Art: Review: Exodus/Elegy

Anthony Becker's work is pervaded with sorrow, countered by light

Jul 9, 2008 at 2:06 pm

With Exodus/Elegy, sculptor Anthony Becker meets the challenges of the difficult street-level space at the Weston Art Gallery in an exhibition well worth seeing.

Working with inexpensive brown paper more usually used by house painters as drop cloth, Becker transforms sweeps of it into suggestions of flocks of birds in flight. When the light is right, these pieces can make you catch your breath.

Unfortunately, in this space, the light isn't always right. Daylight is preferable, but direct sun is in short supply for a room facing northwest and hemmed in by tall brick buildings. Electric light has been cunningly placed to illuminate "Exodus" and "Turn and Wheel," the two pieces employing the brown paper, but it doesn't quite have the thrust of shifting natural light.

"Feathered Ladder," consisting of wooden ladders supporting each other and covered by delicate drawings of feathers, pale at top and darker at bottom, is an enigmatic structure, but nearby "Death Toll" is not enigmatic at all. Ninety-four drawings of dead birds, executed with delicate care in wax pastel, graphite, dry point or combinations of these media, are arranged on a grid in a poignant gathering that speaks more directly to the viewer than does the ladder construction. The relative strength of the pieces depends on whether you like art direct or oblique.

Becker tells us that Exodus/Elegy has its origins in a poem by Derek Walcott, in which "all the nations of birds" contribute to a moment when shadow is transformed into light. For me, the show is pervaded with sorrow as well, but pierced and countered by light.

In the Weston's downstairs galleries, Walter Zurko's elegant homage to the functional beauty of tools, piece work, is on view as well as Jeffrey Courtland Jones' remarkable new series of abstract paintings, Fundamentalism.