Reading into things: Chroma artists have a way with words

“Show, don’t tell.” Every author knows this dictate by heart (whether choosing to comply or not). The visual artists showing work in Chroma Projects’ current exhibition, “Anthology: One Thousand Words x Four,” however, seem to follow a slightly different rule: “Show and maybe tell a little.”

Curated to coincide with the Virginia Festival of the Book, “Anthology” presents three sculptors, Foon Sham, Robert Strini, and Millicent Young, and one printmaker, Kris Iden, who incorporate pages, words, and/or narration into their work. The four also share a penchant for experimenting with unconventional materials.

Robert Strini’s five pieces, which date from 1987 to 2008, are the most elusive in terms of their relationship to words. In his statement, Strini says his sculpture has evolved from “the pleasing object to the narrative story,” but the tales he’s telling are not obvious. Nevertheless, his pieces are visually strong, contrasting textures and shapes in compelling ways. Strini’s “Bent Cross,” for instance, which stands in Chroma’s front window, balances sensuously curved and bulbous shapes with sharp-edged rectangular elements.

Foon Sham, for his part, makes use of phonebooks in his work, but only as objects devoid of their original purpose. Sham cuts the books into blocks and laths, fusing the pages to suggest a color-resonant grain. He then juxtaposes these components with natural materials, such as wood blocks or bamboo strips. The concept is interesting, but his four pieces are less memorable than the work of the other artists.

Only Kris Iden and Millicent Young integrate words into their compositions. Hanging beside a series of intaglio prints on plaster that offer moody glimpses of trees, Iden presents 12 pages from her project, “…the world is round.” Each page includes a letterpress excerpt from Gertrude Stein’s children’s book, The World is Round, combined with layered prints of animals, maps, and flowers that are less illustrative than atmospheric.

Millicent Young also cites literature in her sculpture, quoting Jane Hirshfield’s poem, “The Kingdom” on the second and fourth panes of her glass-paneled piece, “Sheaf.” The most evocative works in “Anthology,” though, are Young’s “Epilogue” and “Prayerbook,” which both feature open blank books, seemingly made of soft felt though actually ceramic. Lying embedded in cracked mud, Epilogue’s book reveals an egg nested within its pages, and  “Prayerbook” is marked by a severed dove’s wing.

Each “Anthology” artist has something to show and tell, but Young’s work is the most intriguing to read.

“Anthology: One Thousand Words x 4,” featuring work by Kris Iden, Foon Sham, Robert Strini, and Millicent Young, is on view through March 26, at Chroma Projects, 418 E. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 202-0269.