Review of Vista Lights 2009 by Mary Bentz Gilkerson

Issue #22.47 :: 11/24/2009 – 11/30/2009
From the Free Times

Vista Lights Shows Gradual Comeback in Local Art Market
Galleries Showing Diverse Works

The annual Vista Lights celebration, held the Thursday before Thanksgiving, is one of the markers of the beginning of the holiday season in downtown Columbia. Judging by the number of red dots on the walls beneath artworks at Vista galleries by Saturday afternoon, it looks like the area art market is making a slow, measured comeback.

There are more young and emerging artists showing their work this year in temporary exhibits in regular retail spaces. In addition, at least one of the galleries is focusing on young or emerging artists.

The Carol Saunders Gallery features digital photomontages by Ginnie Saunders. The multi-layered images are complex and systemic in their structure. Jeff Donovan’s Hats series greets viewers from the windows of if ART Gallery where a range of work from gallery artists is displayed.

The resident artists’ exhibit at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios is one of the strongest in years.

At least part of the strength of the show comes from the contributions by Deanna Leamon and Kirkland Smith, who recently joined David Yaghjian, Laura Spong, Michel McNinch, Susan Lenz, Sharon Licata, Robert Kennedy, Pat Gilmartin, Heidi Darr-Hope, Jeff Donovan, Stephen Chesley and Ethel Brody in the space.

Smith’s Marilyn dominates the end of the main hall. Spinning off of Andy Warhol’s iconic Marilyn, Smith has created an equally large version completely made out of junk. In recycling both the image and the material, she has created a powerful statement about both disposable culture and beauty. Leamon’s large charcoal drawing Arms Akimbo and painted studies of heads continue her exploration of the fragility of the human form.

Brody makes a very consistent, strong showing in her group of works. The layering of color in the dense weave of lines creates visually rich surfaces that pull the viewer in. Spong’s work also uses rich layering of intense color in her intuitive painterly approach. Blazing Autumn, McNinch’s most evocative work, has strong contrasts in light creating a definite mood. Lenz continues her series of everyday heroes in her fiber and mixed media portraits. Chesley’s River, Reeds, High Wind shows the influence of his recent work in black and white.

Several 80808 artists are experimenting with new directions or materials. Darr-Hope’s new works on paper share many of the same concerns as her small fiber pieces. Rich colors, symbolic forms and text give them the feel of manuscript pages. Donovan and Yaghjian are also using different media that give their familiar imagery a fresh feel.

The three-dimensional work in the show is equally strong. Gilmartin’s Crow-matic Quanday is a quirky piece with a sense of humor. Kennedy’s clay portrait head has the feel of a classical Roman bust. Licata’s rough stone piece, Ancient Eight, packs a monumental feel into its small scale.

City Art is featuring the work of Wanda Steppe and Harriet Goode, two painters with very different styles. Steppe’s pieces are highly finished, representational in the way that they depict the subject matter but somewhat surreal in the combination of subjects. Peaches in a Night Sky pairs orange and gold fruit on a shelf in front of a dark indigo nighttime tree line. There is a play on illusion in that the viewer can’t tell whether the landscape behind the shelf is a backdrop or the actual physical space behind the still life.

While Goode still employs a representational subject in her work, she uses it more as a motif to organize her exploration of form and mark. The very general outline of a human figure appears in almost all of her pieces, as in Riddle. The form is sometimes recognizable as a female one, sometimes not.

Most of the exhibits will remain up for several more weeks. For the moment the Vista still dominates the local visual art scene. Just because you might have missed the main night doesn’t mean you’ve missed it all. Take an afternoon and stroll through all of the galleries.

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