Plant, Animal, Mineral 

Current exhibits at Clough-Hanson, Montyshane, and L Ross.

In her exhibition at Clough-Hanson Gallery, "The Solid Matter of a Celestial Body," Jillian Conrad leaps from high to low art and from the utilitarian to the metaphysical as she messes with the meaning of art and asks, "What is real?"

In the first moments of viewing Conrad's Flat Earth Projections, we see every nuance of color, every chasm, every mineral vein of what could be a stone, a mountain face, or a meteor hurling through space before it burns itself out in the atmosphere. As we adjust to the darkness in the small room in which Flat Earth Projections are placed, we realize the crispest, most detailed artworks in the show have no substance. Conrad has magnified pieces of road rubble and projected their images on the wall.

For Horizon Line, Conrad placed a stone on a plywood shelf and then outlined the stone's shape on the gallery wall. The jagged and soaring lines of Conrad's elegant drawing remind us that the forms of abstraction, as well as landscape, as well as figuration, derive from nature.

Conrad then takes us inside Oz, three gleaming mountain-shaped panels propped up with wooden scaffolding and stones. With this work, she evokes abstract art's holiest of holies — flat luminous fields of color — then knocks down the facade by revealing the nuts and bolts of mounting a show.

This is an artist who finds art not in discrete objects or esoteric aesthetics but in the way ideas and objects bounce off one another. So what is art; what is real? Conrad's elegant, iconoclastic exercises in seeing suggest the answer is simple and unknowable all at once.

"Jillian Conrad: The Solid Matter of a Celestial Body" at Clough-Hanson Gallery, Rhodes College, through December 5th

"Plants: Interior & Exterior," Montyshane Gallery's current exhibition, is not your garden-variety plant show.

Nancy White's ceramic figure Owed To could be a metaphor for Mother Earth or for the Eve-in-us-all, still in the garden, still intimately connected to life. Eve's slender green body looks freshly hewn from swamp moss and clay. She sits on the earth looking down; small animals rest on her shoulders; flowers sprout from her womb and limbs.

Melanie Spillman, an artist known for her delicate, sensual watercolors of troubled celebrities, chose flowers as her subject for the show. She paints darkness and grit as well as bright petals as she simulates umber weeds and earth with pigmented Mississippi mud.

click to enlarge Owned To by Nancy White, a work in "Plants: Interior & Exterior" at Montyshane Gallery
  • Owned To by Nancy White, a work in "Plants: Interior & Exterior" at Montyshane Gallery

With the adeptness of a basket weaver, Marian McKinney works the teals/taupes/turquoises of patinaed copper into complex mosaics. Her five-foot-tall copper Birdfeeders stand at the center of the gallery. Their large sunflower faces bend toward one another like human figures in conversation.

Unlike the proverbial young woman who fades into the woodwork and never gets asked to dance, Bryan Blankenship's white-on-white Wall Flowers are anything but shy. In many flowering plants, female as well as male reproductive organs are phallic shapes. The pistils and stamens of Blankenship's white flowers come in all shapes and sizes. They reach out from the center of open-mouthed petals producing sexual energy that is palpable.

Bluebells & Blueboys is Blankenship's large, mixed-media work of painted and sculpted flowers climbing to the top of a ceramic trellis. The title's allusions — to Gainsborough's portrait of an 18th-century youth, an underground magazine, a gay night club, and the beautiful bell-shaped flower — remind us of the wide variety of sexual expression in humans as well as plants.

"Plants: Interior & Exterior" at Montyshane Gallery through December 15th

"Anton Weiss: Pursuit," the current exhibition at L Ross Gallery, includes some of the most evocative abstractions of Weiss' career.

The works are on large sheets of aluminum. The pigments, instead of soaking into cotton canvas, stay on the surface of the aluminum, accentuating the mutable, free-floating quality of paint and suggesting the constant flux and the nervous energy of our times. Small saturate patches of thalo blue, cadmium yellow, and scarlet are scattered across muted color fields.

Weiss also scatters scratched and gouged scraps of metal across the picture plane. Unpainted patches of aluminum reflect light. This is not the sunlight of the Impressionists or the luminous color fields of Abstract Expressionism but something more brooding and complex.

When Weiss was a child in Europe during WWII, he made a promise to himself "to create rather than destroy, to give back." What Weiss gives back now — as the world is once again at war — are portraits of life as compelling as any literal or figurative depiction could be. Here are glimpses into truth, the moments of intense pleasure and pain, the forgetting and the letting go.

"Anton Weiss: Pursuit" at L Ross Gallery through November 30th.

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