General 9-14-2004

Pictures, Telling Stories: Rosalux

Valerie Valentine reviews the current show at Rosalux Gallery, "Assembling Stories: New Work by Kate Van Cleve, Jennifer Davis and Michael Sweere," up through September 30.

A work by Kate Van Cleve
A work by Jennifer Davis
A work by Michael Sweere

Sometimes art is simply attractive to consider, as an object in itself. Other times, a sculpture or painting triggers a train of though that builds a story. This current exhibition, called “Assembling Stories,” thoughtfully links three artists with narrative-style works.

Of the three artists, Kate Van Cleve’s visions create the most dramatic flair, with interacting figures that assemble accounts. These artists are clearly in love with their media, though, even more than they love stories. The unusual found objects in the collages reflect verve for the treasure hunt of artistic equipment. Michael Sweere wields the weirdest supplies; his cardboard and paper cutouts come from fragments of consumer living, like chewing gum and Cheez-Its packaging. Jennifer Davis links both of these artists with collages that use an array of obscure objects, hinting at a story behind iconic images. Their art may often be dictated by what materials are on hand, but at the same time, the resulting, unplanned images spring from a rich subconscious level full of juicy plots.

Jennifer Davis has produced prolifically this year. She makes small collages on canvas that easily blend figurative geometric shapes with photo figures, transposing portraits against acrylic swatches of color’s palest shades. The diminutive size and soft colors immediately register for the viewer. Her signature colors bring to mind food: green tea, lemon sorbet, strawberry cream. The figures and odd, retro visuals she’s clipped out of who-knows-where and into her paintings illustrate femininity with cute retro girls and delicate birds.

“Indoor/Outdoor” features split views of a home, one with a big old couch and the other of an idyllic cottage scene. Here, Davis exhibits a view of women’s space and place, traditionally the home. One called “Little” is made of small blocks cubed together, with the words “little little little” floating above — very pretty and girly, a piece that could serve as prototype for the rest of her work currently. I would love to see Davis do something huge, because it would be so soothing to drown in those colors. “My Dust” is a full-blown story – a bicyclist and car are layered on top of each other. Who is eating whose dust? The mischievous-looking lady wants to have it out, and seems ready to blow that car away. Toughness displayed with a womanly wink makes Davis’s art especially appealing.

Michael Sweere achieves vast scenic landscapes and rich color studies with his paper mosaics. Sidestepping traditional mosaic materials like tile or glass, Sweere finds unlikely items for construction. The bright chunks painstakingly scrapped together recycle that notoriously unrecyclable cardboard from food product packaging. Nutritional information charts lodged between non-sequitur text bits, like “shakespeare” or “microwave,” on bright blues, greens and oranges make a cubist color palette view of “Sunset Over the Sea,” and a vibrant pair of “Bellbottoms.” Sweere’s unique mode must require a bit of obsession to pursue, as it likely takes hours to assemble one of these jigsaw works. The cuts are uniformly square in some pieces, and jagged and chaotic in others. A combination of precision and ingenuity help the artist pull these off. More than the subjects, the media give rise to anecdotal inquiry. Like, did he really chew all that sugarless peppermint gum?

Kate Van Cleve crafts crazy stories with her oil pastels. Her method of flattening items and using block colors gives each piece a busy shallowness, like mosaic. The drawings collage chunks of color in unusual tones, with green-haired girls and other bright figures vying for attention with wild foregrounds. “Portrait of a Coward” presents a dreamlike confrontation of a tearful sufferer with a curious, perhaps cruel crowd of onlookers. “First Girl Finds her Temper” offers up a small child poking her navel, surrounded by flame and orbiting candy bits. Free-associating viewers can identify bits of their own stories in these representations.

Rosalux does a lot of stuff right. From the outside, this artist cooperative appears really successful. They’re selling work. The sweet location situated at the edge of downtown makes for easy access from anywhere. (Bucking the recent trend, these guys moved out of Northeast before the great gallery migration over there.) A three-level space gives all members opportunity to show their work regularly. Member portfolios on display are distinctive collections, as well as fine examples for emerging artists on how to flaunt one’s work. The Rosalux website makes surfing super simple, providing juicy details and quality images. The clientele passing through at openings are über-hotties, too. I obviously have a crush on this gallery. But I don’t think even the wettest of blankets could find fault with the exceptional workings of such a stylin’ spot.