Records of change and repetition at WSU faculty exhibit
By Jane A. Black
Alchemy sounds like science and feels like magic; sometimes art strikes me the same way. A faculty show seems a prosaic idea. In short, such exhibitions don’t often rise to the level of delight. They can be a decent survey of the department, but rarely capture a subtler and complete reading of each artist represented. And though alchemy does not really turn base metal into gold, it still brings to mind enchantment; and that can be – and should be – within the realm of art. Perhaps the magic of the current show at Wright State University is that instead of showing a couple pieces by each of the faculty’s fine artists, it hones in on the work of three of its members: Diane Fitch, Tracy Longley-Cook and Danielle Rante.
The Robert & Elaine Stein Galleries are tucked into the campus’ Creative Arts Center in such a way that I wonder how many people never find this wonderful space. It is one of the great places in Dayton to view art. Every show is beautifully conceived, installed, lighted and explicated.
In what feels like an anteroom, a small survey of the artists’ work greets you … a couple of oils on canvas by Fitch, three large, circular photographs by Longley-Cook and three cut-paper ruminations by Rante, along with another of her works that layers graphite and paint over carefully excised patterns.
Stepping into the main room, with its expansive height and additional upper-level gallery, there is opportunity to more deeply explore the concerns and practice of each artist. Fitch’s work is most broadly represented; perhaps because she has been through a particularly fruitful period, having had a year’s sabbatical, some of which was spent in Europe.
At first glance, nearly every one of her drawings and paintings feels firmly rooted in time. Some melt a bit into frenetic overlay of activity, or are softer, more atmospheric – but in general, they feel solidly realistic. Only upon study does one realize the level of fancy within the narration, the twisting of time and embedded symbolism in the paintings, always sublimely executed. Her children and other costumed figures inhabit cathedrals and living rooms, playing out “stolen stories” from history. Everything is fabricated, imagined, stitched together … yet it seems so real. It’s artifice. It’s magic.
Two bodies of work by Longley-Cook vary so greatly, it almost feels as if a fourth artist is included. While she characterizes them as unrelated, I always expect to find at least a single apparent thread leading from one body of work to another. Gallery director Tess Cortés suggested texture, which is accurate – and an interesting way, in fact, to view all three artists’ work. Still, I sense there is something else I haven’t yet found; clearly, I need to follow Longley-Cook’s output if I want to figure it out. In any case, a group of color still-life photographs from Portugal undulate like the air on a hot summer day, evoking the temperatures she encountered on a short residency there. The other photos are stark and clinical by comparison. After you peruse the black-and-white images she characterizes as maps recording a moment in time, be sure you understand how they were made. It may change your perception of what you have seen.
Rante says she finds bits of the world that interest her and repeats them. Indeed, her objects are a marvel of technique. There is also a linear quality and obsessiveness that converse particularly well with Fitch’s drawings. Rante’s cut paper jumps into relief through the shadows they throw, also relating to Longley-Cook’s color photos that focus on positive and negative compositions delineating how tenuous living things occupy space.
All in all, this is a very satisfying iteration of three artists exploring the world, stealing stories, mapping self and finding patterns … well worth taking a trip to campus for some looking about.
The 2011 Faculty Exhibition at the Robert & Elaine Stein Galleries, Wright State University, is on view through March 6. For more information, visit www.wright.edu/artgalleries.
Jane A. Black is a fiber artist and the executive director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center. Visit the gallery at 118 N. Jefferson St. or visit their website at www.daytonvisualarts.org. Follow her on Twitter @lookingabout.