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Art review: 'All Terrain Vehicle' and 'Bound' at James Gallery

| Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 9:25 p.m.
Elizabeth Whyte Schulze
Elizabeth Whyte Schulze's “Head Buzz,” coil woven pine needles, raffia and mixed media
Adrian Deckbar
Adrian Deckbar's 'Transition,' acrylic on canvas
Elizabeth Whyte Schulze
Elizabeth Whyte Schulze's “Shoofly,” pine needles, raffia, acrylic paint
Fred Danziger
Fred Danziger's “Water Over Rocks,” oil on canvas

At James Gallery, two exhibits fill the West End space with a variety of contemporary viewpoints — “All Terrain Vehicle,” exploring the contemporary landscape through painting and photography, and “Bound,” which includes recent woven-fiber forms by Elizabeth Whyte Schulze.

Most notable is the work of Schulze of Worthington, Mass., who creates painted baskets that are evocative of primitive art.

A graduate of the universities of Ohio Wesleyan and Tufts, Schulze was the recipient of a Fellowship for Crafts from the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2009.

She has been involved in the fiber-art movement since the 1970s, creating baskets like those on display here, which are made primarily of pine needles and raffia, but, in the past 15 years, she has taken to painting on the baskets.

“A lot of different things were happening in that field, and it was exciting at the time,” Schulze says of the early days of fiber art, which was when she says she was first drawn to basketry specifically. “I was drawn to it, partly because of its history in various cultures, but also because I liked the idea of making a shape that is solid and beautiful to touch.”

Wanting to put her imprint on it, Schulze turned to painting on the forms.

“Ideas and imagery were important to me,” she says, “so, about 15 years ago, I started painting on my baskets.”

Among the dozen-plus pieces on display in her solo show, “Bound,” the piece “Shoofly” is a standout for its bright colors and whimsical characters.

“The figure started to become larger and take over the surface,” Schulze says about the creative progression of this piece. “A lot of vibrancy started happening.”

That's why, on the surface, one will see a male figure chasing after a housefly, an upset chair and a flyswatter in the air.

Several more pieces feature female figures, combined with descriptions taken from French recipes.

Schulze says a lot of her work is informed primarily by her travels, whether it be visiting petroglyph sites in the American Southwest or Aboriginal Art Centers in Australia's outback.

“Night Garden” and “Head Buzz,” for example, were informed by a recent trip to Turkey.

“The headscarf on this woman has to do with the Muslim religion and seeing the women on the street,” Schulze says.

In all of her work, “the basket is the base element,” Schulze says. “I build the form, and then the figures take over the space.”

The remaining works on display make up the “All Terrain Vehicle” exhibit, which features the work of seven artists from around the country who choose landscape as their primary subject.

All of it is focused on natural landscapes, whether they be extremely literal, as in the case of David Aschkenas of Highland Park whose photographs were all taken in and around Highland Park and are featured in a small, self-published book or much more obtuse, as in the abstract work of Susan Morosky of Chicago. Morosky's “nature-based abstractions,” such as the painting “Mill Pond Creek,” come from lakes, rivers, creeks, fields and their continuous transformations — in essence, Morosky says, “seeking out the essence of that random beauty and gentle movement found at water's edge.”

Like Morosky, two other artists chose to focus on water — Fred Danziger of Elverson, near Lancaster, and Adrian Deckbar of New Orleans.

About Danziger's “Water Over Rocks,” which is a highly detailed oil study of just what the title implies, the artist says, “To me, a simple walk on a stream bank ... French Creek, in this case ... reveals all the inspiration I need as an artist.”

In similar fashion, Deckbar says of her three paintings on display — “Transition,” “The Depth: Reflected” and “Lumination” — “My intention is to help the viewer see things that may seem mundane appear extraordinary.”

All three paintings are reflections on the waters' surface, with some organic material floating on that surface.

“Usually, I use leaves and twigs, but ‘Lumination' has floating duckweed, which has a less distinct shape, making it a bit harder to understand at first, and less realistic,” Deckbar says. “This piece was intentionally painted with a nod to abstraction.”

Then, there is the work of Tom McNickle of Volant, Lawrence County. His oil painting “Brent Preserve in Mist” is the most traditional landscape painting in the show, and, perhaps, the most powerful.

“I had set out to hike this particular morning on the Pennsy Marsh near my home in Volant, but when I arrived at my destination, plans changed,” McNickle says in regard to the piece. “The mist was still shrouding the far trees on the marsh as the morning sun was burning through.

“I quickly grabbed my paints and set to work. Within an hour, the image was gone and the sketch was put to rest. Upon returning to the studio, with the moment still fresh in my mind, I made a few minor adjustments and the work was completed.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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