Dreamers documented

A furry, baby-sized sentry greets you upon entering the Jamestown Arts Center, where the 2017 Members’ Show, “CREATE/REACT,” runs through Dec. 2. It’s Rebecca Siemering’s “Tuft Enough,” a hand-fringed suit made from betting slips and dental floss. As with many of Siemering’s creations, it embodies an aftertaste of loss and failure — a garment sewn from shredded, rather than realized, dreams.

“But who is the dreamer?” Monica Bellucci asked David Lynch in the recent return of “Twin Peaks,” and the question applies here as well. Siemering’s meditation on the ubiquity of broken hope acts as a powerful yet subtle prelude to an exciting group exhibit that’s full of dreamers. This year’s Members’ Show sports a bounty of styles from names both recognized and new.

There’s Philip Reilly’s friendly, colorful vision of a “Halloween Party,” its attendants all smiling, drinking identical red cans of soda. Bill Reis’ oil painting “Barrow of the Undiscovered” is a much darker unearthing, invitingly mysterious in its execution. On a similarly moody note is a wall sculpture by Casey Weibust, the charmingly-titled “Farm Goth,” which looks like a Siouxsie and the Banshees song sounds.

The restrained palette and slippery technique of Christi K. Work’s “Thanksgiving 2016” empowers its almost sarcastic realism, with two girls staring into their phones on this day of alleged togetherness. On the opposite end of the emotion/apathy spectrum is Susan Gorelick’s smiling and earnest “Seasoned Women with Daughters,” a basket of dolls created by the artist to cope with her mother’s death.

Continuing the maternal theme is Jeanette Bradley’s illustration “Snow Mama,” which is so damned cute I might call it mawkish, if it didn’t compel me to smile. And speaking of cold, Sharlene Hyland’s canvas “Blue Green Geometric” is a deceptively basic composition that’s sufficiently glacial in color and form to maintain interest.

Even among the more traditional offerings (and there are more than a few) one finds ample energy. Barbara Ganim’s “Leaf Shadows” is a lush and spry bouquet of colored pencil, with unexpected blue shading beneath the leaves. Bobbie Friedman’s “Pitman St. Park” is a pure pick-me-up, the borderline gaucheness of its hues a strength, rather than weakness.

Yet the most prominent dreams here belong to Jamestown painter Christian Potter Drury, who won Best-in-Show at last year’s Members’ Show. Her reward was a solo exhibit, “Darwin’s Dream,” which occupies the small gallery adjacent to the main space.

Drury’s painterly vocabulary is fluid, its geometry slightly and appealingly uneven. Motifs are pulled and meshed together from the botanical, marine and animal. Her palette is crisp and refreshing, the colors neatly placed but not oppressively tight. Her compositions display a diversity of mark making that doesn’t always cohere effectively. But when things do gel, they are poised and move with a serene tempo. Take the oracular white disc of “I just got to heaven and I want to walk around a bit.”

It’s apparent that Drury has been cultivating a visual language since she began painting seriously in 2015, after a 20-year career in newspaper design that included The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal. For this exhibit, she makes excellent use of a corridor near stairs to display her inspirations from magazines to fabric swatches.

The one true anomaly in Drury’s show is an ornately framed piece titled “En Famille.”

“After our mom died, we no longer had any parents. It was just the four of us,” Drury said, explaining the predominantly pink painting as indicative of this “turbulent” time for her and her siblings.

I asked Drury how “En Famille” connects to the rest of “Darwin’s Dream.”

She laughed and said, “It doesn’t.”

Yet I intuit kinship between this lament and her Darwinian fancies. After all, the ocean — a protagonist in Drury’s oeuvre — is the sustainer of all human life. It is Mother in a primordial sense.

Given Drury’s interest in visualizing biology, one could say she’s a painter of genealogies, and “En Famille” sweeps from natural into personal history. Like grief itself, this painting is both disjointed and lyrical. Pink and orange conspire to grab our attention. Look at these lights, this life fast expiring. The four lonesome matchsticks left behind. And at the bottom of it all?

“A little bit of dirt, to keep us all grounded,” Drury said, pointing to the canvas’ bottom edge.

There rests a speckled stone, pulled from mother ocean, from the ground at the bottom of the sea, at the bottom of everything.

Alexander Castro, Newport Mercury
Tuesday, November 7, 2017

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