into the gallery. Art and love, Lugar suggests in this ingenious metaphor, are a ripening of feelings that sometimes comforts and shelters, sometimes reams us out, and almost always spins us off in new directions.
Lyre with Woven Landscape begs to be played. You may experience a strong desire to cradle the sounding board that looks like a scarred torso, to pull your fingers through the silken strings, and to imagine you have struck some soft, low notes that, like the artworks in Walls' and White's exhibitions, tell us about the world's fragile and resilient beauty.
At the Levy Gallery through February 9th