Love is the Air
By Stacy Davies
“Exhibit Love” features a trio of artists and their personal passions
In executive director Marcella Swett’s final “get” before she departs the dA Cente for the Arts she enticed artist/curator Rick Caughman to bring his “Exhibit Love: For land, form and humanity” to the center, showcasing a trio of exceptional, earthy works by Caughman, Joella Jean Mahoney and John Edward Svenson. It took Caughman almost a year to put the show together, with the aim of honoring “love” in its various forms: for Mahoney it is love of the Arizona landscape; Svenson has a deep admiration for animals and the sea; and Caughman includes both the human form and landscape in spectrum of passions.
Indeed, landscape is a key feature of this show, with Mahoney’s oils—though totaling only a quarter of what’s exhibited by the other artists—dominating the concept of spiritual awakening through nature’s layered and monolithic terrain. Presented in warm rocky shades and cool watery hues, Moonrise Inner Canyon is a moment of pure Zen, allowing us a peek through the chiseled red rocks towering over a winding river with the silence we perceive echoing within our own cavernous interiors. Similar introspections can occur while gazing at the transcendent Lake Powell, Navajo Land and Stormy Sky at Green River, all of which invite moments of reflection as we immerse ourselves in the layers of earth and sky that reflect the strata of life.
Likewise, John Edward Svenson’s sculptures pull us into transcendental realms via a host of sea and air creatures cast in bronze and carved in wood that exhibit the purity of purpose and place that comes naturally to the animal world but torments their human neighbors. Muskellunge, an enormity of hot metal blown on plaster, is truly an “ugly pike” as the name purports, feeding on everything from tiny fish to small house pets if they scamper too near; In the awesome orange glazed ceramic Grouper we find another ugly mug, truly massive enough to make you fear their giant sucking sound. Smaller more decorative pieces also fill the adjoining space such as brass hammered fish, a bronzed manta ray, the towering fish-woman hybrid carved in redwood, Deep Sea Madonna and a host of fowl, including the exquisite Owl in Flight extracted from yellow cedar and prepared to swoop into your living room.
Perhaps Svenson’s most powerful pieces, however, come in human form. Purex Corp “Free Form” is masterful, and even though it’s only a plaster maquette (he’ll make you a bronze upon request), works gorgeously as a piece of exceptional abstraction. More recognizable as man would be the other model, Ranchero, a Don Quixote-type figure just waiting to be rendered in redwood, and yet still completely intriguing in his present plaster form. The pièce de résistance, however, is Svenson’s 1967 bronze Saint Francis, a modernist take on the patron saint of animals and the environment that is utterly breathtaking—and you don’t have to be a Catholic to get the gasps.
Rounding out the show, Caughman presents a selection of his works that travel through several mediums. Enormous, electric-charged landscapes cover two walls inviting us into neon orange mountain peak highlights and rich, deep purple shadows in Monte Vista, and similar panoramas with swirling currents rolling through the sky as in A Leap of Faith. Also of note are his ink and charcoal figures, at which he excels, often evoking a feeling of vintage literary illustrations. In The Surrender the focus is on an 18th Century gentleman in a frock coat praying for his security or salvation and in Last Round, a bar wench posed rather unladylike (yet probably comfortably) seems ready for another bottle of something, which she wiggles in the air. Two characters who definitely seem sprung from a Middle Eastern folktale and French Romanticist novel are the sheik in Make a Wish (guess what he’s holding) and The Happy Hunchback, a jovial creature akin to Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein, gleefully swinging around his ax. It’s a very humorous take on a usually grisly occupation, and evidence once again of Caughman’s eye for the sublime and ability to frame that spiritual and artistic greatness for the rest of us to absorb.
“Exhibit Love” at dA Center for the Arts, 252 S. Main St., Pomona, (909) 397-9716; www.dacenter.org. Wed-Sat, noon-4pm; Thurs, noon-9pm. Opens Sat, June 23. Thru July 28.