But if you look beyond this set-up and simply look to the art itself, it’s impossible not to make comparisons: comparisons between Hoss and Pala, comparisons between both artists and those with whom we are more familiar here in Indianapolis. As Miller himself enthusiastically points out, the art community is growing here at a fast pace, so one could argue that either it’s not necessary to bring in outsiders or it’s absolutely necessary. Our artists no doubt desire to be viewed in the light of a larger context, a larger playing field, if you will, and this exhibition assures us that art everywhere has a hearty pulse, and a qualitative comparison can easily be dismissed.
Both Hoss and Pala have developed voices: Hoss’ is characterized by aggressive lines of densely applied black ink that emerge as (or perhaps from) architectural forms. These are tinkered with by figurative suggestion, wavelike lines that contrast the heaviness of the boxy structures beneath. All of this is embellished with a limited palette of white, yellow, red and brown — suggestive, according to critic Robert Mahoney, of Hoss’ interest in comic books.
These are not beautiful paintings in the strictly aesthetic sense. Instead, they are complex weavings of an artist’s unique spirit of expression and his many artistic influences, and here one sees artists as diverse as Picasso and Piranesi. Hoss’ smaller works, such as “Landscape in Nantucket,” are bright suggestions of a more representational past. A craggy shoreline still speaks to the aforementioned aesthetic, while a turquoise sky adds a welcome relief from the heaviness of so much neutral tone and almost angry lines. But as you continue to look, more emerges from these dark spaces; either it’s intended or not, but it provides an even richer layer to the looking. Hoss’ “Seascape,” for example, a mixed media collage of charcoal, gouache, tempura, chalk and graphite, has a somber but suggestive quality. The architectural forms could be violins; and the figurative sweeps, dead mermaids; or perhaps, more simply, they are reclining nudes.
In the gallery’s basement space, the decidedly brighter acrylics (with a few oils) of Derek Pala don’t seem to suffer from their subterranean display. Natural light is almost nonexistent to give voice to the work, and yet the paintings easily speak for themselves. Pala’s vibrant spirit and practiced technique lift his images from their canvas or, in some cases, constructions of wood panels. These are more than decorative images of iconographic fish and birds; they’re celebrations of their value, their symbolic richness.
Pala speaks to both water and sky, and one is often indistinguishable from the other. This is a joyful happenstance, as both the wealth of sea life and the exuberance of what flies can move us, and Pala’s work does so easily. “Orange Bird,” for instance, is anything but subtle with its field of blue graced by an orange “bird”; and yet Pala also reveals here a mastery at subtlety with acrylics. Indeed, this could be a fish in water — or jumping to sky — or, as the title states, it is a bird in a brilliant blue canvas sky. We can be grateful either way.
The work of Peter Hoss and Derek Pala is on view at 4 Star Gallery, 653 Massachusetts Ave., through July. For gallery hours and information, call 686-6382.