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Art Reviews by Peterson - Intellectual Handyman


ART, MUSIC, & BOOK REVIEWS



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Tacoma Narrows - band link
I was feeling guilty about skipping church, again, on Sunday morning but then I listened to Tacoma Narrows' debut album, Good Mourning, and bam! - my sins were atoned! That is to say my mind was soothed by the empathetic vibes in the plaintive vocal strains of a folk-rock testimonial offered up by this band of finger-tight instrumentalists kicking out their footloose style of roots music. And that was just the opening tune, a kind of revivalist rhyme with soul-shaking rhythm. Not that this new-grass sextet (bluegrass inspired but with drums, no banjo) preach any gospel besides their own uplifting brand of danceable tunes here, but they could make the most pious of congregations get on the good foot. The rest of this twelve track collection only gets better, if more urbane, pulsing with organic energy, not a waltz among them.

Front man Cheney Munson's voice is somewhere between mildly abrasive to wildly expressive, making for some potent Bill Monroe-grade lamentations. He hits each note with a natural precision, his intonation guided by some innate homing device in his head to hone pitch-perfect vocal inflections and an impeccable sense of timing. His fearless attitude and intrepid voice is occasionally bolstered by mandolin virtuoso Jonah Chilton's nicely understated vocal harmonies. Two words: Feel. Good.

This is a band of fine instrumentalists. I suspect there are some formal music lessons paying dividends here, at least for their fans and casual listeners. Guitarist Joe Harris's style has a steel guitar-like fluidity to it, a nice compliment to Chilton's twilight zone-like mandolin. Jason Theobald can do the work of twin fiddlers, and all of the above are underscored by Jim Bisbee's subtle but solid bass guitar lines--hard rock tendencies with civil restraint, while Will Roble works the traps with astounding precision, rock-steady impulses with a hip-hop here and a jazzy flare there, but always a nice hitch for yer git-along.

Cheney Munson is also the chief songwriter. The theme on Good Mourning is: Life is precarious - let's dance! His lyrics are not only clever but astute, with sophisticated humor content running deep beneath the surface level: lyrical narratives that support the word play (as in Good Mourning). Grammar and semantics - hmm, what are these guys, former school teachers? Yep. I sent a writing sample to the lab for humor analysis and found only trace amounts of irony and cynicism. That's a good thing; there's enough of that going around. But it's his deadpan observations of everyday, stranger-than-fiction, life events that carry the mail here. To wit, the sailboat episode in the final verse of Life and Love is a hoot. Not conventionally funny, but the line "...how much would a sailboat like that cost?" is delivered in a droll, pragmatic, spider-to-fly manner, a subterfuge that validates the rest of the enigmatic tale. I smiled out loud. Then again, the tide goes out and the wind dies down before the protagonist sets sail. OK, that's ironic. But he sails away, crying. That's poignant. These songs convey life with - if not a sword-like pen, then at least a letter opener and a disciplined indifference to any logical premises that might muck up a good scenario.

Tacoma Narrows, a NYC based band, taps into traditional folk and old-time country music, infusing the admixture with a pop-rocking dose of big city adrenaline. They've been around the block. The music is tight but flexible, wistful but wired. My toes are totally tappin' to it. This remarkable first offering sets the bar encouragingly high. The making of this album was an odyssey from which emerged a band of truly professional recording artists as well as live performers, Tacoma Narrows with Good Mourning have a runaway hit.

Gary Peterson



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Michael Henderson - author link
I read A Beast In Venice: A Novel by Michael E. Henderson. I found it disturbing, but that only means that horror fans will likely enjoy it. Sadists, cannibals and sanguinarians will eat it up. Due to my own aversions to blood-letting and torture, I had to read A Beast In Venice as if it was a dark--the darkest--comedy, a sort of Dante's Inferno with cellphones and cocktail parties.

The tale is a character study of not only the reluctant protagonist, Brigham Stone, an iconoclastic artist and American expatriate, but also a portrait of the illustrious city of Venice, Italy where he lives. Through an indulgent literary device allowing for time-travel, the time frame can shift at will by leaps of centuries (via a portal disguised as a brick wall) adding a historical dimension to the story. I applaud the atmospheric backdrop that the author conveys in this eerie narrative, the brooding, tempestuous aesthetic of the architecture, the cobblestones and misty visions of the ages, while the masquerading denizens populating the background lend to the dark carnival of debauchery laid bare throughout the story.

Henderson serves up a fresh scourge to humanity with the introduction of a new strain of ghoulish humanoids called shroud eaters that return from a plague-riddled past to live and thrive undetected among mortals. Given today's interest in all things zombie/vampire etc., shroud eaters could be the next big thing in this genre. In the new pecking order of evil action figures, suffice to say that shroud eaters eat vampires for breakfast.

In this story, the chief shroud eaters happen to be art dealers. Hmm, I wonder if author Michael Henderson, also a painter (see art review below), modeled these characters on certain real-life people? His alter-ego, Brigham Stone, seems to hold even more contempt for art patrons and critics than he has for the general public. But then, as Jean Paul Sartre once said, "Hell is other people." I get that. And speaking of philosophers (which would likely cause Brigham Stone to scoff--"gibberish," he'd say), it's understandable that Henderson invokes the name of (Arthur) Schopenhauer in the story considering that he was one to proclaim that the human will to survive is the driving force in a Godless world. I think Hegel's philosophy of history would also speak to the time-shifting aspect of this story, but that's just me saying that I read a lot of philosophy and not much Stephen King.

