Visitors to the exhibits at the School 33 Art Center usually have but a vague awareness of the artists who maintain studios there. You may sometimes hear an artist flinging paint against canvas in one studio, or another artist turning on a radio in hopes that it will serve as muse. You may even occasionally glimpse real live artists scurrying toward the glorious isolation of their upstairs studios.
Eight of these artists have emerged from their studios and are sharing an exhibit in the main downstairs gallery at School 33. Although this group show never quite wows you, there is enough interesting and diverse artwork to keep you happily moving around the gallery.
Michela Caudill's "The Woodbourne Center Project" presents a sequence of 17 black-and-white photographs in which the troubled young people at this treatment center pose for her camera. Some scowl at us, while others smile as if still willing to give life a chance. The armchair analyst in us can't help but look for psychological clues in their clothing and expressions. Maybe that one guy's Guns N' Roses T-shirt can help us understand him. Maybe not. In any event, the photographer makes us care about her subjects.
Human figuration is a much more enigmatic affair in the work of painters Anthony Williams and Richard Ford. Mr. Williams essentially outlines solitary figures and then colors them in. They've also been decapitated, by the way, and they inhabit barren landscapes that would not seem out of place in a science fiction novel. The figures in Mr. Ford's paintings are wrapped as tightly as a mummy, albeit a mummy with multi-hued bandages. Both painters deal in figurative imagery that resolutely holds onto its secrets.
Also figurative are the untitled sculptures of Jed Dodds, whose hyper-thin nude female and human head-topped poles are too close in style to Giacometti for comfort.
Among non-figurative work, James Von Minor has a series of wall-hung sculptural constructions in which he explores the possibilities of different geometric forms and combinations of materials. A concern with geometric patterning is even more pronounced in Kelly Shay's mixed media on paper interpretations of an Amish quilt; her checkerboard patterning leads the eye so effectively that it'd be nice to see her works on paper approach the size of an actual quilt.
Relying even more directly on paper texture is Jyung Mee Park, who makes marks with sumi ink on rice paper. Obviously coming out of an ancient tradition, she's engaging in some worthwhile contemporary twists by letting the ink run in undisciplined ways, tearing the paper, and arranging the sheets of paper either in sequences or as hanging constructions.
Garry Mitchell's quasi-surreal paintings are of tubular forms, orbs and other shapes we can't quite figure out. One reason they remain mysteries is that they are partially veiled in rough overlays of paint. Though hardly compelling, these untitled paintings are creepy enough to make you stand and wonder.
Upstairs, David C. Powers has a very satisfying grouping of large fiber sculptures influenced by the shamanistic masks of various non-Western tribal cultures. He's not literally copying these designs, but even so, it's enjoyable to look for stylistic affinities with African, Pacific and Native American cultures. Using such materials as raffia, bark, hair, feathers, beads, bells, sisal, corn husks and buttons, Mr. Powers proves himself both a skillful weaver and conjurer of totemic powers.
And in the upstairs installation gallery, Lisa Austin has an installation titled "Terra Firma" that upends our sense of solid ground through such tactics as a segmented and brightly painted "tree" growing straight out from the wall, an oversize "bench" that seems too imposing for actual use, a "floor" comprised of tilted planes, and, underneath these planes, fragments of road maps that would only lead you to confusion. This artist knows how to make us feel slightly disoriented, but the installation would be more successful if it re-oriented us in some new way.
What: Biennial Studio Artists Exhibition, fiber sculptures by David C. Powers, installation by Lisa Austin
Where: School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St.
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; through Oct. 1
Call: (410) 396-4641