There are seven colors in the rainbow – and far more colors in the visible spectrum. Researchers estimate that the human eye can see approximately one million hues. That’s a whole lot of eye candy – but color can also be a crutch. How far can visual artists go without it?
To answer that question, Mara Torres González, the founder and owner of MARA Art Studio + Gallery in Sarasota, asked eight, area-based visual artists (Ralph Berger, Lisa DiFranza, Grace Howl, Jana Millstone, Craig Palmer, Jack Shapiro, Dan Wilkerson, and Sam Wuerfel) to push the limits of monochromatic expression. “black+white” reveals the results.
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Torres González also has a work in this exhibit – so let’s start with that. Her “Intertwined” is a fractured, textured, layered multimedia abstraction. From a distance, the work resembles an aerial photograph or topographic map. Seen up close, it’s an alchemy of opposites. Linear patterns and gestural brushstrokes. Manuscript fragments and enigmatic icons. Her clash of modes and mediums has the free-associative feel of a visual dream diary. One idea leads to another. And that always leads to more surprises.
Jana Millstone’s “Mantle” is a mix of isolation and togetherness, a solitary woman, her back turned to the viewer. On her back, a tattoo of four happy, young girls playing together. A memory of better times, perhaps. Or maybe not. There’s some implied connection between the grown woman and the inked children on her skin. But the artist doesn’t spell it out for you. She leaves it a mystery – and that’s even more bittersweet.
Lisa DiFranza’s “Lunar Fox Trot” is a witty spoof of the Apollo moon landings. Due to their ungainly spacesuits, America’s moonwalkers bounced about like space-age cousins of the Michelin Man. “One small step for a man” was heroic in spirit, but hardly poetry in motion. DiFranza gently ribs this awkwardness by superimposing the dance steps of a foxtrot on an iconic image of a triumphant astronaut.
Jack Shapiro delights in dance. He freeze-frames the poses of dancers with his ceramic sculpture series. Some poses capture dancers in action. The two pieces in this exhibit capture moments of rest. The motionless poetry here includes “Dancers Holding Foot One” and “Arched Back.” Both crackle with potential energy, like an archer ready to release his arrow. The motion’s implied in these pieces; you can see it in your mind’s eye. Shapiro sculpture flows from life studies of real-life dancers in an improv session at Sarasota Contemporary Dance. The artist dutifully devotes the profits of his art to that not-for-profit and others as well.
“Captured Flight” and “Standing Flight” are two of Ralph Berger’s disc-shaped, steel sculptures. He’s cut into them, and created intricate, tessellated scrollwork. The dance of negative spaces within these circular forms has the meditative quality of a Tibetan mandala. But Berger’s enlightening art has an earthy origin. The artist repurposed the discs from old sawmill blades.
Grace Howl’s “Homage to Lee Krasner” is exactly what it sounds like. In case you missed the first year art survey course, Krasner was a bold expressionist painter who lived in the shadow of another expressionist painter, her husband, the highly publicized Jackson Pollock. His “action paintings” were painterly, gestural and created in the moment.
Krasner’s art was created in her mind. Her patterns were intentionally assembled, not spattered, and often included collage and mosaic elements. Krasner’s work was highly conscious, the dead opposite of Pollock’s brand. (That might’ve been the point.) Howl celebrates the difference with this starkly graphic, spiral form, clearly referencing Krasner’s art, without imitating it. Howl clearly gets the point. Molly Nevis, a graduating senior at USF, Sarasota-Manatee, referenced this painting in her 2019 thesis on Lee Krasner.
Other strong pieces include Sam Wuerfel’s “Peacefully Between the Lines” (a horizontal collage of playful, trapezoidal elements); Dan Wilkerson’s “Indulgence” (a jazzy, abstract playground of squiggly paint strokes); and Craig Palmer’s “Gray Matters” (a playful dance of bubbly shapes evoking emerging thought).
That’s just a sample of the work you’ll see here.
These nine artists tell the truth in black and white (and countless shades of grey).
It’s a monochromatic exhibit. But far from colorless.
Through May 31, at MARA Art Studio + Gallery, 1421 Fifth Street, Sarasota; (941-914-8110; MaraStudioGallery.com
Read more art reviews and features by Marty Fugate.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Sarasota’s Mara Gallery focuses local artists creates in black & white