The two October exhibits at the Durango Arts Center make a provocative pairing. Jane Steele’s quiet exhibition of mixed-media works is beautiful and highly personal. The big annual show in the Barbara Conrad Gallery is another membership extravaganza. Kudos to DAC to once again make an effort to upgrade and focus this annual event, but only a handful of works address the theme.
Subtitled the Annual Members’ Environmental Exhibit, it was an effort to take the old, perennial landscape shows to another level. Fortunately, the grand prize winner, Chris Howe’s “The Next Ice Age,” expresses deep concern with a strong visual statement. In a large, square-format, mixed-media painting, Howe has all but covered a collage of concerns with an avalanche of white paint. It’s effective and provocative.
Nearby Tim Hantza’s color photo, “Fractal Earth” dramatizes the opposite, the next age of drought, through a simple but powerful realistic image. Michele Sensing’s large digital photograph of “Cement Creek, Silverton,” is spectacular and devastating when you realize the river’s orange is pollution.
But the gallery is dominated by lovely landscape paintings, photographs and three-dimensional objects that tend to celebrate the beauty of the earth. Two quilts, normally a conservative medium that tends toward pure decoration, challenge despoliation. Quilters Patty Joy and Leesa Gawlik’s fabric panels stretch the medium into environmental art.
Richard Grossman’s witty conceptual piece, part of his so-called contraceptual series, may be the most interesting and controversial. A steering wheel has been wrapped in 365 black condoms. Grossman’s helpful statement explains the work’s inception and title, “Good Year.” I have to add a disclaimer as he mentions my DAC lecture last year on idea-driven art that apparently inspired him to begin a series of mixed-media works.
The only other conceptual piece in the exhibit is Don Smiley’s “So You Wanna Be an Artist.” It’s simple and fun, but it doesn’t address the theme of the show. Neither does Lou Martinelli’s rather formal mixed-media abstract collage. He’s created a nearly symmetrical architecture to surround the central motif that combines geometrical elements with Japanese text. Overall, ”Asymptomatic Behavior” is a handsome visual mystery that’s provocative and beautifully crafted.
The DAC Library features Jane Steele’s lovely mixed-media landscapes and leaf castings. In this intimate space, Steele has placed 14 carefully layered collages that evoke nature, from distant landscapes to pools of water. Three large vertical collages demonstrate her title: Prairies, Plateaus, and Peaks. She also has two triptychs and nine of her cast-concrete and acrylic rhubarb leaves. The heavy-delicate contrast in the two types of work complement each other.
“Above All” and “Red Mesa” reveal a slow, thoughtful process. Steele layers thin papers, creates the illusion of deep natural space and adds marks to enhance features. In her statement, she refers to the German artist Max Ernst and his frottage process. He instilled terror into his landscapes; Steele emphasizes grandeur and beauty. “Journeys” will be up through the end of the month.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.