Nature at Stewart 

The consolation of terra-cotta

In a past article, I expressed suspicion of those who harbor disdain for the mundane. The belief that the ordinary world needs to be jazzed up before it can be tolerated is a symptom of, not a solution for, boredom. The ordinary world, given the deep appreciation it deserves, is more than sufficiently inspiring. The work on review was by painter Charles Gill, and the point was made: the mundane is worth defending. This article will be a further defense of that notion.

The current show on display at the Stewart Gallery is titled Nature, and the work is by the artists Geoff Krueger, Fonny Davidson and Kerry Moosman. Of the three artists it is Krueger and Moosman who have made, in my view, the strongest contributions, and it was in their work that I found the inspiration for this piece.

So without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce that unassuming, under-appreciated and blessedly conventional quality impressively championed in this show. Let's put our hands together for sanity--sweet, sweet sanity. Isn't it nice? A lot of art gets attention and oomf by making itself strange, novel or somehow sensational. In fact, there's an assumption that if it's not strange, it's boring. Sample question: What kind of painting do you do? Answer: I'm working on some landscapes. Unspoken assumption behind polite response: How boring.

This kind of shallow reaction can to some extent be forgiven. Landscape paintings are boring if they're bad landscape paintings, and, of course, one could cover the moon in bad landscape paintings, given their strong reproductive instincts. Second only to landscapes in bad examples would go to pottery--bad pottery is so boring it can only be compared to itself in boredom. Not to be a bore.

On the other hand, good landscape paintings, like good pottery, have the ability to embrace you in ways that sensational art cannot. Geoff Krueger makes very good landscape paintings. He does so by painting something few are able to paint, namely, silence. And how does one paint silence? Well, Krueger does so by painting light. It must be nice. Question: What do you paint? Answer: Silence and light. Unspoken response behind polite response: Wow. Standing in front of a painting like Confluence, one is initially consumed by its size, then the singe of pink light burning the fringe of pine trees, then the quality of early morning light, then the deep sane silence of it all. Self-conscious questions about what art is or what it "means" melt away (if they were ever there), and one is left feeling not interested, but deepened.

Moosman approaches sanity through poise and balance. Like Krueger, his strongest pieces pull you in by their sheer size; they have gravitational powers. As large terra-cotta vessels they capture their own silence, though in this case it is the silence of a perfectly poised and held darkness rather than a perfectly painted light on a landscape. I say poised because the form he repeats with Zen-like dedication rises up from a very small base to large rounded sides that have some connection to shoulders. The finished pieces have no choice but to be balanced. Their heavy shoulders open at the top to their dark centers and their smooth sloping sides seem to point back down through their bases to an underground origin.

Those familiar with the work of Fonny Davidson will be surprised to see his new work. Rather than the careful compositional still lifes he is known for, the work in this show has a loose immediacy. The small-scale paintings are of flowers from his garden and have a wink of the ephemeral in them.

Give me an S, give me an A, give me an N ... well anyway, give me sanity. Do yourself a favor and see this show. As an appreciation of sane silence it stands out, and with all the secondhand insanity in the air it's an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.

Nature at Stewart Gallery through November 29, 2212 Main St., 433-0593.

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