Commercial galleries often find themselves in a double bind. If they exhibit only the work they find compelling and innovative, the work may not appeal to a wide audience. On the other hand, if they show work that does appeal to a larger group of people, then they are often construed as too commercial. So what"s a gallery owner to do? In order to stay in business, it would seem that the key is to strike a balance: The work that "sells" can fund the showing of more courageous work, which can also serve to expand the aesthetic minds of viewers.
"Struck," by Tom Torluemke; his work, along with Tom Keesee"s, is on exhibit at Ruschman Gallery through Oct. 14.
Ruschman Art Gallery is one of the city"s oldest commercial galleries, and its longevity is attributed to gallerist Mark Ruschman"s business sense. Ruschman has built a clientele over the years and they have come to trust his vision and his taste in art. Occasionally, though, Ruschman will challenge his audience with work that falls outside of the realm of established mid- to late-career regional and national artists who employ both contemporary and traditional media. Such is the case with the current exhibition of work by Tom Torluemke and Tom Keesee. Keesee"s work falls in the safer category: He has exhibited before at Ruschman; his work is strong for its stylistic consistency. Inspired by Rembrandt, Vlaminck, Van Gogh and Soutine, Keesee is a painter"s painter. By employing layering techniques and a full color palette, he seemingly moves paint through space to create illusory landscapes of realistic scenes so that the viewer is at once transported and grounded. Tom Torluemke, a Hammond, Ind.-based artist whose work comprises the gallery"s second space, moves us to an entirely other plane. This is where Ruschman does his patrons, and the larger viewing public, a great service. Torluemke is not well-known in Indianapolis, and yet he is one of the state"s most innovative artists, with both the talent and aesthetic maturity to successfully realize his visions. Torluemke"s work is both playful and profound. By employing collage techniques that are reminiscent of grade school art projects, and by manipulating and recycling his own pre-drawn images within this medium, Torluemke strikes a perfect balance between accessible abstraction and innovation and the results, in a word, are stunning. His most ambitious offering in terms of scale, "The Process," is composed of 60 individual panels hung in a grid. Taken as a whole, the image is of a man"s face, or rather, overlapping images of a man"s face, abstracted from a single contour drawing. The artist used this image as a base from which pieces of the image were layered, each uniquely painted. One loses sight, though, of the face"s wholeness as it is deconstructed; this could be interpreted as a metaphor for psychological splitting. Indeed, we often lose sight of the whole for its parts. Each panel, though, is a fine work of art. Torluemke layers controlled graphic forms such as grids and orbs with chaotic ones shaped from the scissors following the lines of his own original drawing. The image is superimposed as a sort of reverse stencil over layers of paper painted in kaleidoscopic swaths. Torluemke achieves amazing depth through layering. I found myself wanting to run my fingers over the smooth surfaces, as if by touching I could somehow discern the strata. While Two Unique Visions officially closed Oct. 1, much of the work remains on view in the gallery in conjunction with the Herron Travels exhibition through Oct. 14. For information, call 634-3114, or visit Ruschman Art Gallery at 948 N. Alabama, open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; on the Web at www.ruschmangallery.com.