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The Natural Beuty of the Southwest

By aaron lafrenz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 4, 1999
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by aaron lafrenz

Trying to survive and succeed as an artist outside the art capitols of New York and L.A. is a daunting task. Tucson artists not only face the practical challenge of producing their work but also face issues like finding audiences, forums and communities that encourage their creativity.

Artists in the "Thursday Afternoon Group," or TAG, formed their organization a few years ago to create their own sense of artistic community. TAG founder and chair Rhod Lauffer explained that "TAG is a composite spirit that comes together to create a singular effort regardless of the directions pursued."

The current exhibition, "Multiple Personalities," presented in the Memorial Student Union's Arizona Gallery through April 5, shows some of the artistic results of these different directions. The title "Multiple Personalities" aptly reflects the diversity of the 20 TAG artists who come from various backgrounds and disciplines, working in photography, painting, monotype and mixed-media.

Despite the variety of the works, nature is one of the dominant themes and muses in "Multiple Personalities." What artists in Tucson may lack in motivation and support from the art world, they gain in inspiration from the natural beauty and awe of the Southwest. The TAG artists demonstrate very different renderings of nature, from scientific detailing to more fantastic imaginations.

A number of the artists concentrate on the miniature aspects of nature. Richard E. Schaffer's "Flight Food," depicts an endearing native hummingbird. Charles Hedgecock's photograph, "Vietnamese Blue Legged Centipede," is a curious study of an insect that looks like a metal-plated alien creature. "Eternal Pit" by Paul Mirocha shows a careful study of a common fruit pit, revealing the detailed texture of this natural object.

Other artists in the group take a much broader view of nature in their works. The sunsets in Tucson are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful in the world. In the oil painting "Southwest Sunset," artist Tom Bergin captures this grandeur of nature, with the bold spectrum of colors and subtle effects light plays on the darkening landscape. These same atmospheric effects are echoed in Marvin Shaver's "Swirl." He shows the texture and fluidity of clouds, taking precedence over an abstracted, vague landscape.

Rhod Lauffer's contribution, "Planet Augmentation and Transplant," imagines an even more whimsical landscape. Smooth rocks worn by time jut out from the ground but take on anthropomorphic features to look more like human fingers.

A photograph by Ken Matesich offers a more realistic perspective of Southwestern landscape, showing its true character with bold outcropping rocks and rough shrubbery. This photo reveals the dichotomy of nature in the Southwest, with both its hard and soft features. Amanda Hunter, another artist in the TAG group says "it is a harsh beauty, full of sharp edges and cactus thorns; but there are also soft, muted colors and small round leaves." Nature in the Southwest doesn't need to be romanticized to be dynamic and interesting.

But nature is merely the most common theme among the artists. Since "Multiple Personalities" includes so many different artists, the exhibition goes in many directions. George E. Huffmann's "Good Dog," hints at Native American petroglyph designs.

Despite the collection's diversity, the non-objective art seem strangely out of place. Most of the artists work in some kind of context or interaction with Tucson and the natural environment. Geometric images stand in stark contrast to these other images.

TAG may not maintain international appeal or cutting edge artistic ambition, but their attention to setting succeeds in "Multiple Personalities."