The Unlikely Target
On view through April 13
Redux Contemporary Art Center136 St. Philip St. 722-0697

Visual artists face many hardships — the threat of annoyingly persistent creditors, ridicule from their peers, etc. But worst of all is the potential for self-absorption: the danger that their regular immersion in the subjective world of personal expression means they’ll get so involved in their work that they’ll disappear up their own rectums.

What better way to avoid this than a national call for entries for a juried painting exhibition? That way, local artists aren’t working in a vacuum; they’re competing for attention with applicants from different backgrounds who experiment with different ideas, and provide potential inspiration for the residents who see their work.

The Unlikely Target, at Redux, is a correspondingly creative trove of efficiently produced art, using all kinds of materials and, in some cases, a whole bunch of colors too. The 20 carefully hung pieces complement each other as individual statements that work together in a contemporary theme — the quest for innovation.

The show was juried by impartial out-of-towner Brad Thomas, director and curator of the Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College, N.C. Thomas has recently overseen exhibitions of narrative paintings, sculptures, and animated films at Davidson, but here the emphasis is on abstract painted work.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a great variety of different styles and concepts on display. John Wilson’s “Headlights” shows two monkeys suspended from a deer’s antlers, clinging to its flanks. The animals all sport grins and are painted in bright acrylics on a large canvas. With the deer’s saucer-like eyes and the curved bodies of the monkeys, Wilson achieves a strange meld of animal and bus.

Close by, Maria Britton’s “Dear Suspended” couldn’t be more different. An adult holds a child in a drab, sickly-hued scene. The acrylic on bedsheet is flat, with no dimensions to it. And right near that is a German entry, a Bauhaus-flavored circle of colored shapes called “Adhesion Fash.” With the dark blues and light purples at his disposal, Berlin-based Ryan Scheidt creates a sense of strong layers with gouache on paper.

The local entrants acquit themselves well. Seth Gadsden’s tranquil oil on wood panel “Moon” mixes fancy with photorealism, with a deep black sky and gray, sunlit areas. Referencing black-and-white video images and astronauts’ memories of the lunar landings, it looks solid enough to make you want to reach out and pick up a chunk of moon rock.

Karin Olah continues her fascination with abstract patterns and rich colors. As “A Discourse” drips downwards, its fabric scraps resemble a melting sofa that would get Dali’s moustache twitching. Olah includes gouache and graphite to increase the oozing effect in an artwork that’s freer than her abstracts on display at Corrigan Galleries; Townsend Davidson’s “The Big Rig” is more complex than usual but plays with the same seascape motif as his earlier paintings. In this instance, the juxtaposition of an oil derrick and a red buoy with a lone, landlocked toilet remind us not to take his months-long work too seriously.

Redux aimed to promote innovation with The Unlikely Target, and that’s evident in the artists’ use of materials. They prove that in the right hands, almost anything can be a canvas — a shower curtain (Marcelo Novo’s spray-painted bleeding heart plumbing on “Curtain #1”); bubble wrap (Keith Linton’s underwater tendrils on a honeycomb background in “Momentum”); fabric and pine (Michael Wyshock’s “Utensils,” with forks and spoons bundled up with cloth and fabriano paper, the closest this show gets to sculpture).

The abstract shapes and unusual materials help make the show appealing and eclectic, yet it’s the least innovative work that’s the most accomplished. The best example of this is also one of the simplest submissions — Josh Doub’s oil on canvas rockpiles, where the merest smudges of color give the impression of people and objects. In his small, unassuming way, Doub takes everyday elements of nature and makes them his own in a statement that’s as individual as they come.

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