Visual Art

Julianna Thibodeaux

Three Painters: Brian Fick, Ed Sanders and Steve Paddack

4 Star Gallery

Through Nov. 12

'The Wine I Said I'd Send You' by Brian Fick

Those of us in the arts-coverage trenches often rely upon purveyors of said arts to let us know when a particular offering, in his or her opinion, is something noteworthy. I received such a phone call a couple weeks ago, and hearing the names of the exhibitors - Brian Fick, Ed Sanders and Steve Paddack - decided it was worth squeezing in another visit to another gallery in an already packed agenda. I made my way over to 4 Star Gallery to check out the work of these three Indianapolis painters with high hopes: Fick, Sanders and Paddack are in varying degrees heavy hitters in town; all Herron graduates, they're three who stayed in Indianapolis and grew a following among artists and patrons.

And the trio of painters, two of whom (Sanders and Fick) used to show in the former Woodburn & Westcott space, are still painting strong - one could say they're as muscular as ever, and as fluid, too. Each has a distinct aesthetic, a unique voice, one that is still singing the same or a slightly varied tune - while one has to ask the obvious question: Does it become necessary at some point to strum a decidedly different chord, to explore a new brush line?

The fact that the work is relatively recent doesn't automatically suggest it's fresh (I recall seeing a few of Fick's smaller acrylic abstractions in the W & W space). Perhaps with the exception of Sanders, whose moody, murky portraits of the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist reflect a departure, by and large this show is more of what we've come to expect from these artists - as strong as the work may be.

In the case of Sanders, his paintings may be as moody as ever, but the mood isn't a capricious one; Sanders delves into dark spaces, charging them with mysterious, barely discernible light, and thus gives them soul. In "Figure #1," the judge is textured and obscure; in fact, if gallery owner Shawn Miller hadn't tipped me off that Rehnquist was his subject matter, I might not have gotten it (the characteristic striped robe was a huge hint, though). Sanders lends a curious glow to decidedly opaque tones - in this case as well as in his other, obfuscated roomscapes in earthy grays and olives. There's a certain lack of shadow that somehow begets light - not by contrast, but by the raw energy of Sanders' hand.

Steve Paddack, though he contributes just three pieces to the exhibition, offers a cleansed palette of figure and content, even if his symbols are more enigmatic. A water tower is the central "figure" in two of the three paintings - in the larger, it lies spent and deflated-looking on an open field. In the smaller painting, it plummets to ground like a rocket ship in reverse, cocooned in a blue cloud. In Paddack's third painting, an upside down lighthouse hovers above a jut of green earth. These are all delightful but more or less expected, although they're no less wonderful for it.

Last but not least, Brian Fick struts his decorative painting prowess with works that maximize his skill with mood lighting and surface treatment. "The Wine I Said I'd Send You" should hang in a formal drawing room or library: the dark, polished veneer surface, adorned with decorative flourishes around the edges, punctuated by a central image of a solitary, oarless boat carrying grapes, would both blend in and add character to a somber space. These are not intended to be "merely" decorative, though, and they're not; they're polished as well as provocative.

In the end, this is a thoughtful collection of paintings. While the voices of these artists ring true, even a slight variation or a larger departure would certainly be welcome, as is suggested by Sanders. Certainly these artists - and their viewers - are up to the challenge.

Three Painters is on view through Nov. 12 at 4 Star Gallery, 653 Massachusetts Ave., 686-6382. Call for hours.

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