Eugene Weekly : Visual Art : 10.18.07

Cornucopia of Crap and Gold
Springfield Mayor’s Art Show lacks human warmth

If the Springfield Mayor’s Art Show at the Emerald Art Center is any indication, there’s a lot of nature in Springfield. The dominant themes here are flowers, wildlife, domestic animals, landscapes and children, among other pretty subject matter. The show has an open submission policy, meaning: Everyone who pays the entry fee can have his or her art hung. So it’s sort of like a cross between the Eugene Mayor’s Art Show (except without jurors) and the Salon des Refusés (except it’s not free), only cut up into over 20 divisions like oil, acrylic, mixed media, etc. The result is a mixed bag of a few absolute stunning pieces surrounded by a sea of mediocre ones.

Mayor Sid Leiken awards the top prize to Marilyn Stauber’s Dinosaurs (at left)
Magnificent Morning, Christa Porché
A Word From The Muse (detail), Steven Cooley

Some of the pieces aim for a higher status. Summer Day by Vicki L. Kauffman is a take on Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, with two women surveying a dry, sun-soaked landscape while a dog looks on. But it’s rather boring; it lacks the psychological depth required to make it stir the viewer with any reaction.

The photography division sticks firmly to the seen-it-all-before theme — with one exception. Next to all the lifeless landscapes and little children photos, Barbara Bakalarova’s entry, From the Deer’s Tale, depicting a dead deer submerged in a blue whirlpool — its tongue protruding, its eyes glassy and fogged, its flesh drained of all blood — simply has more life in it than all the other pieces combined. Period. A half-decomposed deer with maggots in its eyes, returning to dust in a watery grave: It’s visually haunting and spiritually redeeming, the best work in the show. Yet in keeping with the show’s lack of artistic taste, Deer’s Tale won no awards.

For its bold expression and experimental use of materials, Steven Cooley’s A Word From the Muse is the best oil in the show. The subject matter — a mother pointing into the distance with a child on her lap — becomes a medium for the oils to take shape. Cooley frequently distresses the paint with turpentine to give it an unstable backing, while the gestural outlines of the figures suggest nervous movement, expressing energy in a way that doesn’t draw too heavily from Impressionism or Abstract Expressionism, but finds its own unique footing.

Also praiseworthy is Dil Durland’s (shocking!) use of hot pinks and purples in his Woodland Spirits nature scene; its glowing colors, electrified and alive, dance around a wooded cemetery in a welcome relief from the standard adherence to earth tones. “Alive” is the key word here.

The computer art division, however, is a joke. While William Kelsay’s Summer Solstice attempts to recreate what a fine art photographer could easily capture with a little legwork and the click of a shutter, Peter Gherardi’s smudged and pointlessly pixellated Dream Realm shows why computer art gets a bad rap.

Most of the watercolors are also hard to look at. I felt embarrassed for the artists, including the winner of the Mayor’s Choice, Dinosaurs, by Marilyn Stauber. These are skilled paintings, but again, where is the life? Where is the vitality? The only ones that break from the mold are Jan Vanderspeck’s I See … and Anne Simas’ Scena di Strada, which (gasp!) boldly outlines with thick black strokes around sumptious Italian architecture.

There’s also a Youth Show in tandem with the Mayor’s Show. Tellingly, much of the youth work exhibits more creative energy than the adults’. By simply combining birds, swirling patterns and shoe logos in a cohesive, elusive mystery, Nicole Buwalda’s beautiful, trancelike Vector Art (Blue) is better than the two pieces in the computer art division. Maggie Stewart’s Starlit Silence and Nate Philes’ Sky Adventure could also easily compete with the work in the adult show.

The Springfield Mayor’s Art Show continues at the EAC through Nov. 2.