Art Review: ‘Human Touch’ a diverse show of contemporary work

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116241293824584.jpg’, ‘Image of Roger Shimomura’s ‘Sunoca Coma’ provided by Susan Webb Tregay’, ‘Roger Shimomura’s “Sunoca Coma” combines a Japanese warrior with Popeye, our 1950s fighter, and the silhouette of a contemporary golfer carrying out his own fight with his little white ball. In and around the 1950s panel are a girl, a woman, a TV and a mortar board evoking the protection and suppression of women at that time.’);

The current exhibition, “Human Touch,” at Rockford Art Museum is a diverse and challenging show of very contemporary work. Dating from the late 1990s to 2003, these selections from RBC Dain Rauscher Art Collection of Minneapolis focus on the human form and daily life.

Some are huge head shots, staring out of the canvas, or paper with vacant eyes and plastic-perfect skin. These young women seem bored and critical of a world they have just begun to experience. As such, they bring us back to our youth and a more turbulent time. How will these passive faces deal with their own immediate future?

Chuck Close, on the other hand, shows us a huge screen print of a friend named John, who is rapidly becoming a senior citizen. Close was a photorealistic portrait painter in his earlier life, until one morning he woke up severely disabled. Now, from a wheelchair with a brush strapped to his wrist, he combines squares, circles and dots in a grid pattern to create his incredible portraits. Like Seurat, the Pointillist painter of the Impressionist era, Close depends on you, the viewer, to mix his colors in your mind to experience the overall pattern. You must come and see this work in person. Photographs can in no way evoke the overwhelming intricacies of his colors on this huge scale piece. Bring your kids. They will be enthralled.

Today’s art often has a strong narrative element that was ridiculed, if not banned from art, not that long ago. Roger Shimomura’s “Sunoca Coma” combines a Japanese warrior with Popeye, our 1950s fighter, and the silhouette of a contemporary golfer carrying out his own fight with his little white ball. In and around the 1950s panel are a girl, a woman, a TV and a mortar board evoking the protection and suppression of women at that time. These are painted in a flat cartoon style, creating an energetic design that speaks of the dominance of TV in our lives.

Nearby, Vernon Fisher portrays Nancy, of the Nancy and Sluggo comic book series, as if she is on a school blackboard. We see vague writing, equations and drawings partially “erased” while she strides, somewhat disembodied, across them. This painting, done in oil (oil stick?) and acrylic—not chalk—adeptly shows how people have tried to navigate through an endless flood of information since Nancy’s simpler times.

Vik Muniz’s photograph shows a flood of people, but with a mystifying twist. If this looks like a painting done in molasses or chocolate syrup, it probably is! Muniz knows that faces can be very, very, very simple and still carry strongly across the gallery. Even so, what he can achieve in chocolate syrup that creeps and bubbles is astounding. Alas, he then has to photograph his creation so it won’t slide off the wall. Another painting for your kids to inspect and try at home?

Carrie Mae Weems explores documentary photography in her untitled work (Woman with Friends). This three-paneled piece shows a passage of time. Worry and compassion pull you into the first photo of three women around an empty table. Later, the cigarettes, drinks and a mysterious knife show up as they think about options. The dilemma is resolved in the third photo, with them laughing so hard, one figure is blurred. This piece seems simple, but it documents the necessity of friends and get-togethers.

Jim Dine, known for his self-portraits of his bathrobe, has an unusual piece from 1999 in this collection. Again pulling from icons of the past, “Red Pants II” is a hand-colored etching of Pinocchio—before he lied. But Dine eschews a flat, sure comic book style, and sketches and hunts with multiple lines for his form. The hand coloring is done with a coarse brush that drips down the page. He is showing us the struggle of the artist rather than simply the happy-go-lucky puppet.

Like Dine’s portrayal of Pinocchio, this is a difficult, thought-provoking show. I recommend that when you go to this show, you choose a piece to sit in front of for 10 minutes (a half hour?). Let your mind wander over all of the possibilities that occur to you and come up with a depth of meaning for yourself.

“The Human Touch” is on exhibit until Jan. 7, 2007, at Rockford Art Museum, 711 N. Main St. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and children and students free. Tuesdays are free for everyone. Hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursdays until 7 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5 p.m..

Susan Webb Tregay is an artist and author living in Rockford. She has just returned from filming a DVD in England to accompany her book, due in March.

From the Nov. 1-7, 2006, issue

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