The Art Oasis
by Laura Bien
The high-quality exhibit Contemporary Artists of Ann Arbor at the Art Oasis on Main Street tempted me to take one of the classes held in the studio space behind the gallery. If I did, I realized, some of my fellow students would be members of the Trailblazers mental health rehabilitation program, which sponsors the gallery.
I worried the classes would be more like art therapy, failing to tap what I fancied to be my artistic talent (dubious results from an earlier pottery class notwithstanding). I changed my mind after viewing a stunning black-and-white mosaic that one class is creating for installation later this month in EMU's School of Public Health. Gallery director Kathleen Letts described how the inclusion of some mentally ill students in a class taught by a professional artist gave a feeling of equality and belonging to the students and dignity to their work. She said that among the ill and "normal" students "sometimes I have trouble telling the difference."
One student mosaic of a reaching hand would not have been out of place in the front gallery with pieces by local artists not affiliated with the Trailblazers program. Jim Horton's unusual wood engraving "We list not. . . ." (above) shows an irregular slab of wood still rimmed by bark and a withered cornstalk rising like a black torch. The denuded cob and wrinkly leaves are ringed by concentric lines that Horton engraved to follow the slab's original tree growth rings, creating an organic sunburst effect. Horton turned a crack in the slab to advantage by angling a stalk against it. The work resembles an old-fashioned Farmer's Almanac image turned into a compelling, earthy tableau.
Martha Keller's paintings of the Irish landscape draw the viewer into the scene with their unaffected style and slightly melancholy mood. One set of three views of a hill, which Keller robes in semiabstract, soft green suggestions of trees and grass, evokes misty Chinese landscape paintings.
digital-print close-ups of an elephant-ear plant don't impress. Both the blue-black and the silvery version of the image, whose colors result from software-aided tweakage, have little to say aside from "elephant-ear plant." The exhibit's sole example of style over substance is Marie Wohadlo's array of tiny, stamp-size digital prints framed in relatively large black mats, some embellished with stitching. The little pictures of house interiors, landscape fragments, and cat and human faces are mildly decorative but fail to hold one's attention or imagination.
Bold ink paintings, unusual "sugar-relief" intaglio prints, and drawings round out the exhibit, which runs through January 12.
[Originally published in January, 2002.]