Despite the story line that chronicles an evil underworld of moral depravity and allows for supernatural phenomena like wormholes in the time-space continuum as a cover for stalking human prey, I detected a lack of consideration, indeed an undertone of disdain, for any concept of a benevolent, merciful God in a city that has a church on every corner of every square. Yet, the struggle between eternal damnation versus salvation in this story borrows heavily from tenets of Christianity while the glory and splendor that is the legacy of each saint and cathedral is subsumed by murder and intrigue. Furthermore, the main character, Brigham, frequently communes with Pink Jesus--an ersatz prophet-oracle-hallucination in the form of a painting on canvas, and also becomes "born again" in a seamy parallel to Christian dogma. Despite the dalliances with the supernatural, the narrative remains decidedly existentialist with the moral of the story seemingly that mankind is inherently evil and the best one can hope for is to break even. Che cosa un dolore!

On the surface, Henderson's writing style flows nicely, very readable and captivating (or kidnapping in this case). I did, however, find the distinction between the words of the narrator and those of Brigham Stone to be a tad blurry. Quotation marks aside, their voices seemed to be interchangeable and hard to distinguish in difference. A less opinionated and more objective narration would heighten the impact of Brigham's colorfully belligerent mannerisms and sardonic asides. Nevertheless, his reluctance (he didn't sell his soul for immortality, it was stolen) and an un-holier-than-thou attitude pervades throughout.

The deadpan comedy of understated atrocities continue in casual fashion as when--having Brigham beaten by his goons--Charles politely comments, "You don't look good. You eating right?" In turn, Brigham's nonchalant bravado has a desensitizing effect on my revulsion as he pours wine for his nemesis after withstanding said beating. Understated humor abounds as when violent death merely "piques the interest" of the police, or while someone does "housekeeping" on a bloody mess. The scenario that has Brigham sitting on a couch with gal-pal Gloria, essentially drinking her blood through a straw, reminded me of another benchmark of depravity, Thomas Pynchon's novel, Gravity's Rainbow.

Meanwhile, the writing here is also descriptive and realistic enough in detail, that I was annoyed--just like in real life--when Brigham was always munching, chewing, sipping and slurping (the best) coffees, wines, and gin while I was trying to read what he was saying. In the vein of Earnest Hemingway's movable feast, these affected characters are also gourmands of sort, not to mention classical music aficionados--not that such refinement vindicates their unsavory nature. But then again, Brigham admits that music can make him cry, which is indeed what great music can do to a man with a soul. In the end, after he has rejoined us mortals, Brigham serves up a banquet of tongue-in-cheek with a platter of meat in the epilogue.

This tome seems as much a celebration of the dark side than one of redemption. To me, the casual air that accompanies each atrocity is even more unsettling than the heinous acts themselves. At one point I imagined Bobby Darin singing, "Mack The Knife" in the background. Still, A Beast In Venice did serve to spark this philosophic rant of my own and that is cathartic. The question any patron of the arts should ask when enjoying the work of a favorite author or painter is: Where the hell has that pen or paint brush been?

Gary Peterson



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Kevin Callahan - artist link
Artist Kevin Callahan's acrylic painting entitled "Let The Good Times Roll--New Orleans" is a well-conceived figurative study. The flatness of the picture plane takes one small step towards abstraction, somewhat reminiscent of the stylized work of Alex Katz. The main figure - a ubiquitous street performer like those seen strumming acoustic guitars the world over - is intermingled with the background. The three tourists passing by in the background lend a hilarious sub-text to the composition. These three square pegs steal the show. Cropped to perfection - headless - I expect that they are probably all looking at the blues-playing busker as they sneak past on their way to find a souvenir store to buy some mojo.

Alternating light and dark values define the guitar player's silhouette, otherwise camouflaged by the similarly colored figures reiterated in the background. Figure and ground are visually resolved only by a slightly reduced scale and perspective of the tourists marching across the frame towards the left in counterpoint to the stationary, right-facing guitarist. This gives the viewer's visual cortex a satisfying workout. Meanwhile, I get the sense that this trio of lock-step passer-bys still manage to bump into each other.

Callahan's tight draftsmanship has the perfectly proportioned fret board of the guitar accurately joined to the body at the 14th fret which suggests that this rendering may be based on a photograph, in which case the perspective would indicate a 80 or 100mm lens. The wrought iron fence resonates (visually) with the guitar fret board. The slight skew puts them just far enough out of tune to make it close enough for jazz.

The unusual border cropping accommodates a path for the three pedestrians as much as elbow room for the star of the show (who appears to be humming, whistling, or just absorbed in his work). I imagine his open guitar case, just out of the picture, filled with coins and crumpled bills. The guy probably makes more than me.

