This show in the Main Art Gallery of the Fine Arts Center at Northern Kentucky University features four Cincinnati artists, Mike Agricola, Tina Tammaro, Celia Yost, and Amy Greene-Miyakawa. As his title indicates, gallery director David Knight selected works by these artists, all of whom are friends, in which color is a key element. The show ran from February 9 to March 3.
Celia Yost is represented by several watercolor landscapes and a portrait, but the works that command the most attention are her cityscapes, delineated with clarity and harmony. Yost’s approach in these oil paintings is refreshing. She is not interested in depicting the loneliness of the big city or the picturesque decay of old buildings; instead, she is drawn to the beauty of the geometric shapes, contrasting colors, and play of light found on city streets. The works succeed because Yost is a very skillful painter. Her compositions are visually interesting due to the way she balances structures with open spaces and uses light and shadow to increase the linear patterns in the paintings. As the title of one work, “14th and Vine,” indicates, Yost is depicting real places. The traffic light in this painting adds just the right element of urban reality to the unpeopled scene. Another traffic light appears in “Corner Power,” where ornate red buildings contrast with a cloudy gray sky. In “Green on the Left”, the sky is bright blue, which contrasts nicely with the muted colors of the buildings. Dark shadows intersect the planes of the buildings that are interrupted by empty windows, an awning, a fire escape, and chimneys. In all these paintings, Yost shows us the simple beauty of the urban landscape without any heavy overlay of significance.
Amy Greene-Miyakawa is represented in the show by three figurative paintings and three portraits, all oils. Faces dominate her paintings, by either their presence or their absence. In “Impatient” light is focused on the face of a slightly unkempt bearded man. The dark blues and purples of his clothes and the background make the face, part of which is in shadow, stand out. The man’s face conveys the impatience indicated by the title so thoroughly that he is off-putting, off-putting but compelling. In the portraits “Belle” and “Cub,” Miyakawa produces an unsettling effect by making the faces of her subjects not quite appropriate to their bodies. The first portrays a young girl with an unusually mature face. Her lips and eyes are amazingly expressive, suggesting, not a lack of innocence, but experience beyond her years. Her red lips and the bright red in the trim of her are the most prominent colors. The painting is unfinished in the lower left, a characteristic of Miyakawa’s work.
In “Cub”, a man’s face appears on the not yet mature body of a boy. His distinctive smile suggests defiant happiness or illicit pleasure. One eye and one arm are unfinished, as is his body below his torso. By defying conventional expectations, these portraits subtly engage the viewer: the more you look, the more you wonder. One of Miyakawa’s figurative paintings of a nude torso is called “Dissipate,” which is what the painting does at the top and the bottom of the canvas, where the figure dissolves into obscure masses of color. There is no face or lower body. The title also references the hints of prodigal behavior present in this artist’s work.
Mike Agricola has nine small oils in the show. Some of his paintings appear almost primitive. “Self-Portrait with Hands” is a segmented canvas painted in bright primary colors. As though Agricola wants to play a joke on his viewers, the face in the portrait is obscure and the hands dominate the foreground. Three crudely painted figures with hidden faces appear in a setting that suggests the backstage of a theater in “Control Box.” The thick paint and deep colors contribute to the impression that the painting contains a mysterious narrative. Agricola works in a different vein in a series of six figure studies. These are truly studies in color. The harmonious colors in the background are reflected in the nude figures. The bodies, both male and female, are not idealized. Agricola celebrates these very human figures through his wonderfully impressionistic use of light and color.
Tina Tammarro’s paintings dominate this show, and not just because many of them are quite large. Certain colors, particularly red, orange, and green, repeated in her paintings must have a personal significance for Tammaro. There are similarities in the compositions and the figure pairs that appear in her paintings. And, not least, there is an erotic tension in many of her works, best exemplified by “It was 65 degrees and not much left of the world,” which contains a man, a woman, and a very prominent bed. In Tammaro’s most characteristic paintings, a man and a woman appear in a domestic setting, but they are not connected, not even looking at each other, and there is a strong sense of estrangement between them.
“It was a monstrous beautiful thing” is a brilliantly original composition in warm and cool colors. As in many Tammaro paintings, the canvas is divided into two parts; on the left, a couple stands between a red couch and a glass-covered coffee table that reflects their image. Their faces are pale, sexless, almost ghostlike. On the right is a female figure painted in vivid reds and oranges. Framing within the painting suggests this is an image in a mirror. Much larger than the figures in the background, she dominates the painting, an implacable expression on her face. The color contrasts and the way the figures stare past each other create a powerful sense of unresolved conflict. With its reflected images, divided canvas, and empty spaces of color, this painting is almost abstract.
The visually powerful “With the sun dreaming old battles” is similar in feeling but quite different in style. Here a man and a woman appear in a realistically rendered kitchen with bright appliances and darkly colored cabinets and countertops. In the background, light shines on a woman dressed in white, but the focus of the painting is on a man in the foreground who faces the viewer, a look of pain or sorrow on his face. The tension between the two figures is all the more powerful for the realism of the setting in which they appear. Tammaro’s studies of domestic discord share similar elements, but each painting is a carefully and uniquely rendered drama. In only one work, “the horses were more real than my father more real than god,” which is actually two canvases, does she show a man and woman embracing. The small canvas is a delicate, near perfect work of art.
Take note the next time the artists in this show display their work. Each is worth following.
–Daniel A. Burr