Almost Eden 

Work by Beth Edwards, David Hinske, J.C. Graham, and Lisa Jennings.

Beth Edwards, At Peace — at David Lusk Gallery

Beth Edwards, At Peace — at David Lusk Gallery

Accomplished painter and university professor Beth Edwards is best known for portraits of vintage rubber dolls that provide wry insight into human nature and the American dream. For her current show, "Along the Way" at David Lusk, Edwards takes her toy dolls, ducks, and dogs out of their showcase homes and places them on the open range in Horse and Rider and into idyllic farmsteads in Happy Cow and Peaceable Kingdom. In the series of paintings titled "Meadow I-V," there are breathtakingly blue skies, striking red poppies, and healthy, happy honeybees.

Lest we think she has lost her ironic edge, Edwards slips the work At Peace into the show. In this remarkable painting, Edvard Munch's 1895 masterwork Death in a Sickroom hangs on the wall of one of Edwards' dream homes. Numbed by grief, the Munch family looks anything but peaceful. This is pre-penicillin Norway, the number of childhood deaths is staggering, and Munch's beloved sister Sophie is dying.

A baby duck with a strawberry doily on top of her head stands next to Munch's portrait of despair. Her orange beak is slightly parted, eyes shut in reverie, fat cheeks turned white-gold by sunshine streaming through the window, her tiny wings raised in what looks like a spasm of joy. An ecstatic rubber duck next to the death scene initially feels jarring — what an outrageous juxtaposition, what an aesthetic affront. And yet, the longer I looked at this portrait of pure joy in the face of the world's relentless sorrow — rather than wincing or guffawing — the more I wanted to weep and let go.

Through July 2nd

David Hinske is also after something rarified, almost ineffable in "Transcendental Vocabulary" at Art Under a Hot Tin Roof. In this exhibition of nonsensically titled luminous abstractions, Hinske asks us to let go of visual and verbal associations, to play in fields of free-flowing color shot through with light. 

Barely visible, thumb-sized smudges in several of the paintings conjure up the first bits of matter coalescing and the first artist making his/her signature mark with a chunk of charcoal in a Paleolithic cave. The rest of Hinske's boundless and effervescent surfaces bring to mind cotton candy and Technicolor amoebas. Like Edwards' surprisingly powerful rubber duck portrait of bliss, Hinske's melted-popsicle pools of radiance are also a joy to behold.

Through June 26th

At first glance, the American flags, vintage photos, handmade prayer cabinets, and antique Bibles in "One Room Schoolhouse," J.C. Graham's Gallery Fifty Six exhibition, looks like a show full of feel-good patriotism and down-home religion. Take a good long look. Graham's flags are torn, his vintage photos are the frightened mirthless faces of children too soon grown up, too quickly indoctrinated. The small pools of blood-red acrylic that seep through the bull's-eye of a target and through a little boy's jacket at heart level suggest emotional wounds at the center of us all. This is soul-rending, icon-shattering Americana. 

In the satisfyingly ironic, mixed-media work Confession, two boys with mischievous faces have written and rewritten "I will not confess" on a blackboard. On blackboards, school tablets, prayer cabinets, and soiled stripes of the American flag, Graham writes in urgent child-like scrawl: "Run, run run," "Mary, Mary, Mary," "Don't you see," "What's the point?" Like these youngsters, Graham is not afraid to ask questions, to challenge authority.

Through June 30th

Lisa Jennings' increasing mastery of collage is particularly powerful in "Presence," the L Ross exhibition that honors ancient wisdom and the web of life. In her haunting self-portrait Body of Clay, Hair of Flowers, the artist's face flows, nearly seamlessly, into her clothing, hair, and the vegetation surrounding her. This near-abstraction is not the facelessness of anonymity or the fractured psyche of cubism but a powerful reminder that psyche and substance are intimately connected.

A skilled sculptor as well as painter, Jennings carves found pieces of wood into figures like the roughhewn work titled Wisdom. The top of the head is gnawed away. Its skull is bleached white, its eyes are huge and hollow, and a branch is attached to the sternum of this fierce creature who still reaches out to embrace the world.

Jennings tints the the figure titled First Love with acrylics, balances a tree limb on top of her head, and places a stone tablet in her long supple arms. As beautiful as she is wise, First Love isn't a lawgiver but a young woman who wears her heart on her sleeve (as well as a limb on her head), who learns to balance body/mind/spirit, who bears witness to a world that is equal parts whimsy, pain, and grace.

Through June 30th

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