Art Review: Lusk exhibits peer into artists' creative methods

Carroll Todd, 'Rolling,' at David Lusk Gallery.

Carroll Todd, "Rolling," at David Lusk Gallery.

For its last shows of 2011, David Lusk Gallery juxtaposes the witty, elegant and highly finished welded bronze sculptures of Carroll Todd with the purposefully unfinished -- or at least giving that illusion -- sketches and drafts of works by seven artists in "Ripped from the Studio."

Both groups will be displayed through Dec. 23. Todd and the artists featured in "Ripped from the Studio" are all well-known local figures, so the impression of the diversity of the visual arts in Memphis, seen through the lens of one gallery and selections from its stable, is, however parochial, enlightening.

Tim Crowder's installation in 'Ripped from the Studio' offers an ornate stand holding 13 of his notebooks.

Tim Crowder's installation in "Ripped from the Studio" offers an ornate stand holding 13 of his notebooks.

The soft-spoken and genial Todd has not changed his method or manner, though those who have been watching will have observed a growing sense of refinement and an increased tendency toward abstraction, which, while always present, seems now more prominent, even urgent, though urgency in itself never disturbs the polished tranquility of his work. Rather, as in "Raptor" and "Bloom," there's an implication of upward motion, of a reaching for transcendence translated into smooth, sinuous form. This reduction of shapes is also manifest in "Rolling," a quasi landscape of gently rolling hills in which the foliage of five very stylized trees runs together in rounded cut-out fashion.

There's a subtle element of sophisticated yet child-like, almost toy-like whimsy about "Rolling," as there is, to sometimes-greater degree, in other pieces in the show, such as "Circus Rabbit II" and "Rhino," in which the tusked and armored behemoth has a movable head. The exhibition's monument, "King Rabbit," a cartoonishly abstract rabbit perched atop a carrot, stands 110 inches high upon its scaffold and is an actual working weathervane.

Despite their marvelously rich, warm patinas, comforting rounded or sinuous shapes and inviting smooth surfaces, Todd's sculptures are aesthetically cool and detached. Is it a sense of irony that makes them keep a polite distance?

"Ripped from the Studio" offers preliminary and preparatory material from Maysey Craddock, Tad Lauritzen Wright, Veda Reed, Greely Myatt, Beth Edwards, Freida Hamm and Tim Crowder. If you have ever visited a real artist's real studio, then you will realize that these artful arrangements bear as much resemblance to that experience as Madonna does to the Madonna. These installations are, in other words, distilled into reasonable and harmonious semblances that belie the typical chaos of an artist's habitat and method; they are not so much ripped as they are tenderly extricated.

On the other hand, they are fascinating as documents, as it were, that reveal how artists think of themselves and their relationship to their work. Lauritzen Wright's artifacts, mainly drawings in many different mediums and styles, occupy a complete wall of the gallery, and their comic exuberance bears witness to his own turn of mind. Crowder, whose deceptively simple paintings of thinking animals in landscapes conceal depths of awareness, offers an ornate stand that holds 13 of his notebooks and a wooden stool upon which to sit and peruse them, an effort which it is absolutely worthwhile to make.

Edwards, whose habitual subjects are plastic or rubber animal toys from the 1950s and '60s, isolates one of those toys inside a small cardboard box and shines an intense light on it; hanging on the wall nearby is a small painting of the same figure. The relationship seems to say that the artist projects the intense (and rather frightening) light of her intuition and skill on a subject in turning it into a work of art.

And in "Star, Moon and Clouds," Reed, long known for her panoramic depictions of wide-open skies, provides a prescription both practical and poetic for the transition from an observation late at night to a quick schematic sketch to a precisely annotated grid to a series of fragile cut-out silhouettes and finally to the small dark yet luminous painting in which the experience culminates. It's a revelatory glimpse into the creative process.

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Carroll Todd and 'Ripped from the Studio'

At David Lusk Gallery, 4540 Poplar in Laurelwood, through Dec. 23. Call (901) 767-3800 for more information.

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