That old Wendy’s slogan is tired to be sure, but some popular clichés die hard. When Kevin Leslie’s paintbrush met with inspiration by way of a meat locker, he discovered the beef. The artist’s interpretation of what goes on in a meat processing plant is both disturbing and beautiful, and yet straightforward — so that any deeper interpretation is up to us.
‘Beef Sides in Red, White and Blue’ by Kevin Leslie
The problem for me lies in the fact that I am, for the most part, a vegetarian — red meat has not been part of my diet since my teen years. But Leslie’s paintings, on view at Woodburn & Westcott — alongside the equally promising work of veteran Indianapolis painter Ed Sanders — are so well-done (so to speak) that I had to overlook my squeamishness, step back and enjoy the view. Well, sort of. I couldn’t quite step back far enough — after all, to a person like me, these are formerly sentient beings hanging suspended in the cold room that have given Leslie so much to paint about. Leslie’s brush captures all the marbled complexity of what lies beneath the skin we take for granted. One could observe this as a metaphor of sorts for the beauty that lies within what is ultimately a tangle of connections that somehow pull together and give us life. This is true for our bodies as well as our psyches. And most certainly we take this for granted. Thankfully, at least to my carcass-sensitive constitution, Leslie plies his brush towards more tranquil images and truths as well. His “Lone Tree At Camp Atterbury” contains sweeping lines that engulf, delightfully, a quite-small canvas awash in greens. “Hot Summer Dusk,” hung nearby, is more edgy and yet contained; here the artist reveals his virtuosity for capturing similar subjects with various moods of the brush. These, contrasted with pieces such as “Cold Room 2,” rendered ironically in soft swaths of pastel, or other carcass images containing photographs that are painted over and embellished, are an even more dramatic departure from the artist’s better-known work in sculpture. Leslie’s “Wrapping Tibet for ‘Christo’” is a fine conceptual piece in cast aluminum and ink that is more playfully compelling — and refreshingly so. Similarly, pieces such as “Pegged Tooth, Petrified Forrest [sic]” and “The One That Got Titanic” are eye-stopping delights. As a whole, Leslie offers these works under the title Meat and Metal, referring to both his propensity for working in metal and his employment in a meatpacking firm. While the media is not groundbreaking, it is refreshing to view art that tries boundaries of an intellectual and conceptual nature — and most welcome of all, we are invited to think more deeply, should we choose to do so. In the accompanying gallery space, the work of Ed Sanders also satisfies. Sanders’ pieces are of a more ethereal nature, as he approaches something akin to death — perhaps not intentionally — from a loftier angle. Sanders’ paintings are based upon stories, gleaned through events and/or literature. The artist also writes poetry and is at work on a collection of short stories — and the narrative nature of the paintings, while ghostlike, speaks to these influences. Sanders uses dark, often moody colors that do not necessarily render his subject matter indistinct: A light is ever-present somehow and creates an undertow of feeling that draws one in. In “Conversation,” two figures — one seen from the rear and the other looking on — are seemingly engaged in a conversation that seems to have generated a distance between them. This kind of guarded dialogue is familiar to us all. Sanders captures interior spaces both literally and figuratively. His inner places are multilayered and complex. Like Leslie, he is facile with the brush (or metalsmithing tools), and yet both artists draw us inward, toward thoughtful realms — a winning combination. The sculpture, paintings and drawings of Kevin Leslie and the paintings and drawings of Ed Sanders are on view at Woodburn & Westcott Contemporary Fine Art, 1043 Virginia Ave., Suite 5, through May 31. For hours and information, call 916-6062.