Sunday, January 21, 2018
Arts

Two new exhibits open at Morean Arts Center

BY LENNIE BENNETT

Times Art Critic

ST. PETERSBURG

Denis Gaston and Kurt Piazza are the unlikeliest of wall fellows. Yet together they are for two new exhibitions that flow into each other at the Morean Arts Center. But both are so compelling, I don't care if there are no common threads in their art, and I won't diminish either's work by stretching to find them.

Gaston has exhibited in the area for decades, and his figurative paintings and drawings are instantly recognizable. Yet for all the years I have looked at his strange humans, transformed into masklike and fetishistic images, I never tire of their wondrous and provocative variety.

"YaySayers and NaySayers" is a group of new work. The Selection Committee is a huge tapestry painting on linen. Hundreds of tiny objects circle around a large body covered with plug-like rectangles. The face only hints at features; at the base of the body are three fleshed-out ones that are potential choices by two little men sitting on the body's shoulders. The "plugs" look like potential receptors for the bits and pieces floating around and, of course, the work is a rumination on identity, how it's formed, how much of our own will is involved in the choices.

Death of Vitruvian Man is another rumination, taking the famous Leonardo da Vinci drawing of a man inscribed in a circle and square and turning him into a ragged silhouette on a shooting target with dots of blood, effectively killing the concept of ideal proportions in art that Leonardo illustrated. Gaston certainly doesn't obey such rules in his art.

Piazza, like Gaston, is an exquisite painter who has added other media to his portfolio. "Towards the Edge of the Visible" is a site-specific installation he created for the Morean with a video and related prints. He seems interested in melding the aural and visual in the video of the same name as the exhibition; both seem equally weighted. The sound track is almost symphonic with deep bass notes softening into treble. It ebbs and flows as geometric shapes appear, disappear, meld and change in horizontal and vertical dances.

He uses a grisaille palette of white, black and gray, minimalist in color only, as are a series of prints. They're architectural studies, closely cropped to emphasize the repetitive forms. Much happens in both the prints and video, but they elicit a meditative response, a wish to pause and let the sensory experience enfold.

Okay, there is something of a theme or thread in the two shows, revealed in a third one, "The Artist as Critic" in which Gaston and Piazza selected the artists. They, along with the two featured artists, are all good writers. Gaston, for example has written a children's book; Piazza writes art criticism.

They chose artists Mark Kerstetter, a poet, fiction writer and an eloquent arts commentator; Elizabeth Indianos, a playwright, and Gigi Lage, a self-published author. Kerkstetter's Screw Set consists of large wooden rounds resembling the tops of screws with their grooves all positioned at different angles as if we are watching a static version of a screw in motion. Rotational Series is a luminous painting of identical orbs with different shadings that has the same effect, of something turning.

Lage's 100" of manipulated video cassette — visual and audio signals splices vague, quickly shifting images. They change before we can process any visual clues that would give us a sense of what we're seeing. The sound track provides a gentle ambient background noise that modulates the rapid-fire video. It's accompanied by prints of the images in the video, cut into strips that look like strips of celluloid about to be spliced. Together, they look backward and forward at film and video technology in an artful way.

I was mystified by Indianos' combination of absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett's portrait with avocados, indeed with her complete immersion into the avocado in the series of paintings in the show, until I did some research and learned they are used in her play, Waiting for Guacamole. (Beckett, Waiting for Godot — got it.) They stand alone nicely but are clearly meant to be part of something bigger. The synopsis of the play sounds interesting so I would love to see them in that context.

I saw the exhibitions before all were fully installed, with no wall labels, and look forward to returning to read the artists' insights into each other's work.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.

 
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