THE WEDGE — From elemental mark making to hyper-realistic colored pencil work, there’s some very nice drawing happening in “Enough,” a group exhibition at Soo Visual Arts Center featuring work by artists Joseph Rizzo, Joe Sinness and Joel Starkey.
At the former end of the spectrum is work by Starkey, who can make jagged pencil marks and eraser streaks cohere into something resembling a wild, rocky landscape. Picking up a brush for another piece, he imitates minimalist Asian sumi-e painting, laying down loose strokes of black ink and then working more geometrically in red, and the effect is like encountering modern architecture in the wilderness, a meeting of order and disorder.
Rizzo also may be plumbing Asian art traditions with his fantastical mixed-media landscapes. Photographs from a recent National Geographic article on Pacific Coast redwoods get cut up and pasted into his colorful drawings of imaginary islands. In their bold forms and flat colors, they nod at the landscapes of Japanese ukiyo-e prints.
In a separate series of landscapes, Rizzo gathers natural elements together — a rocky outcropping, trees, grasses — into terrarium-like miniature ecosystems. Done in bright watercolors on wood panel, there’s an element of kitsch to these drawings.
And then there’s Sinness, whose stunningly precise still life drawings have a depth of emotion not present in Rizzo or Starkey’s work. Like a crow drawn to shiny objects, Sinness gathers up gewgaws and baubles, bits of fabric and flowers, and also images from gay pornography, combining the elements in drawings that are decadent and melancholy all at once.
In a series of drawings titled “Shining Indiscretions,” Sinness draws crumpled heaps of metallic fabric reflecting colored lights. It’s as if someone left his lamé tights on the disco floor.
To get to “Enough,” gallery visitors first past through Adam Hamilton’s “Fluctuating Capacity” installation, which is sort of like being transported onto the set of a Terry Gilliam movie. Through paintings, sculpture, writing and found objects, Hamilton tells the story a of a son seeking to turn back time and prevent his father’s death, blending elements of science fiction, steam punk and eastern philosophy.
The installation’s centerpiece is wooden platform meant for either time travel or astral projection or both. The magic isn’t real, but Hamilton casts a spell nonetheless.
“Fluctuating Capacity” and “Enough” run through March 23 at Soo Visual Arts Center, 2638 Lyndale Ave. S. 871-2263. soovac.org
THE WEDGE — If your notion of modern painting was sufficiently rattled by “Painter Painter” at Walker Art Center, then you’ve been primed for “Softside,” Minneapolis artist Joe Smith’s solo exhibition at David Petersen Gallery.
One bus stop south of the museum, Smith is showing blankets encrusted with paint, wood beams stuck in buckets of inky blue copper sulfate and small photographs of books and other items arranged in a studio. There’s a reason Petersen set up shop near the Walker, and “Softside” strides into “Painter Painter” territory, featuring work that uses painting as a reference point but won’t be contained by traditional definitions of the medium.
Those beam-and-bucket sculptures work as visual metaphors for a brush and paint, with the raw cedar timbers slowly wicking up the copper sulfate solution. The solution “paints” the wood in a sense, first appearing as a dark stain and then drying into light blue crystals in slow process that, set in motion by Smith, will continue throughout the exhibition.
As for Smith’s blanket pieces, even though they’re hung on the wall like paintings, they never let you forget what they are: cheap synthetic fabric stiff with paint, as if they’d been used for drop cloths in Smith’s studio. They aren’t framed, just stuck to the walls with thumbtacks, and the way they drape seems just about as important, visually, as any paint on the surface.
If these blankets were once used for warmth or comfort, they can’t be any longer. They aren’t so soft anymore.
Smith’s photographs have an ambiguous relationship to the rest of the work. Several feature tableaus of seemingly unrelated objects, including a palm frond and scraps of paper taped to a wall.
And then there is a series of black-and-white photographs of various self-help books, all posed in the same center-frame position and leaning against a studio wall. They look small and isolated, and the chances of finding any reassuring advice between their covers seem about as slim as the likelihood of snuggling up in one of Smith’s blankets.
“Softside” runs through March 16 at David Petersen Gallery, 2018 Lyndale Ave. S. 276-6541. davidpetersengallery.com