Being Seen 

Artists' Link celebrates 20 years.

click to enlarge Mississippi River Flood by Saj Crone
  • Mississippi River Flood by Saj Crone

Everything about the exhibition "Artists' Link, Memphis Area Visual Artists" is top-notch, including its venue, the Dixon Gallery & Gardens, and the high-quality catalog. Barbara Satterfield, director of the Baum Gallery of Fine Art at the University of Central Arkansas, has chosen artworks representing a wide range of mediums and genres created by artists pushing their signature styles in new directions.

In Annabelle Meacham's acrylic-on-panel Paper Moon, a sharply angled origami bird points up toward a bouquet of calla lilies taped to burnt-sienna wallpaper printed with an ochre-gray flower motif. Meacham's high-flying paper bird, lilies the color of moonlight, and sly title make this work a deeply satisfying meditation on the fine line between illusion and reality.

Saj Crone's C-print Mississippi River Flood slides our point of view down the trunks of tall trees, deep into flood-stage waters, and around the bend of a river. Blurred by mist and the soft ripples in the water, Crone's image appears more painterly than photographic. Tree trunks floating along the banks look like they've been slathered with brushstrokes of gray and green oils.

Two of the exhibition's portraits — Sue Foell's Girl with Blue Pitcher and J. Powell Miller's Melissa — are poignant companion pieces regarding coming of age. Foell's daughter, age 9, gently presses a blue pitcher against her chest. Her beautiful, gentle, contemplative face, tinged with sadness, records life's fragility as much as its promise. Miller's model, "Melissa," is close in age but worlds apart in attitude. Her face, handsome and strong, looks up at the viewer — lips pursed, chin thrust forward, determined to meet life head-on.

Richard Bowman's dead branches appear still full of energy as they twist and turn across the surface of his painting Yellow Vase, Orange Bowl. Bowman's complex, often unorthodox palettes — in this painting, orange, chartreuse, and blood-red backdropped by brilliant lavender — and haunting syntheses of beauty and decay are both upsetting and stimulating.

Mickey Hollis' jazzed, crowded, nearly chaotic Ocean Series II, Blue feels like a visual equivalent for the digital networks that keep our world buzzing.

For her black-and-white oil on canvas Horsin' Around, Betsy Bird reaches deep into childhood and her knowledge of art history and comes up with a herd of quirky but beautiful creatures that look like hybrids of saw horses, stick figures, African motifs, and Franz Kline abstractions.

There are no cross-outs or paint-overs in Bill Branch's confident watercolor Overlooking the Rio Grande. With minimal information (transparent washes, touches of ochre, a pale blue ribbon), Branch re-creates wisps of clouds, sheer rock faces, patches of sagebrush, and the Rio Grande winding through an arid landscape.

click to enlarge art_feature1-2.jpg

Bill Bailey is a skilled Impressionist. In Rainy Day, trolley-car lights bleed into the fog. With the work's blurred-edge and domed building topped by a sooty-ochre sky, Bailey evokes the mystery, ambience, and perhaps early stages of pollution of a centuries-old city.

In John Sosh's abstract painting Hidden Agenda, Cy Twombly-like doodles, by turns figurative, iconic, and calligraphic, make the painting a powerful portrait of the experimental/ephemeral/expressive.

The artistic sensibilities of Constance Grayson's collage textile La Primavera lie somewhere between those of the quilts of Gees Bend and Chinese landscape painters. Grayson's lean, lush, and layered textile evokes the Italian countryside in Umbria with its mosaic of pines, fields of sunflowers and wheat, and patches of blue for the lakes that dot the region.

Some of the show's most evocative works are the smallest, including Phyllis Boger's 5-by-7-inch oil on canvas Golden Day. Clouds, quickly gestured, move across a Cezanne-like patchwork of craggy mountains. In this tiny, pared-down landscape, the crimson and ochre and stark-white color fields could be iron-rich deposits, meadows of flowers, or roiling streams. This simultaneously intimate and majestic scene suggests how we shorthand and downsize our experiences of vastness and grandeur so that we can hold them in memory and the palm of our hand. Through June 21st

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