Recent reflections on the state of the arts in Arizona have called to mind both areas needing improvement and what's working. Lisa Sette Gallery, which moved to midtown Phoenix after 28 years spent in Scottsdale, is clearly in the "getting it right" column -- as evidenced by the quality of works featured in its "30 Years" exhibition currently on view.
Lisa Sette Gallery opened in the new space during mid-June last year with "Hello Midtown!", featuring works by about half the artists Sette represents. "30 Years" has a similar feel, in part because they have a dozen or so artists in common -- but also because the physical space remains consistent for each show. Unlike some other galleries, which shift temporary walls to reconfigure exhibition spaces, Sette has one open space with a central nook that typically holds one large-scale piece or installation.
For this show, that piece is Lace Skin Tear (2014) by New York artist Julianne Swartz. The 98-by-24-by-8-foot piece resembles a swatch of skin, stretched and elongated to resemble black lace. It consists of electrical wire, speakers, wood, electronics, and four-channel soundtrack. Whispers of words fill the space, evoking the curiosity and shame one might feel listening to another's intimate conversation.
The "30 Years" exhibition includes 25 pieces created by 23 of the 36 artists the gallery represents. But this isn't a greatest-hits style show filled with works created during the full spectrum of the gallery's three decades. Instead, more than half the works were created this year or last. We'd have appreciated the greatest hits approach, but recognize that works have sold through the years rather than being socked away future enjoyment. Perhaps it's best dubbed a "state of the arts" type of show, demonstrating the caliber of work being created by the artists Sette represents.
Half of the artists featured in "30 Years" currently work in Arizona, and most of those call metro Phoenix home. Each has a strong, unique aesthetic -- and a career Sette has carefully helped to cultivate. Together they're a harbinger of what's possible for the metro Phoenix arts scene.
Several Arizona artists featured in this exhibition stretch beyond the boundaries of visual art to engage in additional creative enterprises from farming to dance. The richness of their lives beyond time spent in visual art-making is reflected in their works, adding intriguing layers of complexity and meaning.
Phoenix artist Matthew Moore, also a food activist and fourth-generation farmer, reacted to news that his grandfather had sold a portion of the family's land to developers by using sorghum and wheat plantings to recreate the developer's projected map for the placement of 253 suburban homes. "30 Years" includes his C-print, titled Rotations: Moore Estate 3 (2006), which shows 253 homes he planted in sorghum and roads he planted using seeded wheat.
Carrie Marill's Calder Crowd (2014), an acrylic and graphite on linen work, suggests a women surrounded by shapes conjuring the sort of Calder-style kinetic sculpture she faces like an altar. Both Marill and Moore work with Urban Plough Arts (an organization he founded), which fosters placemaking through large scale installations and environments, and with ASU's Combine Studios in Roosevelt Row, where Marill recently painted her For the Love of Color mural.
Several works reflect the personal histories of those who made them, but also reference struggles taking place in contemporary culture.
Binh Danh, a photography faculty member at ASU, was born in Vietnam in 1977 and emigrated to the U.S. as a small child. His two Military Foliage pieces included in this show feature photographic images transferred onto large leaves using a process he developed for making chlorophyll prints. The camouflage design so prevalent in popular culture conjures the real horrors of war when seared into a large leaf then entombed in resin for Military Foliage #43 (2010). Other works in the series bear the faces of those whose lives were ravaged by the Vietnam War, reminding viewers that war happens in real environments rather than digital anti-realities.
Angela Ellsworth's Seer Bonnet XIX (Flora Ann) (2011), created with 24,182 pearl corsage pins, fabric, steel, and wood, reflects that inherent conflicts of the artist embracing her own queer identity while growing up in a fourth-generation Mormon family. Uniform, smooth, and iridescent on the outside, the bonnet's inner layer is a mass of pinpoints both strong and capable of inflicting great pain. The bonnet is part of Ellsworth's Seer Bonnets series, with each bonnet representing one of Joseph Smith's wives. Recently she talked with Jackalope Ranch about plans to create six additional bonnets to stand in for newly discovered sister wives of the Mormon prophet.
Claudio Dicochea was born in Sonora, Mexico, along the U. S. border. His paintings are based on the "casta" style once used to portray the mixing of races in colonial Mexico. Dicochea replaces traditional characters with well-know figures of pop culture and world history to create an odd assortment of family portraits reflecting the perils of an imbalance of power. "30 Years" includes his 2012 acrylic, graphite, charcoal, transfer, and wood piece titled de Santanico Pandemonium y el Vaquero, la Vampira del Rio y la Pirateria (of Santanico Pandemonium and Cowboy, the River Vampire and Piracy).
For a significant number of works featured in "30 Years," nature serves as subject and/or medium -- which is a clear tell for one of Sette's artistic touchstones.
Thin strands of dried grass shoot like rays of the sun from a small circle at the center of Mayme Kratz's I think I grown tensions 3 (2014). One seems to protrude from its resin cast, drawing viewers closer with the temptation to touch. Grasses scarcely noticed in everyday settings feel sacred when set apart by the Phoenix-based artist, whose preservation of them invites closer inspection and introspection.
Phoenix artist Alan Bur Johnson uses photographic transparencies with images of biologic subjects, from butterfly wings to human brain cells, in his works. The Dusk and The Dawn (2014) features 271 photographic transparencies, metal frames, and dissection pins. The circular images are mounted to the wall in a loose association of circles that suggest the shifting of time and movement through space.
Most importantly, "30 Years" affirms Sette's passion for exceptional technique. It's most evident in Queen of Heartbreak (2015), an oil on panel piece by Rachel Bess, which affirms the artist's astonishing gift for imbuing stark realism with mystery. It depicts a woman with Bess' own pale, creamy skin and dark hair cut with angular lines, dressed in black -- reclining on a piece of furniture that seems to fade into darkness behind her.
Taken together, these works evidence the quality and diversity of contemporary art being created in Arizona -- while also serving to remind us of Sette's singular role in cultivating the metro Phoenix arts scene that's still got a long way to grow.
"30 Years" continues through Saturday, March 28. Find more information on the Lisa Sette Gallery website.
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