Visual Arts The notion of “works on paper” may have special cache when it comes to fine art. It’s intellectually high end, you might say, to focus on the subtleties inherent in a fine art print or even a charcoal drawing rather than the boldness of canvas or sculpture. But “paper” as medium goes way beyond subtlety these days, not just in terms of the applied media, but also in terms of the subject matter. ‘Shadow, Cabeza Prieta,’ by Michael P. Berman, currently on exhibit at Ruschman Gallery. Mark Ruschman has gathered together the works of 11 gallery artists for his latest group show entitled Works on Paper, perhaps to suggest the versatility of the medium as well as his artists. Ruschman Gallery is a highly respected institution in town for its solid showing of regional artists who challenge viewers. Artists such as Tina Newberry and Fred Stonehouse immediately come to mind.

This group show, though, is a curious collection of the beautifully static as well as beautifully enigmatic. It’s all co-habitable art; in other words, it’s subtle, lovely and timeless, it challenges our notion of the paper medium — much like the Domont Gallery paper show that closed recently — and it’s art we can live with … for a long time.

Oil on paper, black and white photography (not digital), small edition prints and mixed media pieces comprise this exhibition of the work of these artists (most from Indiana and a handful beyond), some new and some longtimers on the Ruschman roster. Among the latter, Herron faculty Peg Fierke and Richard Emery Nickolson make a long-awaited appearance. Fierke is a friend of the paper medium, known for her fine prints as well as drawings. Here she presents new pieces, which seem to reflect an ongoing fascination with the undersides and inner workings of living (or once living) things and their connections to other such things.

Nickolson’s small drawings, some with a bit of color, continue along his own known theme of deconstructed (or is it pre-constructed?) graphic forms. I couldn’t help but think of Colorforms, a favorite childhood artmaking game, but also came away with the suggestion of something beyond the play of basic shapes.

Tamar Kander also satisfies, but doesn’t necessarily surprise, with her multilayered abstractions that carry the suggestions of landscapes.

Tom Keesee should also be recognized, but this time for a departure: Keesee pursues the visually macabre, instead of the visually sweet, and without giving us concrete figurative suggestions. His colors are dark and moody, his abstractions filled with hair lines set against heavy-handed ones, suggesting a dark but alluring dance.

Anthony Pontius’ tiny paintings are the most conceptual and medium-challenging pieces of the lot. The tiny “fake Polaroids” are meant to look like Polaroids, but in actuality they’re back-painted slips of acetate. Ruschman describes them as “faded memories.”

Finally, and surprisingly, Elise Ansel brings us full circle to the notion of paper’s versatility on the other side of subtlety. Ansel’s oils on paper could be canvases, but they’re not. Instead, they’re deceptively simple, happy pictures of bright colors at play, the primaries and a few well-chosen complementary colors dancing in bold, wild strokes to suggest a childlike abandon.

Works on Paper is on view at Ruschman Art Gallery through May 15, 948 N. Alabama St., 634-3114. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

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