Nothing draws an art crowd like a theme night (except free wine and food on an art walk). And Robert Lange Studios has had its fair share of them since it opened over five years ago.
One of its most popular group shows was Yellow vs. Blue, where artists were asked to create two paintings each — one emphasizing yellow, the other blue. The show had an element of competition; which color did the buyers and artists prefer? (Apparently, the sunnier color won).
Less than a year later, RLS is trying something similar with Black vs. White. This show is bigger and more complex than Yellow vs. Blue, but the walls never seem crowded. Each painting has space to be appreciated on its own terms before it’s compared with its counterpart. And with 88 pieces in the gallery and 35 artists showing their work, there’s plenty to appreciate.
Susan Harrell’s still life oils show candy on a black background, fruit on a white one. Kenton James’ photorealistic narrative paintings also use black and white backgrounds. In “For All You Know” a man reads a letter; in “For All She Needs” a woman turns to look out from the canvas with a regretful sign-off. Tiffany Sage contributes an unrelenting “Self Portrait” (oil on canvas).
Mickey Williams paints a simple monochrome palmetto tree, one light, one dark, both soft and appealing so that they look like old photo negatives. The highly gifted Sean Clancy reveals the back of a seated nude with a red rose in the foreground. Patrick Pelletier packs his canvases with a white elephant and its black partner in “Rise of the Guard.” Joshua Flint paints brick and concrete buildings with supple lines, in deep shadow (“Zenith”) or deep snow (“Provenance”).
With so many imaginative painters involved in the show, it would have been great to see them using the theme to stretch themselves more. A lot of them make their backgrounds black and white, or suggest a snowscape or nighttime setting, then add the kind of object or figure we would see in any of their work. Yellow vs. Blue pushed them further, and the studio will have to choose the next color scheme carefully.
However, the artists who play it safe help the ones who don’t to stand out. Those who don’t adhere to the background option include Karen Silvestro, who compares a wrapped-up Muslim woman in “Closed” and a Barbie-like Western blonde in “Open.” They’re both portrayed as puppets dangling for our amusement, at the mercy of their cultural mores. Meanwhile, Nathan Durfee’s humanized oil-on-panel animals are more interested in their supper than what color their fur might be.
Gary Grier sticks with simple portraits wrought with soft brush strokes: a black guy (“Slumber”) and a white guy (“Awake”). Ali Cavanaugh’s striking frescos show a woman with striped socks on her arms. Her face is hidden, presumably because of her fashion faux pas. Leslie Pratt-Thomas provides impressionist landscapes (“Continuous Rhythm”) that pack a lot of emotion into their small frames, with pale clouds contrasting with a dark sky in both pieces.
Gallery owner Robert Lange and wood artist Michael Moran team up to make the most off-the-wall of pieces. Framed LP records are cut out of walnut tree trunks, with the grooves replaced with rings and paintings of trees instead of record labels. One evokes spring, the other winter, and it’s almost a shame to see a hole cut in the middle of each one. The art is accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack.
Lange and Moran’s art shows that no matter how confining a theme may seem, there’s always a way to say something new or stand out from a crowd — even when that crowd consists of dozens of stunning paintings.