CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Excess baggage: Thruston overpacks at McGuffey


"Murder your darlings." Every writer knows British journalist Arthur Quillen-Couch's famous dictum. Florid passage? Slice it. Clever but extraneous idea? Slash it. Good writing depends on ruthless self-editing. 

The same is true of good art exhibitions. Case in point: Jeff Thruston's "Vessels," on view in the McGuffey Art Center's main gallery. Thruston's darlings are stone carving, digital compositing, and interactive mixed-media work, and he resists sacrificing any of them in his current show. Consequently, strong work ends up defused and diffused in this disjointed presentation that lacks attention to detail. 

"Vessels" comprises four loosely strung-together sections: 1) 10 large black-and-white digital images, each representing "an individual emotion" (prickly "word police" alert: "repression" is not an emotion); 2) two straightforward marble sculptures; 3) a range of pieces combining stone carving with Polaroid transfers; and 4) an installation and interactive video exploring "Emotional Baggage." Thruston has artistic chops to show off in each of these areas, but they simply don't cohere into a unified whole.

Technically impressive, the digital photo series highlights Thruston's ability to manipulate bits and pieces from various sources— movie stills and found photographs— to form distorted new images. At best, though, these are a neat trick. At worst, they lurch into gimmick and cliché. Thruston envisions "Happiness," for example, as a bubbly amalgam of babies and clowns. (Babies and clowns!)

Far more successful and intriguing are Thruston's pieces fusing photography and stone sculpture. In "Robot," the artist creates an angular marble figure with a photo-enhanced central cavity filled with redbud sprigs sprouting against a dazzling blue background. The unexpected synthesis of material and image is captivating. 

Similarly, Thruston's "Gaia" presents a female torso of selenite overlaid with photo emulsions of a tree. Graceful and luminous, this sculpture's one shortcoming is Thruston's decision to mount it on an ungainly block of varnished wood.

Presentation also detracts from the show's standout piece, "Emotional Baggage," an interactive video that invites viewers to explore the contents of three primary-colored suitcases. Thruston surrounds two computer kiosks with precariously balanced suitcases, but he makes no effort to conceal the butt-ugliness of the monitors screening his fabulous piece of stop-motion animation. He also provides no instructions to prompt viewers' interaction with the video, which is not completely intuitive.

If Thruston had only killed off his weakest work and focused on creating a unified display of strengths, "Vessels" would be a much better exhibition.

Jeff Thruston's "Vessels" is on view at the McGuffey Art Center through August 16. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.