Visual arts review | thru Aug. 23

About two dozen artists, chosen from a pool of roughly 70, earned space in the Seeing Ourselves juried exhibition conceived and orchestrated by John Domont and his Domont Studio Gallery. The results of this first installment, a gallery full of paintings, drawings, a couple of photographs and sculpture, are worthy of contemplation along many lines of observation.

Jim Andrews" "Self-Portrait #2," part of Domont Gallery"s "Seeing Ourselves"

First and foremost, as Domont himself describes, "Here we are," referring to the theme of the show: How, indeed, do artists see themselves and one another? The results, predictably, are numerous self-portraits and abstractions on this theme. But Domont"s goal is not a self-referential one: "If people are scared of art maybe they"re scared of artists," he says. "So people should see what we look like."

From traditional to conceptual, most pieces in the show give us this reflective view, and yet, there"s a welcome complexity to these interpretations of self.

Kendra Bayer"s "Grace-Self Portrait," a composite of 25 panels depicting an androgynous figure in underwear - with a carrot nose and eyes that resemble screws - is of the more conceptual variety. The figure moves in various states of posture, and in many of the panels, numbers form a grid behind him/her. The title doesn"t easily connect the viewer to the piece"s meaning, and my guess may not be as good as yours - but I"m willing to work to get what"s going on here.

Erin Swanson"s "What Becomes the Adult" is not puzzling, but it is haunting: This charcoal portrait of a woman (man?) is rendered with an adult hand, with other images and adornments placed on top of and around the face with a decidedly childlike hand. A mustache and horns are superimposed on the face, and a heart is drawn on the chest and then crossed out - all pointing to a unique or universal trauma associated with childhood.

Other notable and more traditionally-conceived portraits include Suzanne Merrell"s "Woe Is Me," a reclining rear-facing nude painted in a multitude of purples and plums that sink into the canvas and simultaneously possess a light vibrancy. Sydney Zendall"s "Unmasked," an abstracted face, is authentic for its interpretation of vulnerability with brilliant reds, oranges and yellows, speaking conceptually for some inner turmoil. Jim Andrews" "Self Portrait #2" is academically polished and yet heartfelt; the artist employs oil wash as his medium to bring himself to light in a multitude of colors. On the other hand, Joe Legner"s "Untitled," a wall-high paper collage that is cubist up-close and suggestively figurative from afar, seems to speak to a celebration of feminine sexuality instead of the usual apology or struggle that many women artists explore. There is no darkness here, despite the visual sleight of hand.

The genre of self-portraiture is a noble and centuries-old tradition, and overall, this exhibition is a compelling exploration of this tradition conceived with a generous intention towards the bridging of art and audiences. Indeed, we comprise many complex shades; how we see ourselves is not always how we are seen, and how we see others is not always how they see themselves. While some pieces fit the show"s stated criteria better than others, and are, simply put, aesthetically stronger, the viewer has a unique opportunity to view a large spectrum of creative expression and come away with an appreciation for the joys and pains of making art.

Seeing Ourselves is on view at Domont Studio Gallery (686-9634), 545 S. East St., through Aug. 23.

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