Feature : Visual Art : 12.31.2008


Good Things, Teeny Packages
Little art cards at the Jacobs Gallery
by Suzi Steffen

China, by Sarah Grew
Whatsoever Things Are Honest, by Marilyn Odland
Untitled, by Susan Lowdermilk

Small is beautiful. Small can also be cutesy, deceptively simple, surprisingly attractive — and affordable. That’s what the Jacobs Gallery’s “Tiny Treasures: The Miniature Beauty of Art Cards” conveys with its varied selection from more than 30 artists. 

The show contains artistic samples from many popular local artists, including Betsy Wolfston, Bets Cole and Dan Chen, but lesser known locals also seize the opportunity to present new work or new facets of their work. Some artists stay within predictable boundaries; some tweak the idea of “art card” into something almost unrecognizable; some delve deeply into the form and emerge with gems.

In this economy, artists have a hard time selling large works, but these smaller pieces, ranging from around $45 to ten times that much, have obviously sold well: So many were Christmas gifts that the walls gape with empty spaces where hang tags marked “GIFT.”  

Susan Lowdermilk, a print artist and prof at LCC, says in her (also tiny) artist’s statement, “I am intrigued by the things with which we surround ourselves. We assign symbolic meaning, power and an importance to each evocative object.” Well, Lowdermilk certainly does. From marbles to peas in a pod to a rearing rocking horse, Lowdermilk’s prints appeal to the momentary flash of odd light that imbues each well-loved slice of life.

Marilyn Odland’s works mix the prosaic and the whimsical. Their titles come from a Biblical passage, and their titles reflect the glorious English of the King James version, and each black box contains several black pieces of paper the size of artist trading cards. Watercolors of everyday objects, ranging from milk jugs to birds to things like flags in the too-literal Whatsoever Things Are Just (though it’s nice, looking at the piece, to feel that in a few short weeks the American flag may again mean justice instead of unilateral action, torture and destruction). The piece that works best is Whatsoever Things Are Honest. With its four classic, worn children’s toys, including Pinnochio and a paddle ball, Honest expresses a cool nostalgia, wryly and gently acknowledging the passage of time.

Some art cards don’t work: Betsy Wolfston’s six ceramic “cards,” inspired by and dedicated to Toni Morrison, look both too precious and too obvious, including the awkward Freedom card (Mercy is slightly better, with its allusive boat). There’s a lot of precious, actually, in the exhibit, but with so many different artists it’s possible to move on quickly to the next bit. Rogene Mañas’ obviously popular series “In Honor of Birds” succeeds at being both clever and thought-provoking, partly because of Mañas’ careful Ingres-like seriousness  in creating portraits of the birds, like a wren and a mourning dove, costumed in 19th-century human garb.

More birds abound, including a humming-bird series by Dan Chen. The paintings work better than the bronzes, both because of lighting and because part of a hummingbird’s beauty lies in its coloring. Art cards of the great(est) outdoors also pop up, and some of the most eye-catching are photos by Justin C. Williams,. These small reproductions, mounted beautifully, make subjects like skunk cabbage glow. Jo Warren’s photography, on the opposite wall, suffers under the weight of a Very Mystical artist’s statement; ignoring that will help a skeptical viewer better enjoy the fine pieces that combine images with old camera parts. Light and Fog I and Mother and Child, among others, use the slightly distancing mechanical objects to gracefully balance process with product.

Sarah Grew’s “Deck of Countries” pieces and Anne Korn’s delicate drawings on linen both deserve attention as well. Grew uses stamps, paint and dried flora in her simply designed and precisely balanced works. The best, China, has sold already, but there are tempting others, from Nigeria to Russia. Buying local art helps support the artist, the gallery and the Eugene art scene in general, and the show closes soon, so do stop by the Jacobs during First Friday and check out the pleasure of the small.

“Tiny Treasures” runs through Jan. 3 at the Jacobs Gallery under the Hult Center. 



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