Abstract Relief

The best advice you can give a Phoenician in summer (other than, "Get the hell out!") is: Stay hydrated. So gulp a bottle of water and head to the cool climes of the lower level of the Tempe Public Library, or the elegant (and likely deserted this time of year) halls of the Heard Museum, for the appropriately titled shows "Water Lust" and "Life in a Cold Place."

"Water Lust" features works by six local artists who depict Arizona's relationship with water. Craig Cheply takes a political approach with his surrealistic acrylic painting Lifelines and Battlelines. He paints a desert landscape with a large glass vessel floating in the foreground. IV tubes siphon water from the glass container as the liquid slowly drips into five Southwestern states outlined along the bottom of the canvas: California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. The work is an obvious commentary on our limited resources. Just looking at it makes you crave another bottle.

Janet Larson takes a lighter approach with her beaded necklaces and bracelets. The former marine biologist strings her tiny beads to create shapes found on the beach. One necklace, Falling Water incorporates rust and avocado-colored beads to simulate a string of pretty seaweed wrapping around the neck with a sea anemone-shaped burst of blue bead strings as the pendant. It's a reminder that some of us are lucky enough to escape to the coast when the heat is on.

Cleverly, Dan Collins' work acts as a warning, particularly after the other pieces in the show: "Be careful what you wish for." Collins' series, Flooding Phoenix, was included in the New American City exhibition at ASU last fall but works better with this theme.

Using imported three-dimensional satellite models downloaded from the U.S. Geologic Service, Collins digitally manipulates the images and creates visuals of a hypothetical 1,000-year flood of Phoenix. In one digital ink-jet print titled Camelback, the iconic Phoenix mountain becomes an island, surrounded by glistening ripples of water that have risen to 390 feet. This curious vision is delightfully terrifying and promotes an appreciation for the water-barren desert.

Feel the need to be cold as well as wet? "Life in a Cold Place: Arctic Art from the Albrecht Collection" at the Heard Museum provides a glimpse of life in the arctic regions of Siberia, coastal Alaska, Canada and Greenland through the art created by its native people.

It's easy to compare these works with the humble aesthetic of Grandma Moses — the self-taught early-20th-century folk artist — who is beloved because of her simple visual reminders of quaint, American rural life, rich with homely traditions and collective practices of survival. This show offers a similar glimpse into the lives of the native Inuit people. Kayaker's Reflection by Kananginak Pootoogook is a beautiful stone-cut print — a straightforward design with stunning use of bold colors. The two-dimensional masses of printed ink tell a quick visual story of the indigenous everyday life; a figure paddling his kayak noting the practices of transportation along Arctic coastlines and waterways. This mode of transport is extremely appealing in comparison to the hot box on wheels Phoenicians have to look forward to.

The show also includes icy cold works like Peter Palvik's lithograph Fall Trek to the Sea Ice. Here, a group of men, packed to the gills with supplies and wrapped in protective Arctic clothing, trudge through the snow with their dogs toward a beautiful frozen sea. In the dead of winter, someone might see this as a scene of pure misery. But, here in Phoenix, the image spells relief and provides a momentary escape from hellish weather.

Inevitably, the unfortunate folks who actually have to stay in Phoenix during the summer need opportunities to escape — at least mentally — from the all-consuming heat. Both "Water Lust" and "Life in a Cold Place" do just that.

"Water Lust" is up through June 25 at the Tempe Public Library’s Lower Level Gallery. Admission is free. 3500 South Rural Rd. Call 480-350-5183 or visit www.tempe.gov/library/.

"Life in a Cold Place: Arctic Art from the Albrecht Collection" at the Heard Museum shows through July 31. Admission is $10; seniors $9; $5 for students with valid ID; children 6 to 12, $3; under 5 free. 2301 N. Central Ave. Call 602-252-8848 or visit www.heard.org.

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Lilia Menconi
Contact: Lilia Menconi