"AND NOW," CRIED Max, "let the wild rumpus start." Max's familiar exhortation in the Maurice Sendak children's book Where the Wild Things Are serves both as emblem for Raw Gallery's twilight show, and epitaph for the gallery itself. The plucky, 7-year-old alternative space is shutting its doors at the end of this monster show, the victim of downtown's doldrums and its owners' ambitions to move on.
Co-owners Vicki Keller and George E. Huffman are off to Richmond, Virginia: Keller to graduate school for a master's in English, Huffman to pursue his painting. Wild rumpuses might await the couple in Richmond, but they've already put on a pretty good run of them at Raw.
The final show, replete with dragons and monsters that go bump in the night, is typical of the gallery's blend of the raw and the refined. Where the Wild Things Are numbers some 27 works in a media mix that careens all the way from disciplined oil on canvas to a helter-skelter plastic skeleton plopped on a store-bought pedestal. Jonathon Nix painted "Nude #1078," a prickly oil whose deft painterliness is at odds with its monstrous subject: a female nude foundering among the sharp spines in a prickly pear patch. Mark Murray is the skeleton assemblage artist. His "21st Century Artifact" melds assorted gold-metal found objects on the silver-painted plastic skull; the whole affair is jammed onto a fancy fluted pedestal.
It's to Raw's credit that the small gallery has managed in its understated shows to allude to bigger art issues. For instance, together these two pieces help define two trends in contemporary art. The nude testifies to the persistence of classic painting, directed to new, odd subjects, while the plastic sculpture stands for the proposition that at this late date in commercialization true art must reflect the mass production that shapes our lives.
The artists on view represent another divide, one that could be significant for Tucson. The show gathers "in a 60-40 split artists we've shown before and people we wish we could have shown," Keller said.
Among the familiar artists are Joe Forkan and Michael Longstaff, painters who've entered into collaborations with Huffman in the past, and who've both shown quite a bit in town in recent years. Forkan's "Night Shadow," a dark mixed-media piece with white figures against a shadowy background, is the classic childhood nightmare--all too appropriate for a gallery on the verge of extinction. A huge monster, all teeth and long claws, hovers over a tiny figure in a bed. Longstaff, a mixed-media photog turned painter, made an acrylic on panel of an allusive, elusive, striped monster. Neighbor Daryl Childs, the artist who runs D.C. Harris Gallery, did a traditional monotype of the face of "Rasputin," while Gary Swimmer, the painter who's temporarily directing Dinnerware up the street, made a watery mixed media, "Bad Dream." Painter Lynn