Several weeks ago I wrote an article about five narrative Arkansas painters to pay attention to. Then I went to the 56th annual Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center, which opened last Friday, and found there were a lot more artists I should have been paying closer attention to myself.
This year’s Delta, 65 works of art made by Arkansas and regional artists, is quite a fine exhibit, and with the exception of a wonderful Elgin marble knockoff combined with Dan Flavin lights, a skillfully funny Delacroix knockoff on velvet peopled by coneheads and other outside-the-state, outside-the-box artists, the show didn’t really need to include Arkansas’s geographical halo to make an outstanding exhibit.
A word about the non-Arkansan artists: Younok Chong (“Cow 3”) of Oxford, Miss.; Trent Lawson (“Victory Leading the Coneheads”) of Oklahoma City; Rod Moorhead (“Lord Elgin’s Octave”), and Jed Jackson (“In France”) of Memphis (but born in Fayetteville) are among the standouts (you may remember Moorhead’s Grand Award winner in 2012, “Nine Zen Nuns”). Moorhead’s piece, in which five blue florescent tubes mimic a Doric column and three more make up a roof line, has a gallery all to itself, one darkened to show off the lights.
But let’s focus here on the 35 Arkansas artists whose works are in the Delta, since they made such a fine showing. Here’s a rough sort: There are realists in graphite (Jerome Mazyck of Sherwood; Moises Menendez of El Dorado, Sheila Cantrell of Batesville); realists in oils and acrylics (Debi Lynn Fendley of Arkadelphia; Robin Tucker of Little Rock, a Delta Award winner; Daniel Cassity of Hot Springs; Margaret Harrell of Mountain View); the painterly expressionists (Jason Sacran of Magazine; John Lasater IV of Siloam Springs; Taimur Cleary of Little Rock; Glenn Beasley of Sherwood; Steven Rockwell of North Little Rock —though his portraiture straddles the line between realism and expressionism; Angela Davis Johnson of Little Rock — an honorable mention winner; Katherine Strause of Little Rock). Narrative Little Rock artist David Bailin won this year’s Grand Award with his large format charcoal, pastel and paint on paper. Tire sculptor Jeff Sharp of Bryant won a Delta Award for his fearsome owl. Louis Watts of Bentonville is a neatnik minimalist and Robert Reep of Little Rock (honorable mention) is a neatnik collagist. Katherine Rutter of Little Rock is a fantasy artist whose work at first glance appears storybook sweet — think Arthur Rackham — but whose animal/people are a bit disturbing on closer examination. Darrell Berry of Little Rock and Delta regular Dennis McCann of Maumelle are in the hard-edged, bright-light school. There are the photographers: Hubert Weldon of Little Rock, whose digital image has been manipulated to be weirdly painterly; Ted Grimmett of Little Rock, who offers a night-time cityscape, and Fayetteville shooter Phoebe Lickwar, who captures an Ozark barn in archival pigment. Carole Smith (Mountain View) and Jessica Westhafer (Fayetteville) are painters whose work references nature as it approaches abstraction; Little Rock artist Stephen Murphree’s painting is pure abstraction, with texture and a nod to Clifford Still’s jags. Cindy Arsaga (Fayetteville) and Charles Steiner (Fort Smith, honorable mention) are (very different) collage artists. Catherine Slater (Little Rock, honorable mention) does the lone figurative pastel; Deborah Kuster (Conway), whose woven triptych includes dog hair, is the lone fabric artist; Jessica Camp (Conway) is the lone installation artist (beeswax shapes hung on strings, an honorable mention winner); and Neal Harrington (Russellville) the lone linoleum cut printmaker. Ceramicist Ian Park (Little Rock, honorable mention) poses grandmother figurines atop small cakes; mosaic artist Kandy Jones (North Little Rock, honorable mention) has made a mask of polymer clay cones (the ones that look like candy).
That’s a lot of names, but after starting a list of five several weeks ago, I thought it best to keep naming. Many of these artists are well into their careers (Bailin, Strause, McCann, Reep, Harrell); others I’m just getting to know and glad of it. John Lasater’s dark but detailed “Price of Moderation,” a house whose framing is partially visible, was a favorite, thanks to its odd dark strokes in blue-greens and browns. Daniel Cassity’s “The Wizard’s Wand,” a composition of rubber toys, a wooden snake and a wooden tool, is deft and funny. Margaret Harrell’s vultures on a chain-link fence, framed in dripping blood red (“The Clean Up Crew”) is amazing and juicy. Sacran’s sketchy self-portraits are done in a fine hand. Glenn Beasley’s woman farmer, a hat shielding her face and shading her torso, in “Good Harvest” is a hard-working mystery in a field of green and brown. Taimur Cleary’s horizontal painting of a simple white building is another favorite. Debi Lynn Fendley’s near photorealist painting of a man looking at Evan Penny’s hyperrealistic silicone sculpture of himself as an old man at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a beautifully done pun.
And of course, Bailin’s work, “Slippage”: It’s a scene of an ordinary neighborhood, houses rendered in soft charcoals, the street between them invaded by light, splotches of primary color and a bowled-over businessman, just like life.
With such talent in Arkansas, it’s no longer necessary to borrow from the art pool of surrounding states — though you can’t argue against a showcase for Lord Elgin’s update or a Delacroix on velvet. Maybe it’s time for an Arts Center exhibition of all-Arkansas work, along with a regional show of Southern artists.
The show runs through Sept. 28.