War and games

WAR games

Quincy Owens & Kipp Normand

Stutz Art Gallery

Through Aug. 16

If the mission of the Stutz Art Gallery is as claimed, which is, to promote artists and their work and to engage the community in creative dialogue, then mission accomplished - at least in the case of the gallery's current exhibition, WAR games, featuring the work of Quincy Owens & Kipp Normand. Certainly, Print Resources, who runs the gallery, is by its very nature set up to promote its artists at least in terms of professionally produced print materials and message delivery. In terms of content, though, Indianapolis artists Owens and Normand are exploring dicey territory - and as is characteristic of both artists, a subtle dose of humor is part of the equation. "Little Boy" by Kipp Normand

Humor? It's true - humor is often employed ironically to convey a certain point of view, or to suggest an avenue for dialogue. In the case of Owens, large format paintings, traditionally rendered in acrylic and other paint media on canvas, are mostly variations on a bulls-eye theme. From a stylistic standpoint, Owens is a fine painter; he knows how to explore a visual theme without veering too far into the land of visual cliché, while bordering on kitsch. Nothing wrong with kitsch - in fact, this is Normand's territory, and he traverses it well, employing ephemera from days gone by to construct his three-dimensional dialogue boxes.

Normand, for instance, deftly combines an antique clock, thickly painted in red, with tilted black shelves and glass marbles on the bottom to play on the words "The Red Menace" (the piece's title). Those of us who get the Communist reference (and likely most of us do) can appreciate the irony; and Normand gives us the opportunity to explore the concept at another level.

The war, the threat of Communism, the loss of so much life; all of these things contribute to a mass consciousness that either rejects war as a means to an end, believing that there's no justification for such incredible loss of life, or suggests another more sanguine view, if such a thing is possible. The war was what it was - a part of a trajectory that may have been inevitable, given the global conflicts; and, it must be said, the mass consciousness of the time. But by looking at the past Owens and Normand are also suggesting something about the present, or at least their art gets the dialogue started. Are things really any different now?

To this end, Normand's visual puns are less neutral than Owens', and thus more substantively provocative. "Little Boy," a mixed-media construction with the backdrop of the bomb - as in atomic bomb - with a tiny plastic haloed baby in the foreground is obviously suggestive. Then there's "Alert Level," taking us to the present: again set inside glass, a toy monkey straddles a red, orange and yellow-painted wood backdrop.

Owens, too, has fun with the war theme. In "Buckshot Constellations," a series of shot-up painted wood pieces are displayed on larger pieces of wood; again, Owens' fine eye for composition helps his message along a lighthearted look at war, if such a thing is possible.

Art is often an effective vehicle for dialogue about touchy subjects - the artist has the ability to suggest a point of view without being in your face. But when the point of view is a thoughtful one, it's an even more effective vehicle. Owens and Normand are both accomplished artists in their chosen media - and the substance gives the art a meaningful context.

WAR games is on view through Aug. 16 at Stutz Art Gallery, 1005 N. Senate Ave., phone 833-7000 or www.stutzartgallery.com.

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