Recent developments in the coronavirus pandemic — including the new omicron variant and enduring vaccination resistance in some public sectors—underline the fact that this has been yet another difficult year for most of us.
It has been especially tough for artists, who tend to have economic struggles in “normal” times. Such are the circumstances surrounding this month’s all-member exhibition at Artworks Gallery, with its emphasis on potential holiday sales.
It’s no wonder that the show is dominated by art with a strong feel-good vibe. Flowers, bold colors and optimistic messages are the rule, and there are even some eruptions of cuteness.
In the floral department we have Marion Adams’ color-pencil drawings, Mona Wu’s block prints and Barbara Rizzi Mellin’s mandala-format construction-paper collages. With their bold colors and stylized, nature-based patterns and imagery, Mellin’s pieces appear to be informed and influenced by Pennsylvania-Dutch hex signs, and their titles — for example, “Joy” and “Happiness” — reflect the show’s positive overall tone.
High-key colors are characteristic of James Gemma’s abstract compositions, in this show as in his previous exhibitions at Artworks. Marking a departure in other respects is his “Passageway,” which combines his customarily bold palette with uncharacteristically loose brushstrokes.
Likewise anomalous compared to her nature-based abstract compositions more often exhibited at Artworks are Lea Lackey-Zachman’s tightly framed portrait heads, whose vaguely unsettling, ambivalent expressions make them feel somewhat out of place among the show’s more generally upbeat works.
Also running counter to the show’s overall tone is Jessica Tefft’s embroidered fabric disc whose title and theme come from the Greek myth of Sisyphus. This devious king was condemned to push a heavy boulder uphill, only to have it roll back down again and force him to repeat the effort in an endless cycle of struggle and defeat. Its visual economy — with Sisyphus portrayed as a hapless stick figure — lends this work a visual punch that offsets the more cheerful context of the show.
Also among Tefft’s contributions to the show is a brown-hued, sewn-cloth face mask like those employed for protection against contagion in public indoor settings. Its distinctive feature is a silhouette of a prancing horse imprinted on the fabric. By titling it “Horse Face Mask,” Tefft sarcastically references an epithet sometimes used to deride women on the basis of their facial structure.
Interspersed among the exhibition’s more decorative, feel-good works are several of Woodie Anderson’s prints, which tend to be thought-provoking if not overtly downbeat.
Anderson’s “Queen of Hearts,” for example, loosely replicates the playing card, whose reversed top and bottom images are nearly identical. Distinguishing the two queen images are the objects her in their hands — a steaming teacup at the top and a fork piercing a red Valentine heart at the bottom. Ouch!
In a thematically related vein is Susan Smoot’s “Fragmented Heart,” an intimately scaled collage composed in part of antique world-map fragments and centering on an embroidered image of a broken Valentine heart sewn hopefully back together.
Alix Hitchcock’s lyrical monoprint abstractions reference landscape imagery, while Chris Flory’s small, abstract drawings allude to the still-life tradition.
Occupying their own special category are Mary Blackwell Chapman’s two miniature ceramic heads — anonymous portraits in effect — mounted side by side on a wall near the front of the gallery. Although their subject matter is obviously similar to Lackey-Zachmann’s previously described works on paper, they lack the disturbing character of those works.
Speaking of special categories, Karen Moran Kopf is showing an array of Teddy-bear-type dolls or figurines made of fabric and leather, all meticulously hand-crafted and arranged in thematic groupings — sledding, resting in bed, seated around a festively decorated table, etc. “Mulberry Bears,” she calls them, for the mulberry-colored leather from which they’re partly fabricated.