Visual Art

Julianna Thibodeaux

Primary Colours 2006 Retrospective Invitational

Stutz Art Gallery

Through Jan. 30

'Clown Marionette in Teacup' by Josh Johnson, part of the 'Primary Colours 2006 Retrospective Invitational'

They've had a colorful history so far - and, some might say, a checkered one - since their first event in 2000. Indianapolis' community-grounded Primary Colours, a consortium of six local artists who propel the group's mission of "integrating visual artists and the community to create and sustain a thriving environment for the arts," has received both applause and criticism for taking art to street level. While Allotropy, an art "kegger" held over the years in various raw building spaces, has made quality art by a multitude of artists accessible to a younger crowd, arguably turning some into life-long art lovers, more recent events, such as Art vs. Art, which pits artists against one another in a competitive, timed art-making event, have called into question how we value art - or at least how we perceive it. Can one take "accessibility" too far?

Whether one can or not - I argue anything is possible - the overall spirit of Primary Colours is a positive, art-affirmative one. The group's retrospective exhibition, now on view at the Stutz Art Gallery, offers a more conventional perspective of the organization, with none of the enterprising nature of the aforementioned Primary Colours events. Called a "retrospective invitational," the exhibition includes solidly curated work, primarily painting and sculpture, by 21 artists who have had some affiliation with Primary Colours.

Among these are Jeff Martin (one of Primary Colours' founders), whose "Minipedshot" sculpture features baby food jars lit from behind to illuminate banal contents such as twist ties, scraps of paper, broken plastic and the like; as is characteristic of Martin's work, the piece suggests one thing but celebrates another: In this case, it's the mundane turned sacred. Rebecca Lyon also challenges conventions with her "Tut Tut," a sculpture of delicate squares of woven yarn precariously connected and held taught by safety pins; also characteristic of Lyon in its suggestion of vulnerability in tandem with a cohesive strength.

Other artists include Josh Johnson (various marionette figures depicted in tea cups), Michelle Pemberton's drawings (particularly strong is "Coffee and Tea for Two Women," done in coffee and tea), Michal Lile's lovely minimalist treescapes and Brian Myers' "arrangements" - lovely still lifes with a twist: flowers in a plastic water bottle, for instance. Then there's Larry Endicott's small and ethereal photo-transfers, Dane Sauer's metal sculpture in strong lines and suggested spaces and Justin Cooper's brilliant goddess pictures, in homage to the elements. If something can be gleaned in common from these and other participating artists, it's a confidence in their unique perspective and a determined effort towards developing a voice. And the work is largely consistent, quality-wise, across the board.

Dubbed an "appreciation show" to thank Primary Colours supporters, the exhibition dovetails neatly into the Stutz Gallery's own mission, which is to "promote artists and their work, and to engage the community in creative dialogue." But this mandate is a vague one, leaving open many possibilities and perspectives. The gallery, after all, is operated by Print Resources, Inc., a design-marketing firm - but one with a heart for art, along the lines of the Dean Johnson Gallery on Massachusetts Avenue, also part of the IDADA (Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealers Association) movement.

In the larger scheme of things, we can applaud such collective efforts at giving voice to artists, especially local ones; the more venues the merrier. But as organizations linger, there's a two-fold threat of complacency and political correctness. While the Primary Colours invitational isn't evidence of either one, it does afford the opportunity for us to ask questions.

Primary Colours 2006 Retrospective Invitational is on view through Jan. 30 at the Stutz Art Gallery, 10th Street and Senate Avenue. Call 317-833-7000 or visit Stutz Art Gallery at or Primary Colours at or for more information.