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Eugene Weekly : Visual Art : 02.09.06

Human Form Artworks

Speak to the human condition

BY SYLVIE PEDERSON

Deprecate, charcoal drawing by Randy Simmons

Unsurprisingly, "Figures from Life," currently showing at the Maude Kerns Art Center through Feb. 17, differs widely from the center's "Figuratively Speaking" last year. The human form, a subject capable of endless renewal, offers an inexhaustible source of expression and metaphorical meaning about the human condition.

Juried by former exhibit coordinator Tina Schrager, these works, by more than a dozen artists from around the country, are predominantly large-format paintings and drawings executed in a realistic manner — though not all are actually from life.

Most striking are Andrew Myers' (Portland) four huge, shaped self-portraits in oil-paint stick, charcoal and string on paper. Each delightfully hosts an avian companion. Myers began the drawings as a study of the relationship between facial expression and emotion, following the father of American psychology, William James, in his then-radical notion that emotion follows bodily expression rather than the opposite.

Feeding Post, mixed media on paper by Andrew Myers

Myers then experimented with doing away with the traditional square or rectangular format, creating instead free-form wall-drawings, using cut-up fragments from these portraits stitched together into reconstructed self-images. The sutures add their own emotional quality to Myers' rich mark-making and texture. Whatever is conveyed through facial expression remains good-humored and is sometimes frankly humorous. In Feeding Post (pictured above) the subject's eyes look up quizzically toward the woodpecker perched on his brow, where it has pecked a number of very real holes.

"I like birds a lot," Myers said. "I started making these birds and came up with this theme of human beings being useful to the birds." In Perch, the bridge of the nose develops into a tree trunk. On a lower bough sits an owl, whose tranquil demeanor contrasts with the mixture of bewilderment and angst on the human face. Myers has created some 10 pieces on this theme, more of which can be seen at Ogle in Portland through Feb. 25.

David Carmack Lewis is another Portland artist who makes a strong statement, albeit in a very different vein. His seven large paintings are narrative and symbolic in character. Lewis started out as an illustrator, and his realistic treatment of subject matter that can veer into fantasy retains an illustrative quality. What is depicted remains intentionally ambiguous, however, so that the viewer is free to interpret the scene and its symbolic elements according to his or her own system of associations.

You're Welcome, oil on canvas by David Carmack Lewis

Lewis's main character is an older man, slim, sharp-faced and benevolent, who undergoes various incarnations in each painting. Sometimes he sports a saint's halo, speaks with a raven, or perches in the magic circle of a toy train in his library. Sometimes he is the puppeteer who directs Cupid's arrows to his own heart. Priest-like, he blesses a gold fish before releasing it to the sea. In You're Welcome the setting suggests both America (white picket fence, flag) and Mediterranean Europe (checkered tablecloth, wine, guitar). The somewhat younger protagonist appears to be comforted by the older waiter and musician in a scene which the absence of explicit symbolic elements renders quite moving.

Three painters, Dianne Corbeau (Pennsylvania), Brian Kreydatus (Virginia) and Norbert Marszalek (Illinois), share a similar interest in an unvarnished representation of the human figure.

Kreydatus is at his best when painting close friends and family members with broad, quick, strong brushstrokes, as in Angela (pictured right), Yasmine and Self-Portrait. (His Mannequin in comparison appears amateurish.)

"I am obsessed with the skin's meaty physicality, its vulnerability and how these poignantly beautiful imperfections challenge and refute accepted canons of beauty," Kreydatus wrote. "I seek not only an accurate facsimile of the subject's physical appearance but through an intense first hand empirical investigation, I search for the knowledge and representation of their emotional and psychological state."

Marszalek's Dialogues are inspired by photographs taken during "conversations with friends that had a soothing, therapeutic effect," he writes. His realism appears photographic indeed, an effect alleviated by thick, sometimes heavy-handed, impasto.

With the exception of Homeless, Corbeau's figures appear a little strained. Intentionally or not, there is tension in their mouths and necks, which contrasts with the soft luminosity created by Corbeau's classical glazing technique, subtle brushstroke and the way light gently illuminates their faces.

Angela, oil on panel by Brian Kreydatus

Eugene painter Jerry Ross' Aesop is a sensitive portrait of the artist as storyteller, with palette and brush as tools to convey his message about the human condition. Many of Randy Simmons' (Kentucky) large charcoal drawings are inspired by his sons and created from photographs. Deprecate (pictured p. 22) is an intense, haunting image of a boy with extended arms, his face strongly illuminated in chiaroscuro fashion.

Last but not least, local Club Mud members Karen Washburn and Bob Hansen make splendid — and welcome — three-dimensional contributions with their respective ceramic female torso and lower torso.

The exhibit suffers from a decision to place the works without regard to who painted what so that each artist's pieces are scattered all over the place. Artists and viewers alike benefit from groupings that respect the coherence of each body of work. The strength of many of the pieces, though, is enough enticement to view and enjoy this show.