The last exhibit Deatherage has scheduled for 4222 Charlotte Street is Grandma Gets Her Reindeer, featuring Jennifer Boe, Joe Gregory and Angela Burson and slated to run December 6 through December 31. In the meantime, Something Old, New, Borrowed and Blue spotlights an eclectic collection of work by local and regional artists. Felicia Leach contributes brightly colored, silk-screened canvas squares; Doug Russell displays studies of pseudoweathered surfaces; Jane Pronko's nearly photo-realistic New York streetscapes are on loan from the Dennis Morgan Gallery; and Larry McAnany's oil abstractions come fresh from his new studio. Deatherage ties the show together with its title -- Leach is new to the Late Show (this is her first exhibition in Kansas City), McAnany is an old favorite at the gallery, Pronko's work was borrowed and Russell's palette incorporates a lot of blue.
Silly concept aside, this unusual grouping puts representational work next to pure abstraction, reminding viewers that painting of any kind can be pared down to the same visual vocabulary of color, composition and value.
Brightening one corner of Deatherage's living room are ten of Leach's 12-inch-square screen prints. An artist in residence at the Moberly Area Community College (35 miles north of Columbia), Leach earned her bachelor's degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is working on her master's from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Each of her panels depicts a single object -- a hand grenade, a rooster, a fortune cookie, a male's nude midsection, a pair of mannequin hands -- or a combination of those objects, all against flat-color backgrounds or sparkle-print patterns.
Leach lets viewers draw their own conclusions about the relationships among the objects, and this gives her work a playful yet gimmicky feel. The violent connotation of the grenades and the sexual implications of the cocks (both fowl and human) suggest a commentary on violence and power in sexuality, but Leach's candy-colored palette and thick, cartoonish lines make it difficult to take any message too seriously. (With their eye-catching color and mass-produced screen-print aesthetic, the grenade prints look more like packaging for a toy than representations of weapons.) Leach intended the small works to be displayed interchangeably, allowing for further interpretation. "When you see a hand grenade, people might think of war, something you see a lot of on the news these days," she says. "I wanted to take viewers away from that and have them look at the objects in a different respect."
McAnany gives viewers similar responsibilities when it comes to looking at his abstract work. He says he admires and draws inspiration from landscape paintings, though his canvases contain no distinguishable trees or grassy hills. Instead, flat or curvy lines and subtle colors serve as simple reminders of those traditional landscape elements. McAnany covers his surfaces with drips, splotches, icinglike layers of oil paint, loopy pencil drawings and quick, gestural marks. "One of the things about abstract painting that I am so attracted to is that what the viewer brings to it is much more important sometimes than what the artist intends," McAnany explains.
His huge painting on the east wall covers a window -- light spills in through the glass and seeps through the canvas, giving the orange splashes of paint an iridescent glow against the mint-green and blue-gray background. McAnany recently moved his studio into an old Lutheran church full of stained-glass windows. "Not seeing the outside world except looking through stained glass made me start to think a lot more internally, to start stripping everything away except for the process," he says. That process is evident in one untitled work featuring large, Franz Kline-like strokes of brown paint on top of a camouflage-green background -- it's easy to imagine the sweeping motion necessary to create those lines.
But McAnany is inspired by something more primal, too: He was attracted to oil painting because of its sensuality. "My mother was a painter, and I remember opening up her portable painting kit. I smelled the linseed oil and the turpentine, and that was the catch for me," he says. "Maybe if I wouldn't have opened up her paint box and smelled it, I would be working in a bank right now." Although the show bills his work as "old," McAnany's four canvases, two small and two large, are the freshest work in the gallery. The potently scented paint was still wet when he brought over the work for display -- on one of the pieces, a tiny gnat is stuck in a glistening glob.
Meanwhile, Russell's four lushly textured mixed-media paintings hang in the dining room. Russell, who teaches at Central Missouri State University and Maple Woods College, is interested in what happens when an object becomes worn -- its subtle changes in color, value and texture. "The surface of anything, if given enough time, begins to record the history," he says. "I like the way that looks." He travels to antique stores, browses through books and traipses around old parts of town in search of interesting textures to use as references, but he doesn't attempt to re-create them exactly. Instead, he says, "I'm creating a manufactured history, moving through different layers and thinking about adding them or upgrading them and accelerating the amount of time." Russell doesn't paint with brushes; instead, he uses drywall and wallpaper knives. For "Meditation 7," one of the "blue" paintings of the show's title, Russell has scraped and splattered layers of white, tan, brown, rust and blue paint across the board. In spite of his painstaking efforts to evoke the effects of time on surfaces, though, in this particular instance, Mother Nature has him beat. The spots of blue on the top layer look too forced, almost like decorative sponge painting.
Russell is more successful with "Meditation 9," in which a huge, gray, monolithic shape fills the front of the composition. It's textured with streaks and raindroplike spots; black and white paints cover the background. The piece feels heavy and gloomy, like the atmosphere after a rainstorm.
Pronko's four New York cityscapes -- more specifically, depictions of the theater district -- were handpicked by Deatherage. Pronko paints nearly photo-realistic works from reference pictures she shoots herself, often combining elements from more than one photograph to create a dynamic composition. Figures appear, but their fuzzy outlines and profiles blend into the signs and buildings surrounding them on the street. In fact, the cars become the protagonists, stealing the show from the people. "I have long felt that the cars in my paintings can be very anthropomorphic," Pronko explains. "Automobiles moving in lines, headlights or taillights in a row, give me the sense of human beings following some sort of path." In "Stage Right," for example, the backs of two yellow taxis occupy the lower-right foreground; the background is filled with a row of shop windows, bright-red signs and a crowd of pedestrians with expressionless faces. Despite its jarring colors and busy compositions, Pronko's work comes across as lonely and introspective.
Like Deatherage's house will undoubtedly feel after all the art's gone.