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I wasn’t sure what to do.

March 16, 2015

L spent Saturday night with her first boyfriend. But then it turns out it was really boyfriends, plural. She couldn’t quite make up her mind at the time.

Through the wonder of eBay, she had bought a cheap copy of the Beatles’ White Album, and so we listened to her boyfriends sing. I can’t say I was surprised to hear just how good the album is but I was at how familiar it felt—the order of the songs, even the pauses between them.

It’s one of those secret aspects of the music album—along with cover art and liner notes—that’s threatened by the a la carte digital music age. One tended to listen to LPs all the way through, even though it was certainly possible to lift the arm and place the needle in just the right groove for a beloved song.

An LP could have a theme, or an overriding sensibility, analogous to, say, the poet Stephen Dobyn’s “Cemetery Nights,” whereas one’s iPod music collection might be more like Kay Ryan’s “Say Uncle.”

This is no criticism, for I love Kay Ryan, and she would certainly be unapologetic. Who needs a theme when each poem is a perfect gem? And anyway, themes can be artificial and oppressive, if one is not careful. Better that they arise rather than be slathered on.

They arise out of artistic exploration, such as produced the current show at the library. At some point, Conrad Nelson sought to “leap out of her comfort zone” and invited several other artists to help her—Sally Mather, Cindy Miller, and Diana Walters.

Their Tuesday afternoon meetings soon became a kind of sacred time to explore and share ideas, and even to challenge one another—I imagine along the lines of the library’s annual challenge show. This year’s library theme is: “Below the surface.” And you might explore the current show for ideas.

None of the pieces hanging can be called two-dimensional. Many need their beautiful shadow boxes for display. They are delicate collages, or assemblages, or even sculptures. The three-dimensional possibilities with shadows come into play.

(Last month we discussed B Strawn’s work in the book “Responding,” in which, I think, her sculptures become very fine “paintings” in the photographs of them. Later, B mentioned that there’s always a discussion—maybe she said argument—about how much shadow to leave in or out of the photograph of a sculpture.)

The Nelson/Mather/Miller/Walters show reveals some of this gradation from two- to three-dimensional work. There are pieces that are sealed somehow—you could (but you won’t) run your fingers over them, such as Cindy Miller’s “Fragmented” series. Others safely behind glass have delicate floating layers and even wires reaching into space.

These mixed media pieces all have surfaces and hidden depths, both literal and psychological. Even the “paintings” by Diana Walters, which are small like those in the annual Art Walk miniatures show, are layered and three-dimensional. And psychologically layered—“Blackbirds” keeps catching my eye; something deep in my mind connects with it.

I hope you’ll use this show to push you along in your development of an entry for the library’s “Below the Surface” challenge show. The deadline to enter is April 30th, with drop-off of work at the library on May 14th.

The show accommodates visual artists, poets, and writers—alone and in collaboration. Come by the library or see our website for more specific information. I’m privy to a few great ideas already; looking forward to yours.


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