Birds, Photos and 'Other Things'

Three coinciding Weston Gallery exhibits take guests on a visual journey

Apr 17, 2012 at 9:54 am


f you are an orderly person, your first stop on descending the stairs to see the current installations in the Weston Art Gallery’s lower rooms will be the tiny viewing area just to the right of the staircase. There, Clara Crockett’s “Theatre Lilliputiens,” five brief films with a total running time of 20 minutes, prepare us for the world of her small, meticulous drawings. These films are the Other Things in the title of Clara and Alan Crockett’s joint show, Painting, Drawings and Other Things, one of three exhibitions at the Weston through June 3

The drawings themselves, often tricked out with tiny three-dimensional additions, are in the room beyond, along with Alan Crockett’s expansive canvases. This artist couple appears to work the opposite ends of creative thought: not only small vs. large, but also generous color vs. little or no color; abstract vs. figural; let’s have some fun vs. let’s think this over. In fact, they provide a neat counterpoint to one another and each expands the other. This is the first time they have shown together. I should think it won’t be the last.

One of Clara Crockett’s films, “Chew,” shows her in the surprising process of creating one of her puppets, which she describes as “a mold of one’s being.” What she does is chew a material that comes in thin sheets, her eyes moving thoughtfully and her head nodding as she does so, until the material has become a blob that may be shaped as desired. By linking several blobs with thread a puppet is born. We see the puppets in action only in the films — as adjuncts to the drawings they are fixed in place. Her artist’s statement describes her drawings as “a small stage where the performance evokes unlikely encounters, surprising relationships and tragicomic participation.” They invite close and thoughtful attention. There are repeating characters, including a dog, and certain unexpected ends as in a drawing showing a back-flipping human become a dog. 

Alan Crockett’s abstract paintings almost seem in movement and on the verge of tangible subject matter. Something close to being a wheel turns up in various modes — perhaps a bicycle wheel, perhaps a wagon wheel — and a kind of whacky floor lamp is discerned by this viewer, anyway. It’s the color that first pulls you in, that and the high spirits implicit in the rosy oranges that dominate the colors. The background is pale, and muted grays help to ground these jumpy works in which a Philip Guston-like jokester is on the loose.

Moving on to the far gallery, Brad Austin Smith’s photographs in Drive-By celebrate color in their own way. The acquisition of a turquoise-colored 1960 Buick LeSabre automobile some years ago caused this photographer to leave at home his 4x5 view camera and black and white film, always developed and printed by himself, for lab-printed color film, creating what he calls his “drive-by” photographs. Smith’s good eye for a photograph changed none, although he says the number of keepers among his negatives lessened considerably. The keepers, as evidenced here in works dating from 2010 to this year, are pretty swell. Just about every picture is framed by the graceful shape of the Buick’s side windows or was taken through the expansive front windshield and accented by the arc of a steering wheel. What Smith sees, roaming through Cincinnati in his gorgeously colored car, is the unplanned beauty of life being lived in surroundings of our own making: a bicyclist beneath the ramps and overpasses of a highway, a couple in the happy jumble of their lawn ornaments, two boys squaring off for a mock battle from which each will emerge unscarred, rain-washed streets shimmering at the corner of Vine Street and McMicken Avenue with the Kroger building and Carew Tower shadowy in the distance. Social comment sneaks in. A sleek commercial building is the background for a disabled veteran who holds his sign, asking for help. And one wonders about those kids fighting — are we hard-wired for conflict? 

The old-fashioned, round rear view mirror outside the driver’s door is an element in a number of pictures, particularly one in which its reflection of Frisch’s Big Boy becomes a portrait. The mirror is a subtle accent elsewhere, reflecting bare trees in a view of an Airstream trailer no longer on the road and setting off a shot of young men intent on car repair. Some of these effects are happy accidents, Smith told his audience in a recent gallery talk, but such happy accidents are more likely to occur to an acute photographer. Smith learned, in becoming street-photographer-from-automobile, that his old habit of asking permission to take photographs as he walked Over-the-Rhine streets and elsewhere simply didn’t work. By the time he’d gotten permission the picture was gone. So yes, he does shoot while driving (note blurry backgrounds here and there), but only “going very slowly.” 

In contrast to the spontaneity of the Drive-By photographs, the show includes several books illustrated by Smith’s very different black and white work and not available to underage viewers. Many of these pictures present an underside of human interaction, ultimately both sad and sorry, but show Smith’s understanding of what makes a picture work. 

Meanwhile, in the sky, so to speak, above the lower galleries, Ann Coddington Rast’s 840 slipcast birds hover in a flock that occupies 17-by-9-by-16 feet of the cavernous street floor gallery space. Rast set out to invoke that wondrous, mysterious phenomenon — hundreds of birds moving as though controlled by a shared consciousness — and has succeeded generously. If passage suggests a moment in time, it’s not a moment of wholly stopped motion. Each individually suspended bird moves a little with the gallery’s air currents, giving life to the piece. The lowest range of birds is not far above the heads of most of us, adding immediacy to our encounter, but unless you are a tall man in a cowboy hat you’ll not collide with the flock.


Drive-By, passage and

Painting, Drawing and Other Things are on display through June 3 at Weston Gallery, Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., Downtown.