Water World 

BAC show nonessential for life

Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink
Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink

-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Who'll stop the rain?
John Fogerty

A few years ago, Hardu Keck, then an instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design, conceived the idea of creating a circular rainbow. Using only slightly crackpot calculations, he figured that, by directing powerful streams of water into the sky when the summer sun was directly overhead, he could make a shimmering torus of transient color.

Luckily for Keck, he lived in Providence, R.I.,whose now-imprisoned mayor, the great Buddy Cianci, was open to any lunatic scheme that might promote his beloved city. And so it came to pass that six fire companies gathered in downtown Providence one sunny day and commenced to water the sky. Didn't work, of course, but everyone involved had a fine time, including the mayor.

We're made of water, the planet's covered with water, and water, by its presence or absence, defines our lives in the American West. That's why I had unreasonably high hopes for the Business of Arts Center's latest show: H2O -- Essential for Life. I guess I expected some high-spirited fun, like Keck's circular rainbow, or some serious-minded attempts to deal with water in the West. C'mon, folks -- in the last several years, Manitou's had a major flood, Colorado has had a major drought, and America's worst forest fire devastated the Pike National Forest.

Inspiration enough, you'd think, but apparently not. What we've got, with few exceptions, are hackneyed, perfunctory attempts at creating something that fits into the show's format. It's as if you'd asked a bunch of fifth-graders to write an essay on their summer vacations, and found out that, instead of going to Disney World, their parents had taken 'em to Detroit.

So the show's not exactly a blockbuster, but there are some pleasing pieces anyway.

I particularly liked "Trade Off," Mary Helsaple's mixed-media piece. Above the ghostly palimpsest of a free-flowing river, full of wildlife, Helsaple has constructed a forest of copper pipes sucking the life out of the river, which in its passage through the pipes is transmogrified into a river of products: an obvious message wittily delivered.

And take a look at "2 Faced," Alan Gonzales' slickly airbrushed underwater scenes painted onto a scuba tank.

Paul Dahlsten's three lovely ceramic sculptures have little to do with water, other than their labored titles (e.g., "Suessinese Melting Ice Pagoda"), but they're very pleasant to look at.

Bob Hill's "Ration Rack" -- suspended rows of bottles of dyed water -- is mildly inventive and mildly interesting. And I liked his "Husband," a flamboyantly weird, carved wooden sea creature.

There are a couple of other shows currently at the BAC, both of which are also worth a look.

Jeannie Breeding's watercolors series "Roadside Color -- the Highway 115" are technically adept, evocative and rewarding. Hers is a quiet, mysterious land of small, intimate vistas. She prefers a winter fog to the hard, bright summer days that bake and flatten the low hills along 115.

Over in the 515 gallery, Jerry Stein's photographs "The Role of Nature in the Human Spirit" are on display. Stein's a fine photographer, and his technical competence, combined with deeply felt subject matter that he incorporates into his psychiatric practice, make this a worthwhile exhibition.

--John Hazlehurst


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