Upon My Word 

Resident artists at the BAC blend language into their palettes

It's just a part of the routine. Once a year, centers that rent studio space to artists hang a show featuring their work. Generally, because artists in residence are properly classified as emerging, the quality of work in these shows can be a bit uneven.

But if you're the Business of Art Center in Manitou Springs and you have studio artists like Rebecca Yaffee, Jean Gumpper and Ramona Lapsley, you know you are going to have a show where the best of the work will be impressive. Add to the mix a few studio artists fairly new to the Center, like Kevin Thayer, Lisa Chicoyne and Daisy McConnell, and the show promises to be intriguing. Even BAC employees Daniel Breckenridge, David Ball and Maxine Stores have contributed quality work, making Words of Art an exhibit with incredible potential.

Whether the BAC reached the potential of the list artists in this exhibition is an open question, however. Several of the contributors have been consumed with preparing for other shows. David Ball and Kevin Thayer, for example, have been stretched over the last weeks finalizing entries for the Art History 101 exhibit at the Gallery of Contemporary Art at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Nonetheless, it should be said that the theme of Words of Art has caused a number of the artists to take a step beyond their usual realms to add a literary aspect to their work, giving insight into the intention of the artist. Rebecca Yaffee, for example, has contributed a series of five fiber-reactive dye-on-cotton pieces centered on poems by the 13th-century mystic poet Rumi. "Dissolver of Sugar" is a rich lyrical abstraction that reflects the language of the poem by the same name. This intriguing piece uses a snowy landscape quality together with an overlay of maroon blotches and vaguely oriental markings to portray the mixed life/death messages of the poetry, which can be found adjacent to the work.

Lisa Chicoyne's multilayered work stands well enough on its own. But viewers might appreciate the insight into her "Ready when Death Comes" series, provided by an excerpt from the writings of Michel de Montaigne. "To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us have nothing in mind more often than death." These three mixed-media sculptures, packets staked out with leather and filled with a variety of materials including jute and hemp, are clearly evocative of many human emotions.

Chicoyne said she worked on the pieces until looking at them gave her the same sense she got from Montaigne's writing. "When I read that passage," Chicoyne said, "it gave me a feeling, both intellectually and emotionally, and I tried to reconstruct that feeling in the piece without being too literal."

Several of the other contributors have taken a more whimsical approach to the theme while maintaining a high standard of quality. Painter Perri Tyler has an acrylic two-dimensional piece representing a tangle of worms that play on the name of show. The title of the piece is "Thought You Said Worms."

Sculptor Harriet Lee's "Another Casualty of Information Overload" is a polymer clay depiction of a man partially buried in a tumult of words -- literally. "How many of us have not felt that way?" asked BAC curator of exhibitions Heather Merriam. All in candent white, Lee's piece is based on repetition of the term "words" in a multitude of sizes and shapes.

Lee's piece also demonstrates a trend pointed out by BAC director Daniel Breckenridge. "It's fascinating to me to see the number of artists who broke out of their usual genre," he said. "It's nice to see ...." In Lee's case, however, the material is not necessarily a departure; her works are normally much larger sculptures than the diminutive "Another Casualty."

It is also difficult to point to pieces in Words of Art that are clearly done by emerging artists. The BAC's newest resident, C.J. Henderickson, has entered several well-executed mixed-media monotypes that incorporate her linguistic experience as a language instructor. "Speech Therapy," for example, shows off Henderickson's vibrant palette and densely composed address while comporting with the theme of the show.

Maxine Stores' "Wisdom" is an engaging textile piece concerned with the varied contributions of African-American literary figures. Stores' folkloric technique coupled with her affinity for eccentric fabrics yield a fractured and brilliantly hued pictorial space.

Nita Ball, who according to Merriam is primarily involved with functional pottery, has contributed a gorgeous raku pot, titled "A Pot for a Purpose." Golden lines of traditional raku-glazed color circumnavigate the piece and contrast with the matte finish of the bulk of the pot. Ball's technical virtuosity and immediate sense of contrast make this work a highlight of the show.

In a season that has already brought what seems like a plethora of stellar art exhibits, it is difficult to keep producing blockbuster exhibitions. The strictures of a studio artist show make that even more of a challenge. Yet Breckenridge and the BAC artists have managed to pull together a show that is solid, varied and interesting on a number of levels.


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