'Color' Outside the Lines at The Carnegie

It’d be tempting to turn a show titled Full of Color into a gimmick. Just present a lot of bright, happy paintings and watch the crowds come.

It’d be tempting to turn a show titled Full of Color into a gimmick. Just present a lot of bright, happy paintings and watch the crowds come.

But that would be too easy and, ultimately, boring. Thank goodness Bill Seitz, gallery director at Covington’s Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center, considered the full spectrum — not just various shades and saturations of color, but also different meanings of the word. Yes, there is an installation featuring every band of the rainbow, but that visual feast is more than meets the eye. There also are painters who explore shadows, twilight and dark corners of the mind. Plus, there’s color commentary, conveyed through text, painting and sculpture.

Visionaries & Voices, the nonprofit for artists with disabilities, has shattered expectations for years. So it’s fitting that the main gallery has been turned over to V&V to establish the show’s tone. There are bold strokes of color, but the artists also display amazing restraint, detail and thoughtfulness. Even when drawn only in black ink, their works have the impact of a red light — you must stop. How can Courttney Cooper create from memory such a huge, detailed map of Cincinnati?

Matt Distel, V&V’s executive director since September, is still surprised by the artists’ handling of supplies and color. “They’re super-precise with imprecise materials,” such as cardboard packaging and, in Cooper’s case, the backs of glued-together timesheets.   

Distel points to the “really formalized” color blocking from the artist known as John Nusekabel or Chuck Norris. He cuts paper into “very intentional” shapes before picking up markers to draw sharp rectangles, triangles and other geometric figures. Each work is titled according to the colors’ order. You wouldn’t mess with the real Chuck Norris, and this Chuck Norris doesn’t mess around with color. Each piece packs a punch.

Black, white, color and commentary come together in Victor Dambowsky’s “My Life Story.” Writing with a marker in cursive on a crisp, blank panel, Dambowsky recounts surgeries, deaths, doctors, jobs, likes and dislikes. At the bottom of the 48-by-60-inch work, a few stripes of yellow, orange and red paint suggest a peaceful sunset. As stream-of-consciousness as his writing is, Dambowsky’s minimal use of color appears to be anything but random.

Upstairs, Art Academy professor Christy Carr Schellhas delivers the full color suggested by the show’s title, but with some twists. Working with an unexpected medium, glycerin (as in soap), she’s arranged in rows on the floor 2,080 cylinders of various heights and colors. Each stands for a week of her life through age 40 and her level of happiness at the time. The tubes representing birth to around age 5 are clear and tall. The college and post-college years are brown, gray and low. Year 40 is clear again. It’s impossible not to connect with the work. “Finally, this is art I get,” exclaimed one man at the opening, snapping a photo. The project, Carr Schellhas says, sprang out of a sleep-deprived need to take a year off and examine her memory. Glycerin made sense as a material for a cleansing experience.

Also full of color, Suzanne Fisher’s mosaics make up a wonderland of circles and flowers. While pretty, they also feel pretty obvious, reinforcing the notion that an exhibit solely of bright colors eventually would burn itself out. 

For something darker, step into the night with David Hannon and Brian Martin, former classmates at Rhode Island School of Design. Both paint altered versions of suburbia that toy with memory and perception. 

Hannon depicts himself in moody, cinematic twilight stories filled with shadows, shafts of light and looming clouds. Color guides the viewer to clues about what’s going on — often some mischief and loss of innocence or trust. Martin’s luminous color is more exaggerated, in the way that photographer William Eggleston used supersaturation to elevate the ordinary. Martin both celebrates and satirizes the American Dream. A glowing plastic snowman and a bug zapper are manufactured sources of warmth in mostly barren backyards.

Art needn’t be full of color to be appreciated, but it can draw a blank stare when empty of context. Sculptor Derek Reeverts’ small, solitary self-portraits examining human foibles are not easy to interpret. Why is his torso a teapot? You’ll get some of the realistic/fantasy figures; others you won’t. But given the alternative, it’s all right to leave Full of Color full of questions.

FULL OF COLOR is on display through June 22 at The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington. www.thecarnegie.com.

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