The diffused lighting suggests a humid atmosphere and keeps the contrast values low. The color scheme is non-critical but consistent - somewhere in a range between bayou blue and willow green. The warm-colored soundboard is appropriately vibrant amidst the cool surroundings as the musician (with his studio tan and perfectly flexed arm) thumps out his New Orleans boogie-woogie bass line. All in all this is a very entertaining piece indeed. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Gary Peterson



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Dale Witherow - artist link
Washington state artist Dale Witherow's abstract art dances on the borderline between landscape and mindscape. His works are luminous maps of rarefied terrains, seas, and skys, and the spiritual objects that they harbor. These paintings connect the viewer to the expansive spaces that they portray.

In his work "Centered Circle" Witherow demonstrates the efficacy of simple geometry, proving that the eye goes to the strongest link when there are no weak ones to be seen. The implied forms and artifacts in these acrylic paintings often tease the boundaries of his canvasses, prodding and receding at will.

In "Quiet Tropics," a ghostly grisaille of Mayan motifs puts its cultural impression on the mysterious botanicals as it overlays the warm, marbleized background.

The work entitled "Red White and Very Blue" reveals the subtle nuance of the artist's intent and process, giving the viewer a sense of clairvoyance. This hierarchal schematic evokes, at once, both sea and shore or desert and sky, while "Celestial Navigations" (shown here) seems to codify some ancient objects of time keeping and space travel: clocks and calendars and compasses all etched in the figure and ground of terra firma and the universe that contains it.

"Silent Barking Dog" is gestural to a fine degree. I'm reminded of the works of Cy Twombley. It depicts the visual remnants of sounds that never were. The lines are ensconced in a solid wall of radiant color. I prefer Witherow's earthy palettes to some of his more pastel hues. Again the border cropping in this piece is masterful.

There is a diagram - a map to the remains of a dead horse in the desert. O.K., that's my interpretation but "Olfactory Stimulus" seems like an aerial survey of some plat of land. Witherow attributes Francis Bacon as an influence on this one but I'd say it's more like the work of his contemporary, Dan Namingha - that is, less hallucinogenic and more enchanted. This southwest mesa-top vision plays on the threshold of recognition in a way that's as emblematic as it is symbolic. The bordering sky is as deep as space itself.

Resonance is a fitting term with Witherow's oeuvre - a vast and worthy body of works. It rides on a wavelength the amplitude of which straddles representation at the moment abstraction. His are works that evoke the visions of lucid twilight sleep when everything essential presents itself to the mind's eye and the dreams become those that we can't wait to get back to.

Gary Peterson



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Tony Murray - artist link
One of Tony Murray's favorite materials is copper tubing. He works it into various sculptural forms, a malleable world populated by the cast, turned, bent, and knurled members of his tubular civilization.

The Gem Seeker is a site-specific piece that compliments the patio on which it is seen. Way more than lawn sculpture, it's an elegant transfiguration of honest materials into a resourceful allegory by an idiosyncratic artist. The work is linear and fluid: an anthropomorphic figure with tubular limbs joined by aluminum blocks precisely milled by a tinker possessed with an other-worldly vision.

Each arm is grasping a facetted quartz crystal while The Gem Seeker's head is tilted ever so slightly to examine the geodes for supernatural properties in the light of the day. This personified fixture has discovered an Apollinus-class gemstone, or it's sparking up energy in the thermo-coupling that sprouts from its cap. Perhaps he's just setting the atomic frequency of his quartz clock.

The Gem Seeker is philosophic in character, symbolizing the utilitarian principles of Mill or Bentham. He is the unassuming figurehead of Tongue-in-Cheekville, imbued with a wry, as opposed to dry, sense of humor. This is plumbing after all and I suspect that Tony is a guy who could achieve cold fusion in the kitchen sink just to power the dishwasher. If those crystals are piezoelectric then I'm tuned in to his wavelength.

Gary Peterson



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Todd Peterson - artist link
Todd Peterson could be a cartoonist if his fine art sensibilities weren't so keen. As it is, his works cross the humor-aesthetic divide and land near the camp of Neo-Expressionist artists the likes of Philip Guston or maybe the Cynical Realist, Yue Minjun.

These particular works of Peterson are visual puns, their intentions clear and execution masterful. It's a madcap world, rendered in crayon, with colors and textures as effervescent as the brew swilled from a stubby-neck bottle in "Ole Knocks Back a Cool One."

If the piece "Artists had a Picnic" isn't exactly Manet's "Le déjeuner sur l'herbe," Peterson's composition of curiously clad bohemians does serve as a backdrop for a splatter-fest of ketchup and mustard. Later that evening, perhaps, pen and ink is the perfect medium to portray the festively figurative "Momma Did the Moon Dance," a rhythmic and lyrical piece in which the silver orb reverberates throughout the picture turning even the casual onlookers into participants in this moon-maiden scenario.

"The Persistence of Childhood Memories" conveys the surrealistic wonderment of a child with a Salvador Dali dolly. This theme recurs in "Master of Ceremonies" where a magician conjures up spectacular proof that he is not only a legend in his own mind, but in the viewer's mind as well. It is cheesy, brassy, and fun as all get out. A darkly decorative piece then develops out of the nervous hatchings of Todd Peterson's pen in the form of "Mutant Easter Bunnies in Limbo." These fecund symbols of fertility are somewhat intergalactic in character suggesting a serious but amusing warp in the fabric of the universe. The view is cracked but the eggs are all in tact.

