Culture- ART FEATURE- Reality show: Tim O'Kane eyes the details

When photorealist painter Tim O'Kane last showed in Charlottesville in 2005, his sunny-day vistas looking across Italian tiled rooftops were so precise in every detail that viewers could practically feel the Mediterranean breeze. Yet for me– and me alone, judging from the gushing comments I heard– the lovely miniatures seemed too much like vacation snapshots. Although O'Kane's technical virtuosity was staggering, I had a hard time connecting with the paintings emotionally.

Not so with O'Kane's current exhibition at Angelo entitled "Still Life." In these 18 oil paintings, O'Kane takes his eye off the horizon to focus on the everyday world of the tabletop, managing to evoke humor, tension, and even eroticism through the inanimate objects he's arranged on an unassuming blue-grey reflective surface. 

Whether tea towels or vegetables, O'Kane's mundane subjects often allude to foreign cultures and cuisines (with the humorous exception of the familiar crumpled bag in "Spudnuts II/4 Glazed, 2 Blueberry"). In "Broken," O'Kane creates quiet drama by placing a porcelain shard from a chipped sake cup the foreground while its source and an unbroken twin, ornamented with a torrid Japanese love scene, stand in the rear, the still-whole cup surrounded by layers of flame-orange tissue paper.

Nearby, "Fantastico" has paintbrushes, with luminous Mediterranean blue handles, reaching from an empty tomato can. As if a wink at O'Kane's last exhibit, the container's festive label shows ripe red fruits dancing across a landscape featuring an erupting Mt. Etna. Behind the can, a Michelin map of Italy stretches unfolded.

Each of the small works in "Still Life" offers rewards, but the show's piece de resistance is the large "Melanzane." What Edward Weston did for peppers with photography, O'Kane does for eggplants with paint. His overhead view of several bulbous and twisting bruise-colored fruits mixed with three egg-like white ones is almost overpoweringly sensual. 

Light streams in from the top of the painting, illuminating the vegetables' glistening skins and tenderly revealing their occasional pocks and rusty scars. O'Kane's attentiveness to the shriveled green stems provides textural contrast to the seductive smoothness of the eggplants' curved and rounded bodies. Although the eggplants are static, there is a writhing dynamism to O'Kane's composition.

The elongated curving eggplant at the center is both phallic and slug-like, creating a simultaneous impulse to touch and a fascinating repulsion. Who knew eggplant could be so provocative?

Through his close observations of everyday objects, O'Kane has made the mundane deliciously ripe with emotional depth.

Tim O'Kane's exhibition, "Still Life: The Observed World of a Right-handed Painter," is on view at Angelo through April 30. 220 E. Main St. 971-9256.