Months before the Idaho Triennial opens in December at Boise Art Museum, a small-scale version of sorts has been on view since June 4 at Boise State's Student Union Art Gallery. Voices and Visions is an exhibit of 20 artists from around the state, selected and juried by Boise painter Surel Mitchell. Now in its last week, the majority of the show's participants are from Boise, the remainder from Moscow, eastern Idaho and Sun Valley. They range from the young to the elderly. Unfortunately, with notable exceptions, the show is not a good indicator of the caliber of art being done in Idaho today.
Voices and Visions is an uneven mix that makes us seem more cutoff from contemporary trends than we are. Despite the presence of several impressive pieces, generally the show has a provincial, amateur feel to it, with some selections bordering on student level work. There is a certain aimlessness to the whole affair. The small catalog is something of an embarrassment, with many of the vertical works represented horizontally. In some cases the image has even been reversed. There is no information about the thinking behind the project, and the juror's statement gives us no indication of what guided Mitchell's choices, what conclusions she draws about art in Idaho, or what aesthetic she believes the exhibit captures. Her stated intention of achieving a cohesive show was not entirely successful.
One expects to make discoveries at a show like this, and I did. Candace Nicol is a skilled graphic artist, and her solar plate intaglio Signified/Significant Other 2 won Second Runner-Up but I thought it deserved better. Is it about obsession? Voodoo love? Alter egos? Who knows, but its multiple images, innovative composition and technical sophistication makes this piece stand out. Kristin Schimick's three ceramic wall sculptures are wonderful. These unusual, painted, pod-like forms are suggestive, open to a range of interpretations. By turns biomorphic, feminist, erotic and fetishistic, they could be read either as the three phases of life (potential, full bloom, decay) or the before, during and after of some unmentionable disease. Amy Lundstrom-Nelson's surreal human centipede in stoneware, Still Waiting for Mr. Right is both disturbing and funny. Intelligent, imaginative and talented, this artist deserves more exposure.
Two of Troy Passey's works are the strongest of the group, deserving best of show in my opinion. In Being Asleep ... and Bless this Mess (both done in ink, acrylic and graphite) his technique of organizing handwritten phrases into graphic devices is sensitive and poetic, enhanced by the dark, bold formal elements he contrasts them with. His work is an intriguing blend of abstract expressionist, minimalist and Zen aesthetics, a marriage of Mark Tobey and Ellsworth Kelly. A similar Zen-like quality is achieved in Julie Singer's interesting use of the gum bichromate photographic process like watercolor to create visual haiku.
The best of Kirsten Furlong's two works in the show is Study of the Canines. I see a softening up of her technique taking place, a noticeable warmth and consideration of surface coming in, but her art still has the stiffness of textbook illustrations. Perhaps if she focused less on deconstructing ideological strategies and more on painting she might realize her potential. Also in the illustrative vein are Andrea Sparrow's entries typical of the encaustic work being done in Boise today, recycling old scientific images lifted from anonymous texts and encrusted in a puckered, waxy surface. Uninspired, Sparrow's art is a collection of received ideas that never add up to an original voice.
Best of Show went to Dennis DeFoggi for his Leaving Earth, Alive, a hodgepodge of materials and surfaces that look like a project for a design class. Glenda Connally deserves her First Runner Up for 303: Space, a still life study of minimalist forms in oil and collaged text. Probably the strangest painting in the exhibit is Audrie Cudahy's Mommy Dearest. Cudahy began making art at age 65, and her lack of formal training shows. The subject, with her missing eye and hors d'oeuvre skewers for fingers, brings to mind Egon Schiele and Otto Dix--it's Cruella DeVille back from the Western Front. Worst in Show goes to Cass Fine's painting Starting Over with its glittering bulge of a sun hovering over a badly painted Dali-esque landscape. If you think the work is painful, read her breathless artist's statement.
Two works that grew on me were Carla Jensen's well-executed pastel and charcoal study Male Figure and Nancy Brossman's oil Red Race Horse. Fresh, playful and vivid, Brossman's small painting was a brisk reprieve in the face of so much strained mediocrity.
Voices and Visions through July 30, 7 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, FREE, Boise State Student Union Gallery, Boise State campus.