Specimens 

Boise State's art department faculty exhibition

Kirsten Furlong, the director of Boise State's Visual Arts Center, has a piece in the current art department faculty exhibit which should have been the cover for the event's mailer. Called Collection, it is a glistening composite of imposing insects, spiders and arthropods, suspended in a thick resin and set in a deep frame like a box of macabre chocolates. Its creepiness only serves to intensify its dark, bizarre beauty, but beyond that, her piece epitomizes the specimen-like nature of many of the works on view. Particularly in the half of the show in the Hemingway Center, there is an overall sense of isolating samples of unfamiliar worlds, in an array of objects and images that are both weird and wonderful. Eccentric and bold, with notable departures for some artists, it is certainly one of the best Boise State faculty exhibits in some time.

The exhibition is also housed in the Liberal Arts Building gallery, but the two venues feel like unrelated shows. The Hemingway contingent is full of the unexpected. Jennifer Wood's collection of crisp, black-and-white images entitled Identities of the Womb are variations on the symbolism of the womb, expressed in the form of vessels, pods, and various abstract shapes. Like organic logos, each is silk-screened on individual sheets of paper which are stitched together with thread to form loosely hanging segmented columns. Thoughtfully presented, the work has a stark, suggestive presence.

Across the way, Laurie Blakeslee's large inkjet color prints of miniature figurines interacting with strange objects in ambiguous blue settings transcend their fairy tale cuteness to signify types of human behavior. Charm and Betrayal, with its disembodied, gnashing toy teeth, is both a humorous, Alice-meets-a-Blue-Meanie scenario and a startling transformation of plastic into flesh. Down on the floor is Tara McElhose Eiguren's installation Egg Piece #3, comprised of five shallow glass boxes crammed with white eggs peeking out of an electric blue solution. This minimalist work has a striking visual and textual effect while evoking life emerging out of a primordial soup.

Somewhat in the same vein as Blakelee's pieces is Matthew Brunicardi's untitled gallery of 36 individually framed photographs of whimsical animal and human figurines. His approach is that of portraiture, using head and shoulder shots, "posing" his subjects in a candid, personable manner. For inanimate objects, they have an odd naturalism to them which elicits empathy for children's attachment to such creatures. Stranger still are Cheryl Shurtleff's untitled specimens from the cat world. Sculpted from matted cat hair, these comical creatures look like coughed-up (and cleaned) fur-balls which Shurtleff adorns with found objects and materials, including painted wood spheres for eyes and a tangled mass of black thread for a beard. Crazy.

Richard Young's tondo paintings on wood panel are a departure for him in terms of scale and format that also sees him turning to the more traditional medium of egg tempura (a precursor of oil paint) over which he applies an oil glaze. In these microscopic botanical and zoological subjects there is an allusion to rampant organic growth that has a subtly sinister aura to it. Three pieces can be interpreted as either nascent tree buds or life lines clogged with some malignancy, set against abstract backgrounds that seem to throb with danger. His strange palette echoes this ambivalence. These intriguing works are both evocative and deeply personal. Tudor Mitroi's multi-media paintings on long, free-standing jigsaw-cut wood panels offer specimens of the cartographic and topographic kind, i.e., fragments of coastlines and urban byways that give viewers a new perspective on our immediate surroundings.

There are other works at the Hemingway Center that stand out. Brent Smith's large, untitled digital prints of local scenes are poignant, elegiac images. The foggy mists and diffused, overcast light permeating these photographs impart a poetic melancholia, especially in Smith's elevated view of a cemetery with a sprawling, emblematic garden at its center and the totemic rock slabs standing behind dilapidated buildings of the Old Idaho Penitentiary. This is some of Smith's best work I've seen.

Always exploring new materials, sculptor Francis Fox has been experimenting with dense, ABS plastic, both on its own in works that look sculpted from ice, as well as in conjunction with his metal work. His strongest piece here is Essence, a sculpture in aluminum with a hologram inset of clear ABS. An abstract work that echoes, by turns, the human figure and landscape, its holographic element adds an eerie dimension.

Jill Fitterer's striking pair of iconic images entitled From "The Nomad's Discovery: Chamber of Icons," with their stately half-bird-half-man figures are right out of a pharaoh's tomb. They dramatically portray the yin-and-yang, the before and after, of the printmaker's art. On the left is the carved and inked birchwood wood block of the image which faces the resulting reverse image woodcut print, leaving the two figures confronting each other. Stephanie Bacon's Histories is a labor-intensive tapestry of printed and hand written text, commercial and found imagery and artifacts that is a layered commentary on where we are as a society. Even Bill Carmen has gotten brazen in this show. His normally subdued illustrative vignettes give way to a madcap sculptural piece featuring a crazed "carney," whose cavernous kisser and serpent's tongue invades our space.

The show in the Liberal Arts Building space is a much more traditional one, featuring painting and sculpture, both good and not-so. Dan Scott's racy yet impressive paintings are homoerotic still lifes with male nudes in submissive poses displayed like, again, specimens. In the diptych Weighing Desire, in which both a butterfly collection and sex slave are on display, and Speaking in Tongues, which juxtaposes a beautifully painted, Vermeer-like still life with a scene of homoerotic bondage, the artist seems to be saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We see the influence of Mapplethorpe here, but Scott's richly painted surfaces temper the brazenness of the subject matter.

Initially, I was put off by Stacie Chappell's abstract acrylic and sumi ink paintings, but the more I looked, the more I liked them. Her colors are bright, sunny, even loud, and her complicated consideration of surface includes fabric-like patterning, dense flat pigment, runs, drips and ink doodlings. Chappell's pink and orange Double Scoop Strawberry manages not to be a piece of confection and is held together and given substance by her use of black ink and suggestive forms, and her considerable design skills. On the other hand, John Taye's still life and landscape oils are very conventional and uninteresting, His canvas Constable Lane/Dance of the Cumulus is somehow totally devoid of light, having instead a dead, gray pallor. Finally, sculptor Jim Budde's hefty political cartoons featuring George W. as Dick Cheney's lap dog and martyr for oil are hilarious and powerful. What will he do when Dubya is gone?

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