Lisa Sette's "From the Ground Up" Cures the Summertime Blues

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People in other parts of the country spend the rest of the year dreaming of summer's sunny skies, cool breezes and blooming flowers. Phoenicians, on the other hand, dread the summer season. Everything here seems to shrivel up and die, from the poor withered cactus on my patio to the art gallery scene.

That's why "From the Ground Up," on display through October 30 at Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale, is so refreshing. It allows the viewer to see summer the way people in other places do -- as a joyful time brimming with life. It's a charming exhibit.  

Courtesy of Lisa Sette Gallery
Pale Dream 4 by Mayme Kratz

​Take Mayme Kratz's Pale Dream 4, for example. A circle of real cicada wings hovers above a field of pale grass, each natural element trapped inside layers of milky white resin.

Up close, you can practically trace the veins of the fallen wings with your fingers. From afar, the cloudy resin masks the details of the piece, creating an ethereal scene that speaks to the transience of the seasons, and of life. It's a poignant piece.     

Local artist Carrie Marill's a single footstep takes a long time to disappear paints nature in a more fantastical light. The piece features a carpet of vibrant colored mushrooms beneath a sky of blank canvas. The fungi are realistic, but the burnt oranges and blue-grays of Marill's 70s-meets-modern color palette make for a playful piece reminiscent of my mom's retro mushroom-printed casserole dishes and the home of Lewis Carroll's hookah-smoking caterpillar.

Courtesy of Lisa Sette Gallery
Alonia and Almeria by Jessica Joslin

​That otherworldly feeling continues in Jessica Joslin's Alonia and Almeria, two birdlike creatures pieced together from actual hornbill skulls and metal hardware. Suspended from thin wire beside Marill's mushrooms, the whimsical creatures look as if they're about to fly off into Arizona's scorched sunset.

In contrast, Marill's Purple gallinule seems rooted to its blank canvas.

While I adore the mushrooms and chuckle at her tongue-in-cheek paintings of animal snouts and teeth (tip: look for the braces and the gold fillings!) in the gallery's back room, the purple gallinule lacks the animation associated with winged creatures. It's as if the blank canvas is a cage for the bird, preventing it from taking flight or even moving a wing. Poor thing. PETA would not approve.

That feeling of stillness is more successful in Vietnam-born artist Binh Danh's lovely leaf prints, created by treating live plants with resin and placing photographic negatives over them for a period of time so that the natural process of photosynthesis literally burns the photo onto the leaf.

Serene images of the Buddha on leaves and grass flank a trio of works featuring children murdered in Cambodia's infamous Killing Fields. Danh's work is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful. The leaves are a fitting tribute, metaphorically giving new life to these children whose days were cut short.

Courtesy of Lisa Sette Gallery
Pulse 3 by Alan Bur Johnson

​Two more lively pieces are Alan Bur Johnson's Pulse 2 and Pulse 3, which feature photographic transparencies of insect wings placed inside small, circular metal frames and displayed at varying distances from the wall. 

The warm tones and diamond shape of Pulse 3 gives the feeling of an intense flame, while Pulse 2's cool palette is more like the flowing of a river. In both pieces, Johnson captures the movement of nature; the circles fluttering up the stark white walls like a swarm of pests. His works pulsate with energy.

Another standout is Beverly Penn's Topo I, a swirling mass of bronze spirals that look like dead vines and flowers.

Penn's metalwork, crafted using a laborious casting process that can only be done in three-inch sections, is so hyper-realistic that it's hard to believe the withered branches aren't real. The curving motion of the piece draws the eye to each section and back again, creating a never-ending maze of motion. This piece shows the beauty of nature, even in death.

Whether uplifting or somber, animated or still, each piece in this eclectic collection showcases a different aspect of nature's eternal cycle. In "From the Ground Up," Lisa Sette Gallery offers Phoenicians a chance to survive the current season in the same way New Yorkers, Minnesotans and Pacific Northwesterners do -- admiring the ephemeral beauty of summer.

The exhibit continues through October 30 at Lisa Sette Gallery, 4142 N. Marshall Way in Scottsdale. Free admission. Visit www.lisasettegallery.com for hours and info.

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