Saturday, March 04, 2000

Weston displays miraculous photos

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Every time Connie Sullivan exhibits her photographs, she reveals an other facet of her talent. She concentrates on a single concept until it becomes a body of work and becomes an exhibition. Each new one brings surprise.

        Her work at the Weston Gallery can be described as photo-sculpture. Specifically, they are 40-inch square still-life photographs. Transparencies, they are lit from behind, and the images seem to float in a shallow space within the light boxes.

        Plates, disks and shavings of steel are arranged like Cubist abstractions. They have a strange, mechanical look, slightly three-dimensional like the little flying bird on the Visa card. It is unconventional work, done in an unconventional way.

        The Cincinnati photographer titled her exhibition Alchemy of Entrancement, and the way the photos are made is as inexplicable as alchemy.

        “I work in complete darkness, wearing dark glasses,” Ms. Sullivan explains, making everything even more inexplicable. “It takes two hours to make an exposure and I never know what the results will be.”

        The light source is a laser beam, painted across the surfaces of the objects in total darkness. The technique allows the artist to create deep spaces of silvery beauty. Most objects are in sharp focus, but out-of-focus areas of the images seem to be shimmering clouds of electric charges in space.

        The objects in the photos could be any scale, from gigantic to microscopic, and they seem to be hovering in air rather than printed on a sheet of film. Although entirely a new approach to photography, their celebration of steel suggests the futurist aesthetics of the 1939 New York World's Fair.

        Simply put, you can see them, but you cannot quite pin down what you're seeing. There's something just off, out of focus, with unspecific scale. They seem to be images transmitted to the gallery from some other time and place.

From Broadway to gallery
        New Yorker David Black, showing paintings at the Weston Art Gallery, is self-taught. His art fits the category of naive or folk art. But he is no rustic, painting away on a mountain top. He produced 18 Broadway shows in 22 years. Then he turned to painting.

        Training would destroy Mr. Black's style, which is crude but has the panache of a New Yorker cover illustration. His images of people at parties, picnics and in casinos are free of self-conscious reservation. His hand is untrained, but his eye is sharp, and he has an attitude, and the talent to share his world view with others.

Confrontational art in lobby
        The art that draws crowds at the Weston, is the lobby installation, and everything nice ... by Cincinnati artists Karen Dunphy and Jill Rowinski. That's because the work is upstairs where theatergoers are likely to confront it. It is issue art, a sermon about the mistreatment of women through the centuries and thus confrontational.

        The artists have built a 5-foot high model house out of sugar cubes to suggest the “Sugar and Spice” nursery rhyme, which they see as an example of sexual stereotyping. The house is surrounded by 300 “armless, faceless and genderless mud dolls,” which, being genderless, seem to contradict the premise of the work.

        But when the artists are present, as they are several times during the week, crowds gather to watch as they write nursery rhymes that switch the gender of the characters in the stories. Gallery attendants report that viewers get into discussions and debates about the meaning of the work.

        Even without the artists present, the message is there, delivered in a way that's uncomfortably cute, on purpose.

        It's tough for an artist to find a way to get people to pay attention to their work. It's pleasing to see art that grabs your attention and is difficult to dismiss.

        Alchemy of Entrancement, Connie Sullivan Photographs, David Black, Paintings and Engravings, through April 1; and everything nice ..., Karen Dunphy and Jill Rowinski through March 19; Weston Gallery, Aronoff Center for the Arts. 977-4165.


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