‘Select Works’ a solicitous show

Top row from left to right: “Blue Zinnea,” aquatint etching by Ron Fundingsland; “Intuition Markers,” cone 10 stoneware by D. Michael Coffee, “Fish,” “Repose,” and “Grader;” “Self Portrait as Exiled,” oil painting with gold leaf by Sarah Comerford.

Second row from left to right: “Chatchat,” “Green Rain,” and “Sucker,” resin and film on acrylic panels by Kate Petley; “Zen 061894-E” and “Zen 061894-C,” two unique monoprints by D. Michael Coffee sit on a shelf above “Reposed,” mixed media by Susan Andersen.

Elegant. Ancient. Contemporary. Solicitous. These are a few words that come to mind when viewing the “Select Works” show at Shy Rabbit.

The work is not over-the-top avant-garde, or cutting edge in the grand scheme of the art world, but for southwest Colorado, this show is a clean, uncluttered breath of fresh air.

It is clear upon entering the larger of the two separate Shy Rabbit spaces that much thought was put into curating and hanging this show. Forty-some works by nine artists were hand-selected by gallery owners Michael and Denise Coffee. The couple visited with artists and chose 4 to 8 pieces of art from each. Then, the process began of filtering through all of the art to determine which work looked best together. This was done in collaboration with creative partners Shaun Martin, a painter, and Al Olson, a photographer, both represented in the show.

The show is so well presented that it almost appears as it’s own artistic installation.

The edgiest and most exotic work is by Kate Petley, whose resin-on-acrylic-panel creations push the boundaries for technical use of unusual artistic materials. Petley’s process begins with a handmade transparent screen. Detailed reflections from that screen are projected onto a white studio wall. Petley photographs the reflections and prints them on fragile film. Gooey resin laminates these films to acrylic panels in a process the artist describes as “painstaking.” Corrections are impossible, and the unpredictable resin process introduces small bubbles and drops that appear to be huge, when reflected onto the wall. Like an extreme collage project, done with incredibly sticky resins, drawings are also layered into the panels.

Resembling a succulent flat-screen, the panels again cast a reflection on the wall behind them, doubling the image with dizzying effects. They are a reflection of a reflection and form yet another new reflection. Each of the three Petley creations: “Chatchat,” “Sucker” and “Green Rain” come with a custom-made shelf for displaying the work.

This is the first time in many years that Petley, who lives and works in southwest Colorado, has shown her work in the region.

It is not the first time I have seen the work of printmaker Ron Fundingsland at Shy Rabbit. However, “Select Works” features the debut of a print from Fundingsland’s most recent collection. “Blue Zinnea” is a large intaglio aquatint print of a deep purple-blue zinnea flower. Its simple and elegant, the color rich and velvety.

Fundingsland, who admits that his work is often a “commentary on a number of social, political, and personal issues,” purposely sets out to create work that is beautiful, peaceful, happy – an intentional reaction to the intensity of our world situation. Yet, interestingly, when “Blue Zinnea” was finished, a friend pointed out that the there are 50 little white stars at the center of his flower.

Perhaps it is my own desire for simplicity and elegance, but Fundingsland’s “Blue Zinnea” is my favorite piece in the show. I’m drawn to the intense, velvety color, the large square size, the way the piece draws your eye to the tiny little details of the stars.

Almost as equally as I’m drawn to the simplicity of “Blue Zinnia,” “Self Portrait as Exiled,” by Sarah Comerford, challenges me. Comerford is also not a newcomer to Shy Rabbit, but in this show we see some of her smaller works as well as the 3- by 5-foot canvas of “Self Portrait as Exiled.”

I confess I’ve spent days studying Comerford’s painting of a woman in fishing attire – dark green waders and a vest, a young blonde girl in flowing white dress, hands folded, floating lifelike hearts, an empty fishing basket and colorful candy-like dots. There is a religious quality to this painting: The fish, the fishing, the prayerful hands of the child. In the Bible, Jesus implores his disciples to be “fishers of men,” yet Comerford’s fisherman is a woman with red hair. When I mentioned this to Comerford she smiled and told me that she had been reading a book about Mary Magdalene when she painted this painting. It wasn’t intentional symbolism, but the message was communicated.

