Oil and Water
The World Within
Through Jan. 28
Work by Bruce Moore is on view at Galerie Penumbra.
Galerie Penumbra is breathing new life into the Fountain Square-Murphy Art Center storefront that used to be home to the beloved Woodburn & Westcott. While the loss of Doris Vlasek Hails will always be felt in the art community, Penumbra is hard at work making the former W&W space (and Doris and Stan's legacy) continue to shine.
Having just celebrated its first year, Penumbra's David and Cheryl Mattingly have tried some new things and brought some new voices to the gallery-enjoying community, and they've offered a respite for those just passing by and willing to take a chance and view some art.
The gallery's current offering, a two-part show featuring a solo exhibition of work by local attorney Bruce Moore in tandem with works by husband and wife John and Katie Russell, is testament to Penumbra's willingness to give relative newcomers an opportunity to try out an audience.
This has been Penumbra's approach, more or less, through its first year, interspersed with more established and/or known artists such as Ed Funk and Matt Eickhoff. In short, the Mattinglys continue to be in exploratory mode, taking risks on different voices but within their own particular realm of likes - and most of their risks have proven successful.
In this spirit I took in Moore's work and that of the Russell duo - and in this spirit I congratulate Penumbra for giving these artists an opportunity to show, and to shine. Artists grow when they have the opportunity to dance with an audience, to find out what sells and what doesn't, and what works - even if it doesn't sell.
John and Katie Russell, both Indiana natives, returned here after attending art school elsewhere; and their training and art-historical interests show. Katie Russell's work is tightly controlled, foggy realism, but not as brooding - or as complex - as Hopper. She zeroes in on a crowd or a small gathering of people and crops them; what we see are fragments of people looking at something. In one case, the Mona Lisa is suggested; in another, we don't know; and in other cases, the figures look back at us in shadow. Russell's quirkiness is in her off-kilter cropping - a skewed sort of voyeurism.
John Russell, on the other hand, is more influenced by abstract expressionism. An interest in Byzantine art also suggests itself in a De Kooning-like painting of a haloed Madonna. Both artists are making a go of it, trying things out, refining a voice; it's clear these are beginnings - but good ones. Katie Russell may have already found fertile territory subject- and approach-wise, and John's strength is in his painterly fluidity.
Bruce Moore is self-taught, and his work is therefore suggestive of an entirely different sensibility. Using watercolor on Yupo - a 100 percent polypropylene surface without any absorbent fibers - Moore finds a more primitive, straightforward outlet for personal expression. Quoting Georgia O'Keeffe - "The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can clarify in paint" - in his artist statement, Moore "works through the emotive power of color, line, form and texture which produce what I believe to be a direct, truer and more powerful expression of how I experience the world and myself ... " and the result is highly energetic, largely unblended colors on stark white surfaces.
It's a trick to use watercolor in this way, but a successful trick: The results are startling in some cases, brilliant and lovely; and in others, they're psychedelic to the point of distraction. Moore's smallest pieces, "Blue and Gray Series," are the most careful and easy on the eyes. They suggest pebble-filled streams, textured cloth, even smoke-filled forests: to my eyes, the most evocative.
Rumor has it that some big names are coming Penumbra's way. Let's hope that the not-so-big names still have a place there.
Oil and Water, paintings by John and Katie Russell, and The World Within, paintings by Bruce Moore, are on view through Jan. 28 at Galerie Penumbra, 1043 Virginia Ave. Call 317-508-8043 or visit www.galeriepenumbra.com for hours and information.