“Sight of Hand” at Cincinnati Art Galleries

September 23rd, 2017  |  Published in September 2017

Cincinnati Art Galleries on East 6th street is presenting the contrasting work of two Cincinnati artists.

Leslie Shiels invites you to enjoy her animated brushwork in a new series of paintings featuring the skull. Historically speaking, artistic statements featuring human brain depositories are construed as commentary on inevitable destiny of mankind and human fallacy. Shiels’ serial skull paintings update the discussion with the introduction of several inventive elements as well as a rainbow palette and of course her signature brushwork, which is more concerned with texture than expressiveness.

One bodiless skull wearing a miniature white rose posey across its frontal lobe has a decidedly femme-fatale flavor. The straight on stare of sightless sockets invite a dangerous conversational tete-a-tete, if you dare. A predatory black crested caracara makes appearances in 2 paintings, hovering menacingly over a bleach white skull. This contrasts arrestingly with another painting where the single skull is paired with an inquisitive domestic parakeet in complementary decor colors.

A large painting featuring double grinning skulls settled on textured tablecloth suggests that the viewer is a rudely ignored intruder as the heady conversation continues to unfold.

Particularly appealing is Shiels’ series of floribundas including sunflowers, white lilies and the occasional cabbage head. Shiels seems to be channeling her inner Van Gogh as diverse brushwork enlivens the canvas surfaces in both background and foreground. Bright color saturation rejoices in the casual floral arrangement with small stepladder and a basket of apples as well as other miscellaneous daily elements, sea shells and sea stars. A small rodent skull appears with an impressive snarl, linking this series to the aforementioned skull series.

My favorite was the 4′ x 4′ behind the director’s desk. A variety of rich yellow sunflowers crane over the canvas plane complemented deep red coxcombs and the purple patterned tablecloth scattered with cranberries. Look carefully to spy those two ubiquitous parakeets peering at the viewer with a disdaining eye.

Shiels also shows her familiar and well worn canine paintings. Hunting dogs cavorting in packs or single portraits of calm pets are the usual fare. One larger work “Two in the water” is a fresh take on this theme. The viewer is treated to lively vibrantly colored brushwork on the water surface with reflections that animate and entertain as two practically same size hounds parallely paddle into view.

In contrast, artist Brian Burt displays several small works in which the painted surfaces deny any evidence of the painter’s brush. Several of these tromp l’oeil pieces employ visual puns or at the very least suggest that there is a sly pun that eludes you. To quote Burt’s artist statement:

“My work is akin to what a magician does with a playing card. I take benign forgettable objects and through skill, I attempt to make you see that object in a new way.”

An example would be the four typical preschool letter blocks balanced on top of a flawlessly reflective brilliant blue ‘4’ billiard ball spelling out the word W-O-R-D. The black depth background is further augmented with a gloss black frame. What is the artist’s intent? Is he alluding to four-letter words that are forbidden in childhood but on balance play the role of invested privilege in the adult world? The title of the work is “Bad Language”.

Another work entitled “A Sketch” depicts a shelf upon which there reposes a latter generation version of the Etch-a-Sketch with oversized nobs, a cartoon self -portrait (Burt as a big nosed average Joe type) and a pocket sketchbook. The simple color scheme of red, green and camel underline the fundamental nature of these elements. These could be read linearly left to right as depicting the artist’s quest as bio and visual parable: how the interest in the act of sketching as play in his juvenile game stage was subsequently followed by self exploration and eventually the professional pursuit perhaps.

Visit the gallery and enjoy additional works by both of these contemporary Cincinnati artists. “Sight of Hand” will continue through October 21st.

–Marlene Steele paints and teaches in Cincinnati, Ohio

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