Culture » Visual Arts

The World in a Grain of Sand

Miniature art at the BAC



I am a big fan of the little.

Squint, the current show at the Business of Art Center in Manitou Springs (through August 24), is a must-see -- for the art and for a chance to experience that rarest of human vantage points: the whole ball of wax. Too often in the daily grind we just see pieces: of the landscape, of ourselves and our loved ones, of our own actions in whatever institutional machine we're gyrating in. If we squint, it's to avoid the glare from other windshields on I-25.

At this exhibition, squinting (at 3-by-5 inch or less artworks by the 24 artists currently enrolled in the BAC's Studio Artist Program) elicits sun-crinkled, smiling eyes summoned by amusement and wonder. We're art and world watching in slow motion now, out of the commuter crush for a moment.

From the colorful skylines of "Little Village Series," micro paintings on silk by typically big-canvas artist Rebecca Yaffe (I was told Yaffe created these on a large canvas, which she then chopped up -- the global village fragmented and tidily framed) to Bob Le Donne's time-warping assemblages on butter dish crypts (where Native American potsherds converse quite optimistically with gold microchips), this show merits our scrutiny.

Why does the "ridiculously tiny" (prose from the announcement) draw and delight us so? Is it our yearnings for childhood, where small things and places were full of comforting and sacred detail, as in Jean Gumpper's exquisite woodcuts of marshes and meadows? Is it our fascination for the container, the package -- the rapturous potential of the perfect gift -- as in Lisa Chicoyne's enticing red, wax bundles, faintly ominous in their hue and opacity? Is it because we have the potential to understand the human psyche, as well as "the cosmos," gleaned from the fantastical in-your-face alphabet people prints by Rodney Wood or David Ball's lilliputian digital images which propose a cosmogony created from eyes, eyeglasses, cherubim and computer chips? (Are you on your way down Highway 24, heading toward Manitou yet?)

Yes, to all the above interrogatives. The tiny, as displayed here, offers us a glimpse of perfection and completeness. We may still be baffled by abstract painting or sated with realism, but each of these microcosms offers us a chance to comprehend an individual artist's universe in miniature, whether it be ceramic or polymer clay, as in the lucid blue bowls by Arlene Wood or the hatched hieroglyphics of Harriet Lee's Egyptian mini artifacts. We want to own these objects in every sense. (Significantly, the prices at this show make this a distinct possibility.)

Rodney Wood, BAC Director, pointed out to me at the opening what is perhaps the central brainstorm behind Squint, one that coincides with my brief editorializing here on the majesty of the minute. To paraphrase him: Within the greatest restrictions (of scale and artistic process) comes, potentially, the greatest creativity. Control begets freedom. I agree absolutely, but this is one paradox that we have to live to understand. Try planning a summer vacation on negative cash flow. Cook a meal with three ingredients in the pantry. Be an artist/writer/whatever with children in the house, (Vermeer had 12! He wasn't the art "factory" that fellow Dutchman Rubens was, but I'll take his quiet interiors to floating nudes any day. Besides, he had a wife.)

Squint,as exhibition and as directive to participating artists (work small), allows us to delight in the perfection of the complete and comprehensible, while unassumingly articulating to viewers a fundamental truth of art and life: We live within a world of limits, both internally and externally. But the sweetness (and strain) of being resides in welcoming and working within these limitations.

Boundaries can always change, expanding or contracting, but focusing, however briefly, on the miniature is an exercise in self-discipline and self-recognition. As Rumi wrote: "Musk in a small box stays musky."

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