The unlikely juxtaposition of a snowman and a dragon entwine in the large drawing entitled "Ever Have One of Those Days?" It's a comical nightmare no more disturbing than Saturday morning cartoons. And speaking of waking up, the man sawing Zs in "Grandpa and the Spiders" is oblivious to his predicament in this off-color (with the volume turned up) depiction of a dance party of spiders the size of potted ferns hanging from the ceiling.

The setting of "The Curious Case of Dorothy Gale" reminds me of Van Gogh's feverish bedroom, only painted lavender. The irony here is poignant as an aged Dorothy acquiesces while the Land of Oz still looms over the horizon.

On a final Van Gogh note, "Vincent and the Asparagus" is a well-balanced composition: a poetic spoof of the master from Arles. But the golden light in which sunflowers flourish also nourishes a taste for asparagus and frosted donuts in this light-hearted indictment of the art world as perceived - and expertly rendered - by Todd Peterson.

Gary Peterson



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Todd Peterson - artist link
The art of Todd Peterson has many facets. It is his deductive process that is evident in this sampling of work where intuition takes over as he coaxes a visual concept to fruition. With his painterly drawing style he masterfully works out images with humor, sentiment, and pathos.

These works range from an alarmingly distraught portrait like "Vail of Tears" to the ecstatic submersion of a moonlit face in the nebulous halo of dreamlike tresses that is "Morpheus Embrace." The same spirituality imbues the work "Ascension," a close up of a man, perhaps the face of mankind, in a perspective view that draws the eye, as well as the subject, upwards towards a vanishing point in the heavens. "Threshold" is like twilight sleep, a lucid reverie in alternating light and dark values from a color palette of both dusk and dawn.

A soundtrack to these images might include Leonard Cohen-like lyrics, but also the soulful sounds of abstract expressions like the music of Sonny Rollins. Todd Peterson's iconic treatment of that jazz legend is an up-close and personal portrait in smoky tones of color and texture. As the tight-lipped musician honks the be-bop out of his tenor sax, his white whiskers imply wisdom and experience through Peterson's draftsman-like touch.

In a demonstration of the creative process, his "Artist at Work" painting calms an acid flashback-like visage down to a harmonious composition of facial features and the fingers that seem to be holding the pose in place. In a more figurative piece, the nearly abstract "Long Goodbye" echoes the upper torso contours of a man and woman resigned to some inevitable separation of body and soul, the vacuum being filled by a maelstrom of cosmic dust and theatric props while the figures swirl into the bittersweet background of color and light.

The scrawled outlines and modeled highlights of "She" is poignant, reminding me of Matisse. The prominent contour of her shoulder and neck informs the other curves creating a flowing sonata of the female form. In another piece, stark strokes and gouges of red on a black and white tome to "Ahab" portray that sense of distress you feel when intimately lashed to a killer whale for the ride of your life.

A fitting finale to this opus of Peterson's work is "She Talks to Angels." This lovely, if glib, portrait has the rhythm and harmony of line, color, and composition that I've come to expect from Todd Peterson. The picture is figurative and narrative: a woman in casual conversation awaiting a reply - quite likely praise for the artist who rendered her.

Gary Peterson



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Michael Henderson - artist link
Michael Henderson left his law practice in America to pursue his artistic muse in Venice Italy. The move was as daring as the abstracts he paints. The art world is glad.

Henderson's works are highly introspective due perhaps to his six years of naval service on a submarine, a challenging place to keeping one’s aesthetic sensibilities intact. His uncanny sense of color and form may have developed while maintaining his artistic equilibrium beneath the waves. His images are characteristically buoyant.

Now he is immersed in the exotic milieu of Venice and it reverberates from his canvasses, abstract visual dialogs that shimmer, glide, or take flight like birds in a piazza. They are mirthful yet reverent, sometimes playful but never frivolous. They luminesce like Venetian glass.

Michael Henderson's artwork exudes emotion well-tempered with intelligence. His paintings are in a noumenal world of their own. In "Immerhin Schoen," enmeshed figures test the threshold of meaning like the crystal ball ensconced in a structure of enigmatic symbols and words scrawled on the surface of this piece.

In Composition #10 the interplay of reds and blues set the stage for a smidgeon of teal to steal the show. The compartmentalized geometry compels the viewer's eye as the paint strokes culminate in the artist's signature. Similarly, "Abstract with Black Date," is like an oceanographic section. An exposed island of text dissolves beneath the surface as if seen through a diving mask or a periscope.

Composition #11 is a masterful maelstrom of color. Energized streaks of warm reds advance while the cool blues recede in a swirl beyond. A small white circle searches for the center of the hurricane. This joyous riot imparts an unexpectedly calming effect on the viewer.

"Black & Tan #1" is a monochromatic construction in shades of rust. Dripping paint succumbs to gravity as it migrates away from the light. I'm reminded of a milkweed or a ball of exuberant cotton extracted from the linen surface of the picture plane. The figure in Black & Yellow Abstract is a bit more structured --maybe a beehive or birdhouse.

"My Garden in Venice" shows a semblance of the real world with sky, sea, and terra firma supporting the smattering of color that flourishes in the warm Venetian sun and a cool Adriatic breeze. "Woman in Red" is a reductive portrait more suggestive than figurative. I see a woman ambling along the canals and bridges of Venice. (I also hear the rhythmic clicking of high heels but I could be mistaken there).

