Promises of “summer fun and tropical fantasy” perhaps notwithstanding, “Tropicana!” (viewable through the end of the month at the Petrune Gallery on the Commons) is a juried group exhibition of some range and depth. Featuring members from the Trumansburg-based Cayuga Arts Collective and the affiliated Ithaca Drawing Group, it offers up an uneven but often engaging miscellany. It includes painting, drawing, photography and mixed-media pursuing both figurative and coloristic interpretations of the – loosely held – theme.
Catherine Montgomery and Nicole Costa work both angles straightforwardly and with little guile. Montgomery’s neon hued ink drawing “Caw-me-maybe” silhouettes an implausibly pink raven. While her style here is crisply illustrational, Costa’s is deliberately child-like. “The Day I Met Bamboo” is an energetic, rather unwieldy cardboard and notepaper construction combining diaristic handwritten Spanish with luridly colored flora and fauna drawn in pen, marker, and colored pencil.
Petrune co-owner Domenica Brockman selected and arranged the exhibit together with Marina Delaney and Ben Marlan. As an artist, she is known for her quirky, inimitable abstractions. Working with encaustic (wax-based) paints on single or conjoined plywood panels, she combines hard-edge shapes, constrained color, and rich facture.
Her “Heat Wave” distills the pleasures of summer in a tumble of tangerines and long, feathery leaves. The reddish orange of the former is intensified through a build-up of wax while the dark green foliage evokes svelte dancers. As with much of Brockman’s recent work areas of raw wood act as a foil for her lush color. Here one of the four panels, occupying the upper right, is of a lighter tone and has been left empty. Simplification, fragmentation, sequence – the effect is both playful and poignant.
The presence of abstract art here is unsurprising; still, the range and the sophistication of the best examples is worthy of note.
Whimsy and bright colors characterize the paintings and paper-works of Elizabeth McMahon. Much of her work inhabits a collage sensibility and her literal collages are among her strongest works. Here her painted paper “pile-on” “Fashionscape” suggests both fabric patchwork and the Cubist collage of Georges Braque – albeit without any clear figurative reference. A tent-like scrap with white dots on dark gray pops forward against a boxy cyan one; both surmount a jumble of alternatingly boldly and thinly colored shapes.
Two paper mosaics by Victoria Romanoff recall the so-called color field abstraction of the sixties with their puzzle-like configurations and strong but perfectly nuanced color–alternately brushed and sprayed. “Safari garbled” and “Starting a revolution requires proper attire” are characteristically exquisite and show another side to an artist who elsewhere memorably explores humor and social comment.
“Calypso,” a sculptural hanging by Denise Kooperman, combines felted paper with silk embroidery. Color is watery but bold, with red and turquoise accenting a background of olive and mustard. Suspended from a stick, dotted with irregular holes, and dangling a loose grid of strands below, the piece feels like a living, breathing organism.
The Ithaca Drawing Group meets Wednesday evenings at the Trumansburg Conservatory of the Fine Arts to work from the model. Owing to the group’s participation, last spring’s CayAC exhibit at Petrune, “Some Body,” was unusually cohesive by local group show standards. Although one misses that unity this time around, figure drawing and painting practice informs some of the best work here.
A well-known but serially pseudonymous artist, here going as the “Prince of Nowhere,” offers a characteristically insouciant mix of fussy miniaturist expressionism and Pop Art whimsy. Working with oil and pencil on small panels, he renders anonymous, bikini-clad female torsos and legs with lively but somewhat disquieting results. “Tropicana,” the most willful of these, is enframed within a plastic juice bottle, into which the artist has cut a small hinged door – opening to reveal the painting.
In a more traditional vein, there is “Sunbather”: a red Conté crayon drawing by Jareb Gleckel. The piece combines wispy, seemingly hesitant contour-work with selective tonality offering weight and presence to the dark haired, heavy-set nude. She reclines, turned away from us: her upper body carefully foreshortened, her muscular legs held up, bent. It’s a lovely rendering and one almost feels churlish suggesting that the subject is more likely to be a model holding a (rather difficult) pose rather than some girl at the beach.