BY LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
The title of the group show at C. Emerson Fine Arts, "Heroworship: A Graphic Tale of Epic Proportions," sets us up for one thing and delivers quite another.
That's not bad in this case. The words "hero" and "graphic tale" suggest we'll see something in the graphic novel form of illustrations. I, for one, am a little tired of cartooning and the graphic novel style of art that has become ubiquitous at many galleries, devalued by so many careless interpretations.
The drawings and other art in this show are mostly more subtle in their execution and intent. So I think the title's a bit misleading and a come-on that I can live with since I could easily live with much of the art in the exhibition.
Edward Lightner's delicate pen and ink drawings look like landscapes reduced to outlines made from dashes and dots. They are landscapes, but those in the process of being pulverized during actual atomic explosions conducted by the military in the 1950s. He used photographs of the blasts (the titles reference the bombs' names — Fizeau Plumbbob, for example) to create the minimalist topography. What elevates the series is the attachment on each work of a small prescription bottle label. The artist's name is on them and the medications are those used to combat HIV. In his artist's statement, Lightner tries to connect these works to the theme of hero worship. I don't get that; the message here seems to be there's more than one way to blow up a person's world.
Richard Green's two monotypes, on the other hand, clearly hew to the overall premise. In them, astronaut Alan Shepard and Jesse Owens, the American track and field star, are depicted in bright color blocks that give the figures an abstract quality. Owens (who was black) stands astride a fallen Adolf Hitler, whose theory of Aryan superiority was refuted by the runner's dominance of the event, winning a record four gold medals.
So does the wood construction by Frank Strunk III, a departure from his previous nonreferential work in distressed metals. This one is a sweet homage to his father, encasing a photograph of his dad's hands in a frame made of narrow wood planks. Their ends are staggered and look like an EKG reading, and he burns them a little. It's a new avenue for the artist and worth his exploration of it.
Jay Hollick's mixed-media paintings are the opposite, ironic winks at our national obsession with weird celebrity. He reminds us in one that a piece of toast that supposedly had the image of Jesus on it made headlines several years ago. It's titled — how could it not be? — Jesus on Toast and is worked in a folk art style that also reinforces the idea that we're naive and provincial when it comes to the fame game.
Raina Benoit and Dirk Dzimirsky both contribute lovely drawings. Neither Dzimirsky's penciled nudes nor Benoit's exquisite little scenarios advance the show's title, but again I don't care. Whether it's a man pinioned to a wall or a woman tubing down a river, or any of the other various images in this show, we know that things can go quickly from bucolic to blown away and, if we're lucky, some of us will still be here.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.