The Untitled piece has shades and tints of ochre and cerulean and terra cotta. This image presents the highly distilled elements of Henderson's visual idiom: the geometry, the self-containment, the point-source lighting, and the gestural lines which in this case have an Oriental flare. His brushstrokes are poetic.

Michael Henderson's work is easy to look at yet meticulous in its execution. His style is consistent, distinctive, and wholly satisfying.

Gary Peterson



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Michelle Spiziri - artist link
Fine artist Michelle Spiziri paints in a style somewhere between Figurative Expressionism and Whimsical Realism. Her works are character studies of people, animals, and exaggerated figments of both. Her color palette has a Fauvist streak running through it as in her work "Two Horses #2." She has affection for animals and a soft spot for the needy. The dog in "I See Spots" is pathetic bordering on laughable with eyes that would seem quizzical if they weren't so bewildered. He's lovable.

Spiziri's color control in the portrait of "A Friend" is comparable to, say, Philip Pearlstein or Lucian Freud--but with a healthy glow. The artist demonstrates her mastery of line and form in narratives like "Nightmare" or the Francis Bacon-like meltdown entitled "Birth Then Death," as well as in the abstract drawings of "Section Segment Sequences" and the thinly veiled eroticism of "Taking a Nap." In "Enabling," a linear scrawl defines this curious organic entanglement between two lovers and "Figure Study" is an aperçu of exquisitely fluid lines.

I particularly like the images styled after the work of Amedeo Modigliani. The sensuality is profuse in Michelle's "Portrait of a Girl." Her soulful eyes cut right through me. Similarly, "Mary Rose" is limpid and pale and starkly beautiful.

These pictures lead directly to the development and evolution of Michelle Spiziri's "circle heads," the acrylic painted personalities that embody pure emotion and fill numerous small scale canvasses. These characters have a childlike innocence imbued with adult sensibilities. They populate a world that is playful, painful, solemn and hopeful, a place where fairy tales come to grips with reality. They are naïve but dauntless like "Best Friends" - plus, they are good at balancing their big heads in the picture frame. They remind me of Zeng Jianyong's "Headers" but more informed; they are and as big-eyed as Margaret Keane"s waifs without the sugary sentiment (although Spiziri's circle heads are as fun as a box of frosted cupcakes). If "Roxie Box's" green eyes are more sad than soulful, then "Teenie Weenie" will cheer her up.

Here's a fancy word: Physiognomy. Michelle Spirizi's artwork lets the viewer read the minds of these colorful caricatures through their facial expressions and their posturing - sometimes poised like "Lulu" and sometimes awkward like a "Kiss on the Nose." Their hand and arm gestures, precisely configured in context of each frame, are like semaphores conveying tacit messages. They animate their stories as well as any rapper or the hula girl.

In "Peek-A-Boo" a simple gesture elicits big smiles. The flow, rhythm, and precision are precariously perfect. In "Day Dreamer" an arm balances the head to accommodate a reverie, and the hands in "Mimi Heartache" could win an Oscar for their supporting role.

All in all, these works are incarnations of Michelle Spiziri's own indomitable personality. They are sad and joyful, poignant and sophisticated. We can all identify with "The Friendless Boy" who glibly aches for one good friend, but it's comforting to know that if Michelle can't always be there for you, she'll invent someone who can and will.

Gary Peterson



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SACHA Circulism - artist link
SACHA's still-lifes are poetic and his figurative art, anecdotal. They are self-aware delineations with a unique formal aesthetic owing to his meticulous method of tinting and shading the painted surfaces by etching circles with a toothpick or nail: Circulism. These orbital reverberations impart a harmonious molecular frisson in the eye of the beholder.

His images are like idealized specimens in a natural history museum, vignettes of life displayed in comfortable picture-planes. There are no loose ends in these well-balanced compositions. Both emblematic and decorative, they are each a tightly choreographed narrative, an existential play in which the viewer becomes viewed. Spanish in character, SACHA's images remind me somewhat of Fernando Botero's work without the steroids, or a pre-Cubist Picasso.

The colors are vibrant yet earthy and natural overall, although the sky blue skin of the "Woman With Raised Arms" glows in unexpected shades of moonlight as the oblique map of her body spreads across the canvas. "Woman Embracing Bull" and "Woman with Vase" also layer the pictorial elements with a natural sense of proportion and scale despite some adventurous contortion of limbs. The strength of these characters is in their form while the facial features evoke a style somewhere between Dali, Modigliani, and Peter Max.

Be fruitful and multiply. "Lover with Fetus" has élan vital. It exudes a youthful exuberance, the ripe fruit of the loins rendered so tightly that you can feel all three hearts beating. With the visual sonority of a finely tuned drum, it is an intimate ode to parenthood, serene and sedate but imbued with a palpable sense of animal instinct. The soft lighting effect of SACHA Circulism creates the illusion of exquisitely sculpted spaces.

The still-life paintings of fruit and flowers also have that pervading quality: a circular motion that resonates through each level from the basic forms to the undulating surfaces of the vessels and decorative backgrounds.