Comerford’s painting is about her mother’s recent death from Alzheimer’s Disease. The floating hearts represent all the loving memories forgotten, the empty basket her lost memories. Comerford told me how her mother came to see herself as a child, her daughter as the mother. The child is exiled in this situation and must become the parent of her parent. Anyone who has experienced the dementia, the destruction of the mind caused by Alzheimer’s, will understand the meaning of her images when explained.

There is so much going on in Comerford’s work – the little details that peek out from the gold leaf, the figurative technique, the surrealism that defies logic. And yet, she also cr
eates more dreamlike work in the small oil painting “Song of the Happy Shepherd-Yates” inspired by the poem of the same name by William Butler Yeats. This elegant painting of a boy asleep under a blue-striped blanket and a dark starry sky, nuzzled by a goat, is so glossy it seems wet. Comerford draws her viewers deeper into the literary work of a poet like Yeats, using visual images and similar concepts the poet explored in his poem.

Comerford’s work demands a level of intellectualism that many do not give to art. It’s exhausting, but worth the effort.

Conversely, the work of Susan Andersen is simple, yet so extremely creative that I am equally blown away. There are certain people who are so original, so innovative, that they must be called “gifted.” Andersen takes simple found objects – driftwood, dried up cactus, shells, plants, feathers, beads, snakeskin, turtle shells, twine – and creates one-of-a-kind objects like “Posed,” two rubbed and finished pieces of driftwood married together, supporting a gourd-like Saguaro boot. The piece is an abstracted figure. Or the triptych: “Slept,” “Awoke” and “Awaken” that combines objects to create dragonfly figures coursing through the process of metamorphosis.

Andersen calls this her “meditative work.” She collects things and meditates as she polishes, rubs and finishes the wood, finding pieces that fit together. It’s tapping into flow or pure creative energy.

“These particular works are about emergence. The emergence of simple earthly objects to an elevated state of recognition or the combining of many simple earthy objects formed together to shed light on the process of emergence,” Andersen writes in her artist statement. “I find ingenuity in artistic construction and an insight into the individual psyche especially when the construction is put to paper, sculpture, music, or words.”

I find ingenuity in the work of Susan Andersen and D. Michael Coffee.

I’ve written about the work of D. Michael Coffee for another publication and am privileged to spend many hours talking with him about art and creativity and life. Coffee is ingenious; he is the creative soul of Shy Rabbit. The installation of art in this show bears the signature of his aesthetic and artistic sensibility.

“Art is my passion and the true backbone of my existence,” he says.

Coffee has worked extensively in all types of media, including painting, wood, metal, architecture, printmaking and ceramics.

“I cannot lay claim to any particular style or genre, as I am primarily interested in nonlinear paths of development in the objects I make. Each step of the art-making process is part of a personal inner journey. The common thread that stitches my work together is an overriding desire to be surprised by the outcome, as though I wasn’t present during the process.”

He describes his art as a post-it-note capturing that nanosecond before conscious thought. Having worked in ceramics, I can tell you that his technical ability is beyond masterful. More importantly, his ceramic work is clearly high art and not expected from a medium that is considered a craft. What he manages to capture in clay is something very grounded, yet from another dimension of thought. Highly original, yet simple, understandable, created in recognizable shapes and forms. He calls this series “Intuition Markers.”

For the first time, Coffee is also showing some of his monoprints in this show: work that is simple and symbolic on one hand and colorful and expressive on the other.

“Select Works” is the most cohesive show launched by Shy Rabbit. Some of the work is not as technically skilled as that of Coffee or Comerford or Fundingsland and not everything is as edgy as the work of Petley, but the other artists featured – ceramic artist Lisa Pedolsky, photographer Al Olson, painter Shaun Martin and mixed media artist Deborah Gorton – are well presented and their work is highly competent.

“Select Works” is on display at Shy Rabbit through Aug. 12. Regular gallery hours are 1-4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with extended hours on the second Thursday of the month (July 13) from 1-6:30 p.m.

Shy Rabbit is located at 333 Bastille Drive, Units B-1, B-4, west of downtown. Take U.S. 160 to North Pagosa Boulevard, North Pagosa Boulevard to Bastille Drive (at UBC). Turn left and stay on Bastille past Hopi. Shy Rabbit is located directly next to Pine Valley Rental. For more information, log onto http://shyrabbit.blogspot.com or call (970) 731-2766.

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