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By Phaedra Greenwood


Artists express visual truth in Van Vechten-Lineberry show

Great art over the centuries ha expressed some of the deepest truths about life. Some artists have a vision, a transcendent moment when they see through ordinary reality to the very foundations of matter. It might take the form of rosy light caught in the rain clouds over the Rio Grande Gorge, or the stubbled pavement on a March morning when both the snow and blue shadows are fluid and moving.

Beneath the image is a subtext of experience and emotion that draws you to peer into the mind of the artist. You are invited into these windows of perception at "American Scene II," showing at the Van Vechten-Lineberry Taos Art Museum, 501 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, through Dec. 24
This invitational exhibit of two and three-dimensional artwork in varied media is a major event for the museum as it brings together top artists from around the country. Several local artists have pieces in the show including the curator, Jackson Hensley, his son, Michael Hensley, David Leffel and Sherrie McGraw of El Prado, and six artists from Santa Fe.

Hensley, who curated "American Scene" last year, said the underlying connection between these pieces is the seriousness of the artists and quality of the work. "Each of these artists is searching," he said. "The show is about the celebration of life, life-giving, life-reflecting, life-rejoicing. Life in America is landscapes, people, thoughts and more. It's the American spirit." He thanked Novella and Ed Lineberry and the Taos Art Museum for providing a prestigious venue for the show.

It's a strong show of accomplished and disciplined artists. One of the most well-known invited artists is Ben Stahl, a former illustrator for Saturday Evening Post. Along with Norman Rockwell and others, he founded the Famous Artists School in Westport, Conn.

Like Rockwell, Stahl knows how to capture the American scene in classic moments like a windblown Coney Island day "At the Beach." His portrait of "School Teacher" may remind you of someone you used to know with her long, serious face, Betty Grable eyes and flowered straw hat. His images capture the essence of any subject he chooses in a disarmingly simple way that says ordinary life is rich and meaningful if you really stop to look.
The world of the imagination is just as valid and wonderful. One of the stars of the show is a bronze sculpture by Richard MacDonald called "Joie de Vivre," featuring three long-legged Pan-like dancers, their long, delicate fingers coaxing notes of enchantment from their wind instruments. The piece is rendered in satisfying detail, the slight puff of air in the dancers' otherwise concave cheeks, the rippling muscles on the bare back of the male, the blowing drapery and textures of the costumes. It's easy to imagine this masterpiece gracing one of the fountains of Rome.

For Susan Contreras of Santa Fe, moment of illumination is both hid den and revealed by the comicM expressions of masks, a man and woman blowing bubbles in a bright carnival-colored piece ironically titled "Forever." She said painting masks helps in her search for the bizarre arid unusual in peoples laces. She transforms these expressions into archetypal truths about life. She makes it look like a game in which she has mastered all the moves, can manipulate all the pieces and still ends up surprised by how it turns out.

For others the moment of truth is captured by a life-like realism, a homage to things exactly as they are. Or seem to be. Scott Fraser's still life, are so photorealistic you have to bend to inspect faint brush stokes ot oil on linen to convince yourself its a painting. In his artist's statement, he explains, "Simple truths expose the artist and the viewer alike to connect and reflect, to go forward in life. This form of realism is not merely painting but life itself."

How the mind reflects and interacts with matter is explored in Daniel Sprick's "Intentions Create Reality:" Cloth-draped and tied around a post suggests a female figure, but the Oriental carpet on top flattens into a table or an altar with offerings of orange slices, shells, a carton of milk. These ordinary objects stand in contrast and connection to the creamy orchids, honoring both the exotic and the mundane. If this was his intention, he has created a quixotic reality that has a magical power of its own.

He said he uses opposite element, as symbols and metaphors to probe the fundamental questions of human existence. "The elements are not as important as how they are stitched together."
In his work the creative mind makes the connections, while the viewer interprets the overall patterns and meaning necessary to his or her physical and spiritual survival.

Although the show is loaded with spiritual content, it is equally about the sensual human form, and once, one of them is a beautiful and unabashed male nude by the neo classicist painter Geoffrey Lawrence called "Strongman." Embraced by the natural world, framed by the starry sky, this hero anoints his forehead with a bowl of water in celebration of his own, passionate virility.

This is the painter's attempt marry the cerebral experience at "new emotionalism" of the 21st century to the depths of the unconscious. It works. Other uncensored images play with the eroticism of a narrow leather strap against female flesh, crossed over the belly, coiled around the arm, or the sensual possibilities of a gleaming nipple ring.

Almost as sensual is Woody Gwyn's "Melt Off," an abstract of snow melting on pavement which perfectly expresses the impermanent and microscopically fluid world of nature in satisfying lavender and blue shadows frosted with white snow bright with the possibility of spring.

Elias Rivera comes at it from the opposite direction in "Under the Portal," a striking familiar Indian market scene so lifelike it's painful, capturing the absent expressions of women who sit out on the sidewalk for hours and days, in all weather, cocooned by their private thoughts, chatting quietly, waiting for the tourists to buy their jewelry. This artistic statement seems to be about patience and stoicism, art and the endurance it takes to help feed the family.

Beauty and humor combine in "Life' Cycle," an exquisite egg tempera by Michael Burke, a poignant of large heads, some with eyes closed to represent the great thinkers of pa' ages: Lao Ins. Leonardo De VincL Ludwig Van Beethoven and othes.' These heads are connected by elongated nude bodies weaving in and out of each other. He said, "A lot of people are offende by them. Everything is done
with exaggeration, strength and intensity. People either like them or hate them - nothing in between."
His father, who owns the Hensley Gallery Southwest, 311 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, is showing two large oils. "Nesting" was inspired by a scene he came across while horseback riding in an area south of Santa Fe on the Bonanza Creek Ranch, he said. He noticed a small herd of cattle with a number of calves grazing beside a stream while above the birds were nesting. "At the time I expecting a child," he said, "Morika Rose. This painting is a celebration of life for her coming into the world with us."

His second offering. "The Eagle is, oddly enough, a work in progress. The eagle, which represents the spirit and "me running down a trail by myself going through life" Was drawn from a moment he encountered up at Taos Ski Valley when th aspens were changing, he said
A few days later when he went back he found snow on the peaks. In retrospect, when the painting comes down after the show, he has decided to add the snow to suggest a sense of serenity and a whitish-blue light that will change the whole feeling of the painting, he said.

Nothing lasts, not even this show, so stop by the museum and see it before it's over. It's wonderful to have such strong work featured in Taos

Call 758-2690 for information.



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