Art From Underground 

Basement Gallery's new show deserves above-ground attention

You know how you can pass by the same landscape day after day and never notice what's around you? People are usually in such a state of oblivion thinking about all the errands they want to get done over lunch or hoping they didn't get another parking ticket that they walk around with figurative blinders on. If that describes you, well, stop it. Stop passing by and actually go down the stairs to see the latest exhibit at the Basement Gallery, on the corner of 10th and Main streets.

click to enlarge A painting by Tarmo Watia.
  • A painting by Tarmo Watia.

Perry Allen, gallery owner, describes the art as "underground," hence the name and the location in the basement of the Idanha Building. While "underground" often connotes art that is so far out, most people won't get it, this exhibit is imminently accessible, thought-provoking and original. Five artists are featured, each one bringing a different vibe and view to the airy and hardly dank basement.

The first eye-catching pieces are by Tarmo Watia (coincidentally, this week's BW cover artist), whose cartoon-like style, with its clear lines and vibrant colors, is funky and varied. He considers all kinds of subject matter; his artist's statement says he works on many different pieces at once so that each day he can work on whatever suits his temperament that day. His Inuit Bear Skin has some expected elements, such as a bear, duck, cat and fish, but punctuated with purple smiley face stickers and other quirky images. Women Are Equal features a robust, rotund woman who holds what might be a mirror up to society as she is surrounded by a cadre of biblical motifs, like a snake, a dove, a couple of birds and an olive branch with a heart on the end. There's Always a Cloud Around uses intense, neon colors in oranges, reds, yellows and pinks with one black silhouette figure who sports a large, school-marm bun. One of my favorites is Singing at the Moon, a large oil painting with a big red moon in the corner, and the traditional howling dog, painted in green. The rest of the scene includes folk-arty images like a bugling angel and angular people.

Around the corner is the art of Mike Flinn. The wall-sized work Other Than That Everything's Perfect contains so many images in one painting, it's hard to know where to start. In the center appears to be a colored atomic bomb explosion, a mutated person wearing a gas mask, and then image upon image to keep you looking a long while. It is a knock-out masterwork. Across the room hangs a series of his Mondo Gaga editorial cartoons, for which Flinn has a special gift. Some touch on national issues, but the most fun are the local cartoons, featuring the Ten Commandments issue, police shootings, economic policies, development and even a commentary on the Boise art scene. Then there's Loathsome Dove, a guitar with an antiqued, old Western sensibility painted by Flinn.

As if anticipating that art lovers would need a quiet respite from all this color and noise, Allen tucked Kristen Furlong's work into a nook in the back. Her love of the natural world is evident in the delightfully tender way she presents her lithographs of birds. The colors are soft and muted, but an occasional circular hole jars you out of your happy place. Her solar plate prints are intense by comparison; though monochromatic, the thickness of the lines and sharp contrast convey a heavier feeling.

Hidden in the atrium window below the sidewalk outside are Matthew Jordan's distinctive blown glass creations. The sunny location perfectly complements the reflective elements, highlighting the flutes and curves. Jordan's work is reminiscent of Seattle's Dale Chihuly, under whom Jordan once worked. While he may be tired of the comparison, Chihuly lovers will appreciate the familiar fluid lines. And if owning art is among your goals, you can have a Jordan piece--with rich, saturated colors, sea form sets, urchin bowls and fluted bowls--for a fraction of what Chihuly's work goes for. Particularly notable pieces include Cobalt and Silver Foil Vase, with its helix of silver foil sparkling throughout, and Clear Ice Vase, a colorless vase with visual interest created through shape and implied movement.

Sue Rooke's sensitive clay sculptures alone are worth a trip to the Basement Gallery. Some of her pieces have a whimsy about them, such as her series of "Bugs" with human-like faces. Her seven pieces called "Turtle Tote" each feature a pedestal with a turtle on top. They look like they're flying (I found myself calling them flying turtles in my head). The expression Rooke achieves in clay is astounding and could occupy the observer for hours. Carnivore features a happy looking dragon reclining; Titans Musing on Secrets and Lies depicts the heads of two T-Rexes who wear thoughtful, philosophical expressions. Several touching pieces are human forms and busts, created with clear love and interest in real faces. These figures have wrinkles, lumps, oversized hands, and they are beautiful. Their faces are serene, thoughtful, contented, emotional. My favorite is Diva, a figure of a beautiful woman of a certain age, kneeling and looking up with a pleased smile on her face. A chicken sits by her side, squawking.

Allen has done a bang-up job of selecting artists whose work is diverse, yet complementary. So next lunch hour, forget the errands, just go on in and spend it drinking in color and shape, line and form.

Basement Gallery is located at 928 Main St. in the Idanha Hotel. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, and by appointment by calling 333-0309.

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