Thursday August 18, 2011

NORTH ADAMS -- With exhibits coming and going, DownStreet Art's chemistry is always changing. Luck more than planning determines whether a return visit is worthwhile. As it turns out, this current combination of exhibitors provides a most rewarding experience.

This Gallery Walk strolls along Main Street, pointing out what held my interest this month in DownStreet. For the various locations and business hours of these destinations, consult the event's website (downstreetart.org) or its brochure.

I always enjoy stepping into NAACO Gallery -- its lineup of exhibitors just keeps getting stronger. This time I was particularly stuck by the ceramicists. Stephen Fabrico's nature pieces, especially the bird houses, are captivating.

Other standouts are the pots and vessels by Lori St. Pierre and Jessica Putnam Phillips. Unfortunately, Phyllis Miller Lee's charmingly human figurines from her Porch Series have sold out, but hopefully this Vermont artist can soon provide more.

Jarvis Rockwell's "Maya IV" engages on various levels, but after having a conversation with the artist, I now see it in a different light. These toys and action figures embody various personality types and traits. Although essentially human, their over-the-top portrayal often creates one-dimensional caricatures. "Maya" breaks down these particles of our complex makeup, helping us to objectively identify who and what we are as a species.

A must see is Erin Ko's "We are the Music Makers" at Gallery 51. It's a mixed marriage of space-age technology and time-honored mysticism with some memorable offspring. In "Cloud Computing" -- an Internet term -- three Buddhist monks levitate on clouds while using computer technology. Lost in the Nirvana of cyberspace, these ethereal pilgrims are well on their way to cloud nine.

But the main attraction here are those curious geometric patterns -- like something from a sci-fi film about aliens and ancient civilizations -- that appear on the wall and on some artwork. I don't pretend to understand the technology, but these icons activate tablet computers, which are provided, allowing the viewer to interact with an extra-dimensional realm. Pretty cool.

"A Social Geography of Hair" at Sheer Madness Gallery is a well-considered exhibit examining hair as a social medium. The true standout of the show is So Yoon Lym; her acrylic paintings of elaborately worked and braided hair are fascinating explorations in design and realism. Vying for attention are Jono Vaughan's involved, flamboyant self-portraits as hairstyles.

At Grass Gallery, "End of an Empire" is a political show addressing post-Cold War conflicts and the U.S. The artwork is uneven, often heavily laden with statement, and sometimes graphic, but on the whole, it's a powerful exhibit eliciting thought and reaction.

Among the more polished pieces are Lisa Hecht's screen prints. "I Pray for Blindness" superimposes camouflage on civilians -- war's indelible imprint on us all. In "Car Bomb," passersby scatter as the furies of war come home to roost.

Kevin Orlosky's "Faces of War" is brutal, and it's meant to be, a mosaic of drawings depicts the wounded, disfigured, and dead resulting from military operations. Christina Ernst offers two strong expressionist paintings: "Mother" and "Guantanamo Suicide."

Susan Dessel's installation "Our Backyard" presents a dozen body bags on a lawn used as a makeshift morgue. The anonymity of these victims - Palestinians, Afghans or whomever -- is chilling, but the blame is clearly placed in our own backyard.

If your attitude toward DownStreet Art is a been-there-and-done-that one, now is a good time for an attitudinal adjustment.