'Paintings and Works on Paper' offers wide variety of local art
Its entrance is nondescript, but once through the door everything changes, welcoming UA students and Tucsonans alike to the cozy, intimate place that is the Etherton Gallery.
One climbs a staircase, like an ascension to another world, and enters into a different atmosphere, one known for its remarkable space. It is a place steeped in history. The floorboards are the same ones that were there in 1914. High school proms and school dances were held there.
The Etherton Gallery also has a long history with local artists, including Bailey Doogan and James Davis, two of the three artists currently being featured in the gallery's "Paintings and Works on Paper" exhibition.
Bailey Doogan's series of paintings, mostly oil on paper, are titled "Illuminations" and although this was done so reluctantly by the artist, it is still an apt description of the works. The paintings are sky scapes, wonderfully impressionistic explosions of color and light that seem to glow as if sunlight was used in equal proportions with the paint.
The pieces, too, impart an undeniable sense of movement, the paint spreading across the canvas like ink in water. In "Cirrus fibratus and Cirro-status," the clouds, like an army of yellow and pink, are "invading the sky very slowly from the west," moving across the canvas in a gentle upslope.
Yet Doogan's works go beyond a mere "representation of something ephemeral and fleeting." The paintings are juxtaposed with text, sandblasted into glass, taken verbatim from the "International Cloud Atlas, Volume II."
The text is scientific, hence Latin titles of pieces like "Altocumulus translucidus" and "Altostratus undulatus radiatus translucidus." Doogan views the Latin as "arcane and so secret yet incredibly poetic." The language may be scientific and dry, but there is implicit beauty and nobility in it.
Doogan refutes the idea that language is concrete, but rather it is open to interpretation and transitory, like the paintings. Language changes with context, appearing different depending on the light, just as the clouds in her paintings do. Her works are the collision of art, science and language, a capturing of the tension between those elements framed and placed on a wall.
Language, Doogan says, cannot encapsulate the visual image, and James Davis's works exemplify this notion. His images are his narratives. His bold monotypes "Profile with Pelican" and "Purple Beach" represent what Davis refers to as "a complete reality," "a beginning and an end in tune within the space."
His works use mixed media, encompassing all elements possible for the sake of figurative expression. To a novice, Davis' pieces are daunting works, expressing personal statements that are hard to articulate into words. Thus, perhaps it is best to hear from the artist himself.
"The prints can be characterized as narrative. I would like to think of the images as a 'fabric' that is somehow connected- an 'atmosphere.' No judgments or political statements are intended as principle cause in their creation- neither are they (I hope) benign." Benign, they are not, Mr. Davis.
The last of the artists exhibited is Judy Chicago, nationally a more well-known artist than Doogan or Davis. Her works, a series entitled "Thinking About Trees," is simply humanity in tree form.
Not so simple, however, are the themes represented in the drawings. In "Hopelessly Entwined," the branches of two trees are wound around each other, locking them in permanent embrace. The title suggests, though, that the trees wish to separate, but just as in all human relationships, one finds that is not always easy to let go. In "Orphaned Tree," a lone tree stands on the left while three stumps, all inscribed with human names and familial titles, sit in the foreground on the right.
In these trees, Chicago demonstrates the disrespect and abuse with which we act towards the natural world. These trees are given human qualities (branches that spill blood like veins), because we are meant to confront the living part of them, the essence in them that makes them, just like us, part of the living world. In them, we can find the same romance, hopelessness, despair, dread, passion and loneliness that we feel ourselves.
All these works will be displayed at the Etherton Gallery, 135 S. Sixth Ave., from Sept. 7-Nov. 16. For gallery hours, call (520) 624-7370.