"Pears and Pears" conveys a sense of gravity. Although motion is not implied in this picture, there is a sensuous tension, the seductive pull of the earth. A fresh, hydrated vitality exudes from each canvas. Whether animal or vegetable, the figures in this series are slightly erotic and completely organic: No artificial preservatives added.

Meanwhile, the main figures in these artworks may intertwine, but not with the ground. In "Suffering Bonsai" the immaculate design and execution of the well-manicured leaves that adorn the background has the upstaged Bonsai tree contemplating a sober alternative: suicide. It is a visual witticism that suggests a nurturing hand that cannot seem to primp and prune the subject up to the lofty ideals of beauty and perfection that we've come to expect in the artwork of SACHA. Someone tell the despondent tree that I vote it the "best of show" before it's too late.

Gary Peterson



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Angel Matamoros - artist link
The articulated surfaces in Angel Matamoros' painting, "Rue St. Philip" suggest the slate, stucco, and weathered wood of Creole cottages in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The subtly delineated color fields are plumb and square, perhaps doors and shutters. A humid mist of diffuse sunlight implies cool shade behind the picture plane. The faint borderline between the burnt orange and amber compels my eye. Its left-hand turn adds counterbalance to the vertical dominance, giving the colorful forms a new sense of direction and magnitude beyond the proportions of the canvas. Such minimalism requires nuance, gesture, and a mathematically precise intuition. Matamoros has all of those bases covered.

The historic plaque in "Calle D Borbon" plays a formal role in this rectilinear composition, balancing its bright orange vertical counterpart while providing an anchor overall. The semiotics of its text engages the viewer's cognitive faculties despite the urgency of the fiery orange plume above it. Ragged flares interlace the edges of the color blocks - not unlike an aerial map of the Louisiana delta - as the orange consumes the rich and fertile darkness. The depth, warmth, and potency of these colors are enhanced by Angel Matamoros' craftsmanship, evoking a sense of weathered resistance to time in the distressed glaze of the surfaces. The deep pigments disperse colored light, whereas the loud, lively orange radiates its own heat like the celebrated nightlife of the French Quarter that resonates around every corner of this compelling canvas.

With its warm character distilled from the environs of southern Spain, "Madre Patria I" is as representational as Matamoros gets in this series of paintings. There is a sense of vastness as the eye penetrates the atmospheric depth beyond the sunny golden sidebar in the foreground and the warm cloudy radiance of sky above the horizon line. A regiment of small magenta squares gain pillow-like volume as they rise to extract color from the sky. These square pills rise above the horizon while floating on the same plane as the golden pillar that holds the picture plumb. That column of light stops just short of the horizon allowing the eye to traverse the entire width of the picture giving the viewer a distinct perspective relative to the vertical markers. The golden back painting visible beneath the scratches and scrawls of the mottled surface, gives a vital translucent frisson to this splendid work.

Angel Matamoros lends his fine sense of harmony and proportion to the color fields in his paintings. He instills a spiritual essence that persuades even disparate elements, edgy or diffuse, into blissful coexistence.

Gary Peterson



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Lorraine Roy - artist link
Textile artist extraordinaire Lorraine Roy loves nature and understands geology. She gives the majestic landscapes portrayed in her Escarpment Series of wall hangings a decorative element that celebrates the quilt-like nature of metamorphic rock with a visual inventiveness that is unique to her fabrications. This is not mere handicraft, it is fine art.

Roy uses her color palette as deftly as any painter, sometimes blending snips and twists of fabric in a transparent envelope to affect the luminance of the sky. The needlework, the stitching and flourishes of thread, has an élan vital as strong as any line work drawn by the hand of, say, Matisse or Klimt. Even the occasional swatches of printed patterns are perfectly suited to the compositions. The delicate embroidery of a flower is as stunning as if one stumbled across it while actually scaling those treacherous cliffs.

She shows a reverence for nature reminiscent of Oriental traditions. Each work conveys a sense of gravity yet uplifts the spirits to lofty heights. The surfaces are soft, even sensuous, in their rugged and ragged beauty. Light values are used to great effect. One feels the life forces in the terra firma and rarefied air surrounding the tree tops silhouetted in the bright heavens. These are artistic cross-sections of the ecosystem. Colorful strands of roots cling to the treacherous landscapes, penetrating the exposed strata of rock for nutrients, tenacious in their purpose as beadlike molecules fill the crags. Taproots meet bedrock. This distinctive X-ray vision is a trademark of Lorraine Roy's work: The roots get equal billing to the crown. These fabri-scapes are like fine wine for the eye.

There's a precarious balance between monolithic entrenchment and static cling in these spellbinding vignettes. Timeless echoes are muffled in the delicate hardscrabble of these cotton twill canyons. If I could walk along these patchwork escarpments, I might be compelled to hurl myself over the edge, and happily so.

Gary Peterson



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Scott Alcorn - artist link
To artistically render the watery surface of a duck pond is a triple whammy: Submerged objects must show through the reflected sky on a fluid picture plane. It's an exercise that combines representational painting skills with abstraction. Add to that the portrait of a bird dog with expressive nuances like a big black nose, sparkling eyes, and bracing cold water splashed on a furry brow as it fetches a practice duck, all faithfully portrayed with meticulously fine brushwork that shimmers with the same tireless exuberance and sunny disposition of a Labrador Retriever doing its thing, and you've got the painted masterwork, "Training Days II" by Scott Alcorn.

