Mark Cowardin's sculptures read like cease-and-desist letters fired off to oil and timber companies. In "Heaven Bound," he renders smooth-surfaced, charcoal-black walnut into a chimney spouting thick smoke. The smokestack lies on its side. Tree roots sprout from one end as gray smoke emerges from the other and culminates in an upward-pointing arrow.
For Unearthed, at Rockhurst's Greenlease Gallery, he and fellow Lawrence artist Michael Krueger have used materials from natural resources (paper and wood) to remind viewers just how precious those natural resources are. Cowardin clearly implicates humans in this atmospheric mess, and Krueger's colored-pencil drawings on paper depict the post-apocalyptic landscapes we might have to endure if Cowardin's warnings go unheeded.
Cowardin's most cohesive statement here might be "Left Right Left," another piece of ebonized walnut fashioned into a soot-blasting chimney. Two wooden hands extend from the wall and support the pipe, with potholders as buffers.
In "Milk & Honey," his message doesn't translate as clearly. A blindfolded pink flamingo with gold-leaf-coated legs hangs on the wall above three rootlike sculptures, a mixture of kitsch, precious metal and politics that remains an indecipherable jumble. Elsewhere, "Get a Grip" bends walnut into a circle, with a human hand carved on one end grabbing a tree root on the other. The visual continuity between humankind and flora is bang-your-head-against-the-wall obvious.
Krueger's drawings show psychedelic landscapes, with bare trees and skies composed of acrid reds and yellows. Human figures, if they appear at all, are naked and ungroomed.
His "Highboy" and "Arts & Crafts Stack" place manmade objects — furniture and pottery — on rocky plateaus. Why a chest of drawers in this spare landscape? Is this all that's left after society implodes? At its most intense and absurdist, Krueger's work creates more questions than answers. His drawings are more open-ended than Cowardin's sculptures. Still, both halves of this clever pairing engage a pertinent topic with some engaging visuals.