Close Encounters 

Works at Odessa, David Lusk, Jack Robinson, and L Ross.

Odessa kicked off 2009 with a "Painting and Politics" symposium the same night it opened the exhibition "Fearless Speech." Art enthusiasts and activists packed the gallery. Instead of agenda-driven diatribes or political posters, Robin Savage and John Yoblanski presented paintings as passionate and complex as the ideas developed by the art professors who paneled the symposium.

Savage (aka Rob Canfield) blends art and activism with philosophy and history. Hordes of humanity press into one another as Conquistadors burn natives at the stake, Christ is crucified, and laborers work relentlessly in sugar-cane fields. In a painting titled Cain, one figure steps back from the mayhem. Instead of raising a dagger, Cain raises an apple and bites into the forbidden fruit, refusing to obey any power (God or country) that asks him to slay his brother.

The masses also press into one another in Carnival, but here the emotional tone is one of celebration. African masks and medieval hats remind us that a passion for life runs through all peoples at all times in all places. At the center of the work, an aging woman of color raises her arms and joins in the dance.

In Yoblanski's Buy More, Consume, Be Happy, white girders supporting a metropolis of high-rises also serve as stripes for the American flag, while in Today's Empire, Tomorrow's Ashes, a white domed and columned capitol building stands on charred facades that reach deep into the earth. Like Yoblanski's skeletons, like his scorched earth, the blood-red skies flanking the monuments to corporate and government power tell us about the expendable humanity that fuels them.

Closing reception on Friday, February 27th, 7 p.m.

click to enlarge John Hawk's Black on Black #1, at Jack Robinson Gallery
  • John Hawk's Black on Black #1, at Jack Robinson Gallery

David Lusk Gallery's current show "The Angelus" contains some of the most assured work of John Torina's career. After years of painting plein air, Torina has mastered loose, rapid-fire brushstrokes and developed palettes complex enough to capture the kaleidoscope of color and movement of windswept skies and river currents.

In Light on Eastern Clouds, banks of deep-purple clouds move in, turning peach into gray into an ultramarine violet that backdrops a golden-red sunset. When Torina repeats the staccato patterns of darks and lights at the bottom of the painting, the earth appears to move as well.

Through February 28th

Adam Hawk's "Iron Paintings" at Jack Robinson Gallery hover at the edge of abstraction and somewhere between the two- and three-dimensional, somewhere between painting and sculpture.

As our eyes move across their surfaces, trying to make sense of artworks that look sentient but abstract, iconic but alien, we notice the slim rods that attach forged-steel shapes a couple of inches from the surface of the paintings. Hawk's sculptures cast shadows and appear to float, to move across textured acrylic backgrounds painted deep-red, spring-green, white, and a particularly evocative palette-knifed and pitted gray background in Black on Black #1.

click to enlarge Buy More, Consume, Be Happy by John Yoblanski, in "Painting and Politics" at Odessa
  • Buy More, Consume, Be Happy by John Yoblanski, in "Painting and Politics" at Odessa

Hawk's paintings can be read as satisfyingly complex abstractions. They also look like ancient skulls on stakes. Others look sentient: robotic insects with menacing stingers and long metal legs moving across alien landscapes.

Through March 20th

Caricaturist Mike Caplanis' exhibition "Work and Play" at L Ross Gallery reaches deep into history and larger-than-life personalities to get at truths more complex than just-the-facts or photographic likenesses.

Marlene Dietrich shows up in Caplanis' gallery of history's most Surprising Spies. Great actors taking on the personae of great artists in Movie Painters include Ed Harris' depiction of Jackson Pollock's addled genius.

Instead of the faces of American presidents, in Mount Rushmore of the Blues, Caplanis turns gouache, ink, Clorox, coffee, and crumpled paper into four blues greats — Son House, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Lead Belly. Their craggy, coffee-stained faces are etched with equal measures of genius and grief. Beneath Rushmore's white rocks, beneath white tuxedos rumpled by an evening of playing all-night clubs, eight gnarled hands smoke the cigarettes, tune the frets, and play the blues on one oversized guitar. Their music tells us more about the state of our union and the travail of our citizens than the rhetoric of most politicians. Through February 28th

click to enlarge Light on Eastern Clouds by John Torina, at David Lusk Gallery through February 28th
  • Light on Eastern Clouds by John Torina, at David Lusk Gallery through February 28th

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