Under an Open Sky and Figures of Rhetoric

Under an Open Sky and Figures of Rhetoric

A Duel Exhibition at the Rosewood Gallery

By Jud Yalkut

The airy but incisive vision of the delicacy of branches and bird forms in the snowy whiteness of space of Paula Willmot Kraus’ “Under an Ohio Sky” is in sharp contrast with the fragmented and rough aspects of post-Constructivist figural sculpture by Emily Trick in the dual exhibition running through April 13 at the Rosewood Gallery.

Kraus’ encaustic coated inkjet on rice paper represents another exploratory approach to this photographic media, just as Trick’s amalgam of construction materials like plaster, chicken wire and rough wood deconstruct the human form into pure physicality.

Paula Willmot Kraus has fused a practical concern for life on Earth with a metaphysically pure sense of meditative revelation in a body of work that has traversed from platinum and silver gelatin prints through subtly colored C-prints, and now into almost painterly representations that echo the Sumi modulations in Zen meditational images. Her sense of observation is highlighted by her bachelor of Science/Biology degree from Pennsylvania State University, augmented by her Masters of Arts degree from Antioch University McGregor in Yellow Springs. She is now an Adjunct Professor of Photography at Wright State University, where her immaculate mastery of divergent photographic processes must be a welcome addition to the curriculum.

The images in “Under an Ohio sky” were inspired by a winter walk through a landscape transformed by a heavy blanket of snow where the “snowy silence was interrupted by a flock of birds feeding on the frozen berries of a tree.” The silhouetted forms captured against a white background invoke the delicacy of oriental calligraphy in Kraus’ series such as the “Branches” and the “Bird Studies” in this show.

“I approached these images much as a painter might,” notes Kraus, “but with the subtraction of brush strokes rather than the addition of ones … Printing on rice paper and coating it with encaustic completed the reference to Eastern imagery.”

In such pieces as “Branches 3” and “Branches 5” (both 2012) the linear definition of each branch and the subtle textural gradation contrasts with ghostly background soft-focus branch structures, and is highlighted by the carefully defined clusters of desiccated berries. The advent of the birds is memorialized in the long horizontal composition of “5 Persimmony Robins” (2011), whose orangey-red fluffy breasts are mirrored in the crimson flecks of pecked berries in the snow.

Then the extensive series of “Bird Studies” fulfill Kraus’ vision of images “able to transcend the concrete and suggest the energy that lies within them.” The modulation of tones in the feathery wing structure of the bird flying over an extended bare branch in “Bird Studies 8” (2010) is pure poetry, and the “Redwing Blackbird” dominates its perch of the upper branch of a leafy configuration of ink-wash-like tonalities suggesting the progression of the seasons through a maple universe.

Pairs of birds face in opposite directions in “Bird Studies 4” and “Bird Studies 2”

(both 2010) as they perch on separate levels of conjoined branches. A “Bird Studies 11 Triptych” presents a panorama that flows from shaded branch configurations to the presence of two birds, each in the last two panels, and each panel a complete composition of its own. Images of winter robins and other birds are perched among delicate shadowy growths (2011), and two studies of the aureoles of “Queen Anne’s Lace” (both 2012) are bridges between the seasons that capture Kraus’ “underlying synergy of subjects.”

Emily Trick is a sculptor who is also a master of the ceramics art, which has been fused into much of her work over her career. Now an Adjunct Professor of Sculpture at Wright State University, Trick received her B.F.A. from the University of Dayton, her M.F.A. from the University of Dayton and did a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in 2011. After her earlier explorations of structures in clay she progressed into figurative work fired in gas and wood kilns.

“Having lost a parent at a young age,” says Trick, “I grew up thinking much about issues surrounding loss and bereavement,” leading to work “that deals with conflicts and tensions between physical and intangible, representational and abstract.” Gestural manipulations became part and parcel of her symbology and she “gradually began to break the figure into fragmented surfaces held together by an idea of the figure rather than by its direct representation.”

The current six “Figures of Rhetoric” emerge out of an amalgam of common materials around wooden and wire frameworks, in which straw, plaster and burlap are bound together into almost inhuman presences. The turn of a plaster ankle, or a miniscule “Head” (2012) atop a slender wooden pillar emerging from an angled wedge of wire, foam and burlap recall a famous sculpture by Giacometti.

“Wedged and Taped” (2012) is the most restrictive piece with its “torso” captured by bands of black tape and rough plaster between a tall vertical wooden “V” with molded legs standing on a small wooden cross. “Wrapped, Bent to the Left, Left Foot Forward” (2012) would be self-explanatory but for its fragments of lower leg, hip and thigh disappearing into a rough Constructivist wrapped mélange of disparate wooden verticals.

The inner structure of a blasted anatomy reveals itself in the most human but headless “Forward” (2012) with its stepping and gesturing extremities, punctured by a mesh-formed left thigh and lower torso and flashes of red at the knee and the chest. These

elements in Trick’s terms successfully “turn the figure into something found or invented.”

(The Rosewood Gallery is located in the Rosewood Arts Centre at 2655 Olson Drive in Kettering. Gallery hours are 8a.m.-9p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8a.m.-6p.m. Saturday, and 9a.m.-3p.m. Saturday. (937) 296-0294 or visit www.ketteringoh.org.)

Reach DCP visual art critic Jud Yalkut at JudYalkut@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Paula Willmot Kraus, “Redwing Blackbird” (2012), mixed media photograph.

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NY born, moved to Ohio in 1973 to be Assistant Professor of Art at Wright State University (1973-1977); in NYC taught at School for Visual Arts, York College of the City University, and NYU Continuing Ed; six-time recipient of OAC Individual Artist Fellowings (including one in Criticism); 2005 Ohioana Citation in the Visual Arts in Ohio; 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District.

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