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Captive Images

Photos and drawings accent the summer months

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Ah, June! Put away your coats, put on your skimpy tops, work out furiously so you'll look good in a bikini, and, if you're an artist, it's time to reveal all -- of your work, that is.

I don't know what it is about this magical (and sweltering!) month, but there are more art openings this month than in any three months combined. June brides, June artists, I guess.

At Frameworks, on North Wahsatch, there's an eponymously titled black and white photography exhibit, featuring 16 local photographers.

Of all the classic media, black and white photography is both the most accessible and the most difficult. It takes years to acquire the skills to paint in egg tempera, or to sculpt in marble, but you can be a nominal photographer with a cheap camera and a roll of film.

But all photographers are not equal; Julia Margaret Cameron, or Brassai, or Andre Kertesz, or Laura Gilpin produced work that is as brilliantly illuminating today as it was 50 or 100 years ago. Despite the powerful tools available today, it's doubtful that any Colorado photographer will ever produce an image to equal William Henry Jackson's "Rockwood in the Canon of the Rio las Animas."

Like Chinese ceramists, or Japanese printmakers, who worked in formal traditions that were centuries in the making, today's photographers are both illuminated by, and shadowed by, their illustrious predecessors.

There's a lot of competent photography on display at Frameworks, and there are three or four really striking pieces. If, for example, you think you need thousands of dollars worth of equipment to make a great image, take a look at Meg Poulton's set of three pinhole photographs, "Prospect Lake." All you need to make a pinhole photograph is film, a light-proof box (an empty box of Quaker Oats works just fine), and the ability to punch a tiny hole in the box. Compose, expose, develop. Poulton's tranquil, stark images strip photography right down to its essence and, by discarding technology, seem to involve the viewer directly and immediately.

Pat McMahon's hand-colored print, "Sheep Mountain," with its subtle, almost unnoticeable coloration, coupled with great tonal range and unexpected focal gradations, is a fine piece, both pleasing and accomplished.

Chris Pulos has several pieces in the show; of them, I liked best his image of the South Platte River as it meanders through South Park. Calm, spacious, quiet and majestic, it's really a luminist image, very like Martin Johnson Heade's 19th century salt marshes. Pulos' image of the Garden of the Gods is also a fine one; boulders and spires in the mist, seen in unusual conditions from a unique vantage point.

Michael Kimak's "Winter Magic," -- white snow, black evergreens, a dark, meandering stream, a lowering sky -- is a contrasty, moody image that could only have been produced by a master technician. I don't know whether Kimak uses the darkroom, the computer, or both to create his magic, but the finished work is worth any amount of manipulation.

Cheryl Jones' "On the Range," a modestly sized (about 6" x 12") shot of half a dozen horses, framed by ponderosas, and partially enveloped in dust, makes a hackneyed subject fresh and interesting.

But if the show has a star, it'd have to be Jane McBee's untitled image of a barechested, muscular man with a delighted baby folded in his massive arms. It's masterfully composed, beautifully printed, and a little unexpected; black man, white baby. It's Jane's only piece in the show, and it's not for sale -- too bad on both counts!

Over at the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts, the human body in all its endless variation is the subject of the current show, Body of Evidence. Once again, Jina Pierce, the inventive director of the Tri-Lakes Center, has put together a thoroughly absorbing show.

You can always count on Robert LeDonne to come up with an interesting piece or two, and he doesn't disappoint us this time. "Go Figure," executed on sheet copper, is particularly ingenious, since LeDonne has created a human silhouette by chemically altering the copper ground, possibly by etching it with sulphuric acid. It's a powerful and thoroughly original piece.

Michael Cellan's spare and intimate female nude, "Betty 10," is a wonderful drawing. Using colored pencils, Cellan only needs a few lines to create a lush, sensual, and mildly erotic image.

Chris Alvarez' "Rosa," yet another fine drawing, hovers on the edge of being really spectacular. Alvarez has a fine, gestural line, and he draws exceptionally well. But the drawing feels a little overworked and tentative; perhaps Alvarez needs to trust his instincts and be a little simpler, a little more direct.

I don't know whether Linda Lazzerini's "1,000 Portraits" is high art, illustration, folk art, or the record of five years of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it's pretty special. Lazerrini, determined to become a competent portraitist, decided in 1995 to do 100 self-portraits.

That accomplished, she decided to do 1,000 portraits of 1,000 different people. Carrying her sketchbook everywhere, she asked hundreds of strangers to pose for her, as she drew their likenesses. Every one of them are on display, pinned to the wall, or hanging from monofilament clotheslines like so much laundry.

It's a fascinating, irresistible and thoroughly entertaining installation.

The first in the series, self-portrait #1, is a clumsy smudge of color, barely recognizable as a portrait, let alone an individual. But as Lazzerini persevered, she acquired both technical skills, and an artist's empathetic sense of character. On the back of each sketch, she'd write descriptive notes, and the occasional self-criticism ("I can't paint for #%&?!!"). Her early smudges took on form and color, and by the time she sketched two lovely teenaged girls (#714 and #920), she had become confident, competent and expressive.

In aggregate, it's simply amazing, a collection of humanity worthy of Dickens or Balzac. Lazzerini doesn't have the facile skill of a caricaturist, but she has a real ability to see each individual and transfer that vision to her sketchpad. Her body of work is unique; I doubt whether any serious artist since the invention of photography has done a thousand individual portraits in a lifetime, let alone in a few years. By so doing, Lazzerini reminds us of the ability of artists since the caves of Lascaux to create life with a few lines, and a little color.

Not to mention the virtue of hard work.

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