The ultimate realist 

Ron Isaacs
Ruschman Gallery
Through Sept. 30

Objects in the service of art often hold appeal more for their symbolic value than their literal content; yet their functionality or concrete purpose may contain a mystery as well. Kentucky artist Ron Isaacs seems to conjure both concepts through his trademark trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye) constructions combining vintage adult and children’s clothing, found objects and plant materials. Isaacs’ latest solo exhibition, on view at Ruschman Gallery (through Sept. 30), is a further foray into this hyper-realistic world intended to suggest the inner depth and memory of things by their iconographic re-creation.

Exhibitions at Ruschman Gallery are always given their due in the simple, well-lit space, the lighting is carefully directed, the pieces are hung with care and the walls (or pedestals) are full. Isaacs plays up his themes generously in this setting. The more subtle “12 Daylilies” looks, on first glance, to be a dozen individually hung, carved flowers, but if you read between the lines and peer between the levels of plywood, you see that the lilies are composed of layers sanded down to reveal the folds of petal and leaf, rather than built up or carved from a solid chunk of wood. This is Isaacs’ technique throughout: no doubt a painstakingly slow one, emphasized and accentuated by further tricks laid out with acrylics. Isaacs carefully lights his work in the studio so he can accurately mimic folds and shadows in paint. In “Big Fun,” an infant’s clown suit is fashioned to hang inside a decorative frame with a tiny star, adorned with a branch of dried leaves. Every item is created from birch plywood; even the delicate leaves are meticulous. And each piece is modeled after the genuine article: Isaacs only contrives the combinations; he doesn’t imagine the pieces that make them up. So that a vintage dress is modeled after an original, and even the nuances of a twig are uncontrived.

From a purely technical standpoint, the most awe-inspiring of the lot is “Crows In the Hawthorn,” a collection of five crows suggested by tree branches, except that they are Isaacs’ imitation of branches rather than real ones. To create these images of crows from twigs would be wonder enough, but the fact that these are created from plywood and paint is something else.
You could say Isaacs is an illusionist of the most benevolent variety; except that there’s something compulsive about such intense artistic focus that borders on the dark. But these pieces are not macabre; rather, they’re illusions of sentiment stripped of their sentimentality, allowing for a more objective reverence for the past and the inevitable decay of things through the subtle manipulation of imagery. Isaacs doesn’t just recreate things, he suggests we look at them differently, through his imagination and our own—find what we may.

Said and Done, Come and Gone, trompe l’oeil painted constructions by Ron Isaacs, is on view through Sept. 30 at Ruschman Art Gallery, 948 N. Alabama St. Call 634-3114 for hours and information.

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