Different strokes: McGuffey showcases new members
"Show me something new." That's the prayer I send up each month as I head out to make the gallery rounds. And it's why I look forward to the McGuffey Art Center's annual "New Members Show" since it usually provides a satisfying answer. This year, however, the 10 inducted McGuffeyites' offerings–- with three exceptions–- are long on competence but short on shake-it-up new.
The exhibit is also long on painting, with seven new members focused on brushwork. Longtime Charlottesville artist Elizabeth Geiger's oil-on-canvas still lifes are pleasant. Krista Townsend's paintings of clouds are pretty. And Cheri Schramel's watercolor crows are moody.
But only Matt Kleberg jolted me awake with the energy of his strokes. Kleberg's oversized oils examine death and transition in the natural world, yet his exuberant style of dashing color across the canvas infuses his dark subjects with dynamism. Kleberg also plays with dividing his compositions into diptychs, triptychs and stripes, which succeeds in some pieces but comes across as gimmicky in others.
Kleberg's divided approach works well in "The Transformation of a Dead Sparrow," in which the right three-quarters of the frame depict the colorful body of fallen bird against a white background. The sparrow's lifeless head occupies the remaining quarter on the left, where Kleberg paints it in soft grays and elides it with the ochre background.
Renee Balfour opts for a more refined approach in creating her rich oil paintings that derive from close-ups of botanical material. Balfour's sensual images, which contrast shadowy recesses with light-filled surfaces, are both abstract and invitingly familiar. Her careful technique of layering color all but obscures her brushwork, making the human hand nearly invisible in her work.
In "Wish," Balfour juxtaposes rusty husks, their interiors yawing like caverns, with the fluffy contents they have spilled. The painting is deliciously tactile; the seedpod's dried edges appear brittle and sharp, while the cottony down seems soft and luminous.
Another artist skilled at creating depth while working in two dimensions is Pierre Fihue. A well-known French comics artist who specializes in fantasy and science fiction illustration, Fihue's "Organic Machines" offer whimsical entities that are simultaneously anatomical and botanical, combining bones, organs, stems, and leaves. If Balfour's paintings carriy a whisper of Georgia O'Keefe, Fihue's dazzling graphite drawings and digital paintings faintly echo Dali and Escher.
Although the other seven artists know their chops, Kleberg, Balfour, and Fihue bring the "new" to the "New Members Show."
The McGuffey Art Center's "New Members Show" is on view through January 30. 201 Second St. NW, 295-7973.