Communal creation: Four artists flow together
My first thought when walking into the McGuffey Art Center's four-artist show, "Gathering Light," was, "Oh, no." But my knee-jerk reaction had nothing to do with the art and everything to do with the background music, a flute-heavy, new-age-y soundtrack that I associate with gift shops in Taos, NM, that sell dream-catchers, sage smudge sticks, and Kokopelli-emblazoned everything. Perhaps that's your kind of thing, but for me it smacks of cheesy faux Native-American spirituality.
So calligrapher Terry Coffey, ceramics artist Cri Kars-Marshall, encaustic painter Jeannine Barton Regan, and poet Jean R. Sampson had quite a challenge to overcome my music-fueled skepticism. To their credit, the exhibit is beautifully conceived and executed. The artists each present individual work but also collaborate on nature-inspired pieces. The gallery is loosely arranged according to color schemes–- earthy hues on the north and east walls, fluid greens and blues on the south wall, and lighter colors in the center.
Each artist has clearly kept the others in mind when creating individual work, so the show has a unified flow uncommon to group exhibitions. For instance, the majority of Kars-Marshall's pieces are "Free Form" abstract sculptures rather than vessels. Cut from slabs of clay, they undulate with lines that complement and echo Jeannine Regan's encaustic abstracts and feature smoky organic marks, a signature of Kars-Marshall's wood-firing technique. In addition, she offers several curving mesh sculptures with surfaces enhanced by metallic wax, another visual call-out to Regan's work.
For her part, Regan takes advantage of the fluidity and textural possibilities that working with pigmented beeswax offers. Although she includes a few landscapes and referential works in the show, Regan's most successful pieces are abstract. In many she includes a moon-like disc that creates a resting place for the eye amid hypnotic swirls of colors. On the other hand, her "Burnt Offerings" series creates interest using only color, gesture, and surface variation.
Meanwhile, Jean Sampson's haiku address the natural phenomena that inspire and enable Regan's and Kars-Marshall's work. Although a little fog-and-trees goes a long way with me, several of Sampson's poems are memorable, e.g. "Haiku #10": "Fire hardens clay/scratches her name in charcoal/alphabet of ash." Terry Coffey gracefully inks each of Sampson's poems on collaged handmade papers or ceramic tablets created by Kars-Marshall.
"Gathering Light" offers a call-and-response between four artists who understand and listen to each other. If only I didn't have to listen to that music, too....
The exhibition, "Gathering Light," featuring work by Terry Coffey, Cri Kars-Marshall, Jeannine Barton Regan, and Jean R. Sampson, is on view through May 30 at the McGuffey Art Center. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.