CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Reality check: True views in Barboursville

If you're like me, when the grass turns green, you get the un-green urge to climb behind the wheel and drive. But this year the reality of gas prices threatens to deal a deathblow to wanderlust. Sometimes, though, even a short jaunt— such as to the Nichols Gallery Annex in Barboursville— can satisfy that yearning for an eye-opening road trip.

Located in an old two-story house on the quiet street that passes for "downtown" in Barboursville, the Nichols Gallery Annex is currently showing "Three Realists," an exhibition of work by Pat Cook, John Murray, and Richard Weaver, a trio of regional artists who have established national reputations.

Oil painter Murray takes a decidedly old-school approach to composing his still lifes, painting tabletop arrangements that predictably feature fruit, a dish, and perhaps a piece of cutlery. Yet there's such vibrancy in his brushstrokes and such depth to his understanding of color that Murray's subject matter remains fresh. For instance, in "Green Box w/ Lemons," he uses a jolt of cobalt blue to define several edges of a grocery-store cardboard container, while giving the nearby lemon sections, dazzling in their luminous range of yellows, additional zest with a ruby shadow here and a sapphire shadow there.

Pat Cook, for her part, is less interested in relationships between objects than in relationships between people. Her acrylic paintings capture seemingly un-staged conversations and social interactions. Adopting a generally subdued palette and adding scratches and other textural elements to her surfaces, Cook has developed an unusual technique that yields a diffuse translucency not usually associated with acrylics. One of her most compelling pieces, "Conversation L", depicts four people chatting side by side on a bench. A woman's orange skirt serves as the focal point of the painting, which is otherwise awash in relaxing khakis and greens. 

Richard Weaver also delves into figural studies, although his humorous terra cotta bas reliefs are truly realistic fictions. Weaver deftly brings familiar characters to three-dimensional life in these small wall pieces clearly inspired by his young son. In "Captain Hook," the famed pirate extends an exquisitely sculpted left hand toward the viewer as his unfortunate right hook falls outside the frame below. Cleverly, Weaver mirrors the front point of Hook's tri-corner hat in the toothy snout of the crocodile draped around the pirate's shoulders.

Along with Murray and Cook, Weaver makes sticking to reality quite a worthwhile adventure.

The exhibition "Three Realists," featuring work by Pat Cook, John Murray, and Rick Weaver, is on view through June 15 at the Nichols Gallery Annex in Barboursville. 540-832-3565.