Gary Peterson



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Ronald Eller - artist link
Ronald Eller elevates graphic art to fine art. He is a master computer artist who manages to avoid the banality of Photoshop-ism. His forte is layout: visual constructions that go beyond push-button deductions. He could arrange bottle caps on a placemat and still wow the senses.

"Art Is" does look deliberately commercial, like a brochure – synthetic and typographic. The flash of gold and gemstones are value-added clichés of quality with a seductive lure of "branding" - in this case a clinic on the Chuck Close aesthetic.

Eller's style is iconic-ironic in "In Circles We Go," another elegy to corporate culture with an institutional bent: a flow chart with his trademark lexicon of primitive and classical imagery including a recurring comi-tragic mask. This piece would look good on a museum wall or the information kiosk.

In "Sport" the sound of a starter's pistol translates visually like a muzzle flash with the implied projectile being the fleet feet of track runners in the bright center stratum of the picture accentuated by the cylindrical shading of the adjacent graphic panels and punctuated by a controversial image from the '68 Olympic Games. Eller's strength is in the visual language of his narratives even if a bit esoteric in their translation. His work has an affinity with the appropriations of Robert Rauschenberg.

Many of Eller's pieces have the "tubular" feel of Fernand Leger. "Fermentation" is a cut-and-paste manipulation par excellence with color saturated 3D graphics and enigmatic slogans nestled in calculated compartments of negative space between the grotesquely exaggerated icons of feminist anima.

"Them" is powerful in its nuance of divergence. The slightly off-kilter background compensates the book-matched symmetry of the sculpted stone faces which consist, eerily, of four identical halves of the same face. A bronze-aged luster and a silver and gold luminosity make the ambiguous countercurrents seem ever more urgent behind this stereoscopic subterfuge.

The photograph "Modern Monna" is a soft-lens irony in the vein of Richard Prince's work but less cynical. It's a candid shot, a reiteration of Mona Lisa's obstinate stance by an art patron who apparently doesn't subscribe to the DaVinci Code. Perfectly cropped, there is a glint of magenta light that reflects almost imperceptibly in the stone background. It's an anecdotal and highly satisfying composition.

In his oil painting "Communion," symbolism takes a back seat to formalism; there is no transubstantiation, only intoxication. The alternating Gestalt of light and dark of this compartmentalized confessional booth echoes with the wisdom of staying in one's own comfort zone. The concoction is in that chalice has rocking-horse people seeing chemical symbols that morph into the camouflage of printed circuitry.

"Silhouette" is a flickering film clip projected onto the visual cortex of Ronald Eller's brain; the isomorphic sense data of stimuli reverberating from an external world which is in turn a sequence of celluloid images and sound bites, the fundamental mode of which is perfectly tuned to its visual harmonics: the kind of cerebral calisthenics that make his work challenging.

Gary Peterson



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Jason Gilmore - artist link
Something Borrowed--a film by Jason Gilmore

This eleven minute film is a quick-sketch in which an unassuming ladies man (Jaimyon Parker) gets his come-uppance in a series of anxious and amusing moments. The opening scene sets the tone, if not style, with a touchy but negotiable conflict between the young lothario and one of his many former girlfriends. When she sees a wedding ring meant for someone else, she clocks him with her purse.

When he comes to, the scenery has upgraded from urban alley to sunny beachscape where we meet another former woman of his desire. At this point in the film, the humor dial is already set to droll and a stark but pleasant juxtaposition occurs when the white noise of the seashore cuts to a quiet interlude in the bedroom.

In the third vignette, still another girl causes the beleaguered leading man to talk directly to the audience - a well-worn device of late but used to good effect here. Meanwhile, a jazzy bossa nova soundtrack provides an almost comic relief to some soul-baring sentiments.

A religion-tinged dialog with jilted girl number four in a church sets up the flashback to a shower scene, a devilishly delightful outtake that prompts the man to opine, "This has been - awkward." A further quirky encounter on a playground reminds us that life is a work in progress, one that can jump the tracks - even back to the fourth grade.

As his memories pile up against his will, the whole host of former lovers appears while the star-crossed bachelor pops the question to his current dearly beloved. But the girl has her own baggage, that is to say boyfriends, to check in with (screenwriter Jason Gilmore makes a cameo appearance) and they unceremoniously pass judgment on the man’s proposal. It's an ironic but charming coup de grace that leaves the audience hopeful, yet pondering the odds that the couple will find matrimonial bliss

Gary Peterson



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Mike Enns - artist link
Pipe Wrench Blues--a film by Mike Enns

Recalling that Mike Enns had asked to use my music in a short film last summer, I searched for the resultant video and - voila! It's a curious but fun visual narrative in two acts - one in the kitchen and then a below-the-scene exposé of its sound track.

I called the guitar tune Pipe Wrench Blues because I recorded the solo rendition while at my workbench and then grabbed the handiest visual prop as a rather obtuse premise for my musical offering.

