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Compelling art and captivating antiques at Elmwood Tupper Gallery

Second Life

What’s great about the Elmwood and Tupper Gallery is it used to be a second-hand items store, and still is, in addition to its new function as art gallery. Jam-packed. So that if you don’t happen to like the art on display, you have lots of other interesting stuff to look over and maybe purchase. And for a lot less money than certified artworks tend to go for these days.

Items like maybe an old typewriter, or selection of ancient kerosene lamps, or an old beater bike, but looking perfectly serviceable for getting around the city. Or elegant wooden bird cage, topless, but you could fix that somehow, if you wanted to take the time, or figure-painted, lacquered, China-origin cabinetry and other furniture with jade-like-material sculptured floral-pattern decorations. A true rag and bone shop of the heart.

The current art show consists of paintings by Eric Starke. These feature an image, or usually two or three images, juxtaposed, rather mashed together, of less than self-evident association or relationship. So that maybe there’s a connection, a story, but you have to figure it out. Or more likely, make up your own story about just what’s going on. As in one work showing a squadron of bomber aircraft, or swarm, you might say, and a young woman sleeping in bed, and a water tower. Another consists of a portrait image of Michael Jackson, and a hooded, possibly ayatollah-like figure, and cluster of faceless figures, maybe an army, maybe a civilian crowd, maybe hostile, maybe benign. The titles usually don’t help much with the story (if there is a story). The title of the Michael Jackson piece is Corrosive Compunction.

Two single-image works seem obviously related in a yin and yang way. Or maybe something a little more complicated. Two shooters, with handguns, aimed and ready to fire. One a street kid, maybe a little crazy, a little deranged, at least momentarily, by his sense of ultimate power, life or death, in his trigger finger. One a law enforcement officer, no doubt better trained in the use of her weapon, maybe with more appreciation of the terrible consequences of having resort to it, so more reluctance to resort to it. Or maybe not. The titles of the two works are Say that you love me 1, with the officer, and Say that you love me 2, with the kid.

Other art by other artists featured in previous shows and still on view at the Elmwood and Tupper gallery include some of Alfred C. Dixon’s pencil and ink drawings of nubile quasi-mythological figures and some of Mollie Atkinson’s whimsical metal sculptures.

Dixon’s accomplished-looking smudgy-sketchy-style drawings display attractive young people of both sexes, or sometimes hybrids of both sexes—sometimes explicitly hermaphroditic, with depicted sex organs, or sometimes by indirect suggestion, based simply on body type—reminiscent of Classical or folk myth stories, or perhaps personal variants of traditional myths. The sexual ambiguity underscores the sexually based psychological content of many traditional myths.

One work presents a figure with the body of an adolescent young man—but it could as well be of a pre-pubescent female—with bovine head, and a look of what might be puzzled meditation, if a bovine can look puzzledly meditative. Reminiscent of the Greek myth story of the Minotaur. The puzzled or confused aspect—no doubt principally regarding the monster condition, the unnatural amalgam in one creature of human and beast nature—seems to transfer and equally apply in this case to confusion about sexuality, including initial discovery of one’s sexual nature, as well as sexual orientation. But then, as sexual, go back to the monster condition, as propounded in the Greek myth, the Minotaur as the product of the unnatural sexual union between Pasiphaë and the bull.

The possibly more personal myth works include one called Garden gnome, depicting a young girl in a gnomish dunce cap; one called Bewitched, of a girl in mid-air flight on a broomstick; and one called The Patriarch, of a male transvestite figure. And a lovely piece with the lovely title Tears will fall to make them grow, showing a young girl and cluster of flowers, and ribbon, like a hair ribbon, unifying and decorative element.

Mollie Atkinson’s iron bar and wire and nuts and bolts and sheet metal sculptures occupy an aesthetic realm somewhere between Alexander Calder’s wire sculpture circus menagerie and Picasso’s woman bather on the beach, in the Albright-Knox collection.

And range from jokey to iconic. Among the jokey examples—much the way the Calder and Picasso works are jokey—is her Funky Chicken, consisting of some zig-zags and curlicues of light-gauge iron bar, with touches of gold paint to suggest the luminescence of rooster feathers, and a diminutive but fierce-looking Monster Dog, with five tails no less. Among the iconic was a minimalist abstraction of a human figure with the look vaguely of a western ancient Indian petroglyph.

Also on view are a half dozen or so of gallery owner Gary Trella’s woodcuts and linoleum cuts, tucked away amid the back shop clutter.

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