Visual language 

Red, black and blue

Red, black and blue Steve Conant: Another Language Galerie Penumbra Through July 13 Can language be visual? If you were to ask Indianapolis artist Steve Conant, the answer would likely be yes. Conant, also a psychiatrist, uses the deceptively primitive medium of collage, applying slips of ragged-edged paper onto a surface, sometimes layered with simple text or other random but deliberately placed shapes. The colors are basic - red, black, blue and sometimes yellow form his palette, either in paper or applied color. Conant's current work, on view now at Galerie Penumbra, uses these tools to offer up a visual language that is both personal and accessible, creating visual gestures that speak to us like a sort of two-dimensional sign language.
Work by Steve Conant is on view at Galerie Penumbra.
The strength of Conant's work is in this communicative quality, and in its simplicity. In "Untitled #12b," three circular or oblong shapes in primary colors straddle the periphery of a square area, each shape adorned with another small detail: an armature of blue, an appendage of white, or safari stripes. I can't help but think of eggs and orbs, of primal things, of beginnings, such as what might be conjured in a Petri dish. Perhaps this is the language Conant is speaking, one that suggests the origins of things. Other pieces have a similar composition but are more or less busy, more or less spare - but the overall thrust is cohesive. If there is any complexity here, it's in the metaphorical origins that Conant conjures up. No doubt Conant has his own personal metaphorical language, and we may connect with it or not. In the end, though, Conant's collages are pleasant enough to behold, and there are enough of them here to carry his train of visual thought along a robust continuum. In "Another Language," a series of red, black and white pieces, three primary shapes are overlaid with riffs on that shape, and over and under these is simple text, such as A B C. These would seem to be more visual playground than serious intellectual exploration, but there's nothing wrong with that; Conant's untitled collages offer more to chew on. Overall, this is a nicely balanced show - even if it may bother those who think childlike art is inauthentic. But those who appreciate the deliberate spontaneity and the melodic compositions that reflect Conant's thoughtful, unpretentious imaginings will not be disappointed. Another Language is on view at Galerie Penumbra, 1043 Virginia Ave., through July 13. John Clark's Automatic Improvigations opens July 15 with an artist's reception 6-9 p.m. Call 508-8043.

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