In Shannon Dickey’s painting “Water Dance,” I see a figure holding a book. But there’s nothing definitive to suggest that this is actually what is going on; likewise, in her similarly abstract watercolor “Cool Comity,” I view a gaping fish mouth containing something broken. You might see something entirely different. Such is the nature of art, especially the abstracted variety: We often learn more about ourselves when we take the time to discern the images.
Dickey’s fluid watercolors rendered in shades of rust, on view at Dean Johnson Gallery through June 19, have a further value — that is, a strictly aesthetic one. Dickey employs a traditional medium — watercolor — in service to a deeper, more complex visual intent. It’s difficult enough to create a likeness from watercolors; it’s not an easy medium to manipulate. But to explore other abstract worlds, and do so beautifully, is a challenge to say the least, and Dickey does it well.
Dickey’s several watercolors are part of the group show entitled 5-3-5 or Five Mediums — Three Men — Five Women. This may be an arbitrary designation from a thematic standpoint; there’s no contextual likeness, really, with which to connect these works, and yet the show is quite strong compared to past group efforts the gallery has mounted.
In its few years of existence, Dean Johnson Gallery, housed in a marketing and design studio, has focused on bringing awareness to graphic design and the other commercial arts (including photography) as expressions of fine art. Artists are increasingly included who may not have a commercial bent — which goes a long way towards connecting the worlds of commercial and fine art.
The omnibus approach, however, has strength in fewer numbers — in other words, a smaller number of artists, each displaying more work, gives us a chance to delve more deeply into each artist’s aesthetic perspective and thus come away with a more substantive experience. The aforementioned artist Shannon Dickey is a case in point, and selections of the other artists are equally strong.
Dane Sauer’s “Walking Beam” is among his most inventive and compelling to date, from both conceptual and structural standpoints, at least among the pieces I’ve had the opportunity to view over the years. In it, a sickle-shaped apparatus is suspended by way of a pulley through the gallery’s wooden ceiling beams; its orientation resembles an oil drill or even a long-legged bird poking in the sand.
Julie Ball’s sculptures are along a continuum that is somewhat familiar, characterized by a low-lying pedestal structure beneath which some sort of feet emanate; above the structure, tendrils of metal grow upwards like grassy stalks. There is a delicacy here that is consistent for the artist, and yet something more solid appears to be emerging for Ball. Her “Back to My Roots” is somewhat of a departure, and a welcome one, with the twists of metal standing alone in a cluster instead of being rooted to a base. Her work is a brilliant marriage of soft and hard, organic and inorganic, or even, it could be said, masculine and feminine.
Also included are Jerry Points (sensual, layered digital photography), Harold Lee Miller (inkjet prints of simple yet elegant photographs of bottles, corn, peas and coffee), Andrea Eberbach (uniquely hued, richly rendered pastels) and Ellen Jackson (silver gelatin prints).
I’ve intentionally left Caroline Mecklin for last, if only to draw attention to the fact that these works also represent a departure. Small in scale, there’s a lightness here that is a welcome turn from Mecklin’s better-known figurative work that is quite heavy in scale. Here, smaller canvases reveal Mecklin’s gift for figurative spontaneity and her willingness to explore different palettes. Her “Seated Nude on Folding Chair” is a delight, a tight composition in rich colors that speak to her inventiveness.
5-3-5 is on view at Dean Johnson Gallery, 646 Massachusetts Ave., 634-8020. For information, visit www.deanjohnson.com.