Sometimes the weakest voices cry the loudest wails. The most subtle of light can provide the deepest inspiration of colors. Such is the case with "Wood, Paper, Paint," Stewart Gallery's current exhibition (through October 23) featuring two established artists--Christian Burchard and Deborah Barrett--and two emerging artists--Troy Passey and Andrea Gutierrez. The work of these artists is uniquely serene, and a first glance around the gallery soothes the eye as only a minimalist installation can. There is no shopping spree to be had, no clutter to contaminate the ambiance.
Christian Burchard, originally from Hamburg, Germany, currently residing in southern Oregon, contributes a majority of the pieces on display. Using bleached madrone burl, he crafts a variety of pieces varying from natural found objects, such as three seashells in Fragments #12, to whimsical human-made objects as in Books. The sculptures in the center of the gallery significantly change moods depending on the side and angle from which they are viewed. Canyon Walls #8 reveals the restricted torso of a woman bound up and clothed in an exquisite corset, while from the opposite side, she swings in a party dress, loose and busty. Yet another glance shows the waistline of a couple dancing, their low backs arching into one another.
Beyond the differing angles and wood itself lies another secret of Burchard's artistry: shadow. Canyon Walls #3 may look like a small wall next to a wooden gourd, but closer inspection of the shadows of these two pieces reveals the spires and cliffs of Moab, Utah's desert landscape.
The second artist in the show, Deborah Barrett, brings two works to Stewart Gallery: Flying Woman and Standing Figures. These works are easily spotted from across the gallery and immediately demand attention. The women seem playful and bright from a distance, but haunting from a foot away.
Flying Woman appears as a female Superman minus cape and emblem. Yet is she a super hero going to save a suffering victim of evil? Or is she the victim, plunging through the air to escape her responsibility, her reality and herself?
Standing Figures is a display of four women standing on boxes attached to the wall. They are realistically shaped with the exception of having wide, square hips and breasts at their shoulders. The disarrangement of body parts challenges social fixations. Would breasts be equally beautiful and comforting if they stood at the apex of women's arms, so much farther away from their hearts?
Barrett's works also play with shadow similarly to Burchard's Canyon Walls, but her shadows don't provide natural landscapes; they make other statements. In the background, the women shift their weight on their heavy hips, gaining life, movement, and personality. They aren't posing for a mug shot as they are in the forefront; they're gossiping at the market. In the shadows, they are united in numbers.
Although Barrett is a writer by formal education, her works contain no words. It is ironic, though, that another artist in the show, Troy Passey, incorporates handwritten phrases into his work through ink, acrylic and graphite. Passey is an emerging local artist whose art speaks the loudest upon first entering Stewart Gallery. Perhaps this is because it is the first to come into view or because it is composed of words which tell what his art is saying, through Passey's phrases, such as, "There is Great Chaos under Heaven and the Situation is Excellent," and "It Began to Get Light Out Watching the Night Fall."
As wonderful as Passey's titles and phrases are, most of his works look quite similar, so maybe it isn't surprising that his most intriguing piece wasn't hanging in the gallery, but instead, is in a portfolio. The page is divided into two columns, the first narrower than the second. "May" is written in the upper left column and "December" in the lower right column. In between remains an infinity of time, space, and memories passed. This work significantly contrasts the rest of Passey's art because it presents an abundance of emotions with only two words.
If a person can't understand Passey's illegible handwriting, then his words risk losing literal meaning, thus the physical arrangement of the words to create a image is necessary. If there is no significant image, then the words lose physical value along with literal meaning. It's a predicament, but an admirable challenge to explore.
Andrea Gutierrez, the final artist in the show, is an emerging painter currently living in Los Angeles. Her minimalist, abstract art falls completely opposite of Passey's, offering few to zero clues about her inspiration and never any titles.
The medium for all of her works is oil and thread on canvas. Sometimes the thread is one long piece while other times it appears as if she used the thread to create a scratched-over surface. Her pieces can be disturbing, representing raised scars or tally marks scratched into a jail cell wall counting endless days, or calm and full of exploration. Her paintings are mirrors and the longer the viewer stares, the more details he or she begins to discover. This can be frustrating at first, but ultimately the most rewarding experience at the show.
Wood, paper and paint aren't the only criteria binding these four artists' work. Individually, the pieces call out, but in collaboration, the art murmurs back and forth to each other until the entire gallery hums.