Well, one non sequitur deserves another. Enns and company gave new cause to that random effect by preparing some food for thought in the filmed pans and perspectives that progress handily with the musical accompaniment. That artistic breakfast tableau has an almost Alfred Hitchcock-like quality - sans any dark portents or overtones, or pipe wrenches for that matter - as it pours steadily through the lens. It transforms a routine event, breakfast, into something more ritualistic, an appetizing if benign visual composition with no ulterior motive or even a logical conclusion save for the given pipe wrench directive. Did the man finished his meal or go to see what he heard in the basement? No matter. It's the visual idiom - the depth of field and comfortable ambience of a tidy domicile - from which the compelling imagery flows in Enns' distinctive style.

I was surprised to see my own mug hamming it up in the end frame, but happy to play a role in this creative juxtaposition. This breakfast menu/musical blend can be expressed in a word: Tasty!

Gary Peterson



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Ralph Levesque - artist link
Ralph Levesque can extract an organic essence from most any man-made artifact to reveal its aesthetic purpose. He favors substance over appearance, and yet the natural resonances of his visual constructs radiate harmoniously to please the eye. These crystallized visual remnants convey a consistent, if weathered, world view of the fundamental order and occasional symmetry of objects, events and properties. He just knows how to look at things.

Some of Levesque's compositions are emblematic, as if commemorating their own existence. Others are abstract images on the threshold of recognition, richly textured surfaces that compel the viewer to ponder the phenomenology of being and objective reality itself. There is a latent symmetry in the visual elements whether they seem to be coalescing or drifting apart. Sometimes the figure and ground combine to form a consistent, industrial strength background noise. Levesque might treat colors as if they are transparent forces beamed onto the admixture of paint and earthly contaminants that enhance the texture of his surfaces like a corrosive acid bath.

The viewer becomes enveloped in the structural milieu of a Ralph Levesque composition, experiencing a profound sense of immersion that may dissipate when your eyes leave the picture plane. So take your time.

Gary Peterson



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Lorraine Riess - artist link
Lorraine Riess uses found objects and handmade materials to construct visual narratives: dream-schemes from which embossed paper figures, toy dolls, and other trinkets project her artistic vision in layered picture planes that give substance to fanciful ideations.

A social aspect pervades the memory traces woven into the fabric of Riess' scenarios, with an occasional handwritten message hidden in the parallax of these articulately composed vignettes. Fiber forms flow figuratively over wire mesh substrates like plaster over lathe creating formal visual dialogs between, say, shrouded torsos cast in thoughtfully orchestrated relationships. Figurines and lucky charms drift above a cerebral game-board while psychological undercurrents swirl in the shadows of architectural fixtures and repurposed ornaments.

Gravity is switched off but the well-oriented visual elements provide a sense of stability and serenity. Touches of pure color may diffuse in the ambience. The shadow-boxes themselves dictate visual boundaries, but the narrative contents of Riess' assemblages transcend their confines. Alpha-numeric symbols mysteriously recur in her work like encoded clues, instructions that lend order to disarray while an emotional aspect presides over the formal and symbolic elements all under the influence of Lorraine Riess' gentle sensibilities.

Gary Peterson



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Ronald Eller - artist link
Ronald Eller is an iconoclast of sorts; he is known to mock symbols of authority and the dogmas they entail. The irony is that his artworks are iconic in themselves, at least in a contemporary, computer-worldly way. They draw energy from alternating currents gapping in the spaces between sacred and profane. The fact that Ron is also a frustrated poet is easily reconciled by his brilliance as a visual artist in both digital and traditional mediums. Whereas philosopher Henri Bergson once mused about "the mechanical encrusted upon the living," Ron Eller's works parlay that symbiosis into a distinctive visual aesthetic. His fine art sensibilities were not lost on the graphic art and typography of his commercial background.

Still, I wonder why it is that all the great artists seem to be tormented souls. Not that you'd guess by looking at Eller's paintings - wondrous mindscapes that wander carefree somewhere between Madison Avenue and Utopia - that he feels anguish beyond his share of hardships and heartbreaks. No, you'd think his life was a lilting, laughing carnival ride, judging by the exuberance of his artwork. But, frankly, I suspect his art may be a surrogate for - if not a symptom of - drugs long since given up. It's a potent substitute. His images have a 3D quality, deep rich contextual visions, masterfully layered, magically interposed and, above all, luminescent. They are psychedelic visions possessed of geometric precision as well as a hand-sketched fluidity, like tattoos on warped space. And that's just the surfaces. The narratives they invoke, the deeper meanings, invite myriad interpretation, which brings me to Eller's literary indulgences.

Amidst the prose and free-verse poetry in these pages of Breakthroughs I&II, are some honest attempts at verbal insights from the artist himself about the accompanying images. But I would suggest that these texts are mostly a byproduct of his artistic process: mental exhaust from the internal combustion of his creative engine. His verse is obtuse, even obscure. Sentence fragments conspire in a sort of verbal impressionism. The essays proffer logic that ranges from fuzzy to convolute. But where his words echo with a sense of desperation and cynicism, the correlating images are joyous and inspired. If his words are carbon monoxide, then his images are nitrous oxide; they're a gas--a lot of fun. There is a Ron Eller print adorning a wall in my home and I assure you the vibes it gives off are positive, even uplifting. And that's one of the darker ones. Go figure.

Gary Peterson