CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Imperfect views: Lexingtonians visit the ‘ville

"If it was perfect, it wouldn't be art." That sentence– spoken by my Lexington High School art teacher, Barbara Crawford after I'd accidentally put a big black blob in the middle of a pen-and-ink drawing– changed everything. Then and there, I made those words my personal philosophy. Every time I've screwed up in life, the thought comes, "Well, if I was perfect, I wouldn't be art."

A few years ago, I told Crawford how profoundly her words had affected me, and she confessed, "Oh, honey, I was just trying to make you feel better!" No matter– the principle still holds (the Japanese call it wabi-sabi).

So I was particularly delighted by Crawford's two paintings hanging in the stairwell of the Gallery@5th & Water, which is currently hosting "Gang of Eight," an exhibition of work by members of Lexington's Nelson Fine Arts Gallery. 

Crawford's large, nearly square oil-on-canvas works, entitled "Bliss Abandoned IV" and "Bliss Abandoned II," realistically depict clouds billowing and soaring against a sky of saturated blues gradually fading into the distance– until the illusion abruptly breaks with the paint dribbling across a strip of otherwise blank canvas at the bottom of the frame. 

This truncation of the sublime is startling and breathtaking. The unfinished sections are, in fact, the keys to the paintings' power. Don't believe me? Compare these two works with Crawford's more conventional landscapes upstairs. The latter feature similar skies but have countryside vistas stretching across their lower frames. Though complete, they seem prosaic after the imperfect "Bliss" in the stairwell.

Flawed beauty also fuels the work of found-object sculptor S. Harb, whose wink-and-nudge assemblages of junky knickknacks add humor to "Gang of Eight." Her wit is often biting, though, as evidenced by "Marriage is Like a Hornet's Nest," which features a tiered section of a salvaged hive festooned with glittery costume jewelry and topped by a chipped and battered wedding-cake couple.

The rest of the show is a hit-and-miss mix of painting, photography, and drawing. The most impressive pieces are Clover Archer's abstracts combining Xerox photo transfers, ink, and graphite drawings in mock diagrams and pseudo architectural plans. Her absorbing "Complex Adaptive Systems are Pattern Seekers" presents a narrow band of discrete and varied geometric elements running horizontally across an oversized page, the long gray line interrupted irregularly by red vertical marks.

"Gang of Eight" may have its imperfections, but it contains some fascinating art.

"Gang of Eight," an exhibition featuring work by members of Lexington's Nelson Fine Arts Gallery, is on view through July 27 at the Gallery @ 5th and Water. Entrance, stairwell, and upstairs foyer of Henderson & Everett and Stoneking/von Storch. 107 5th St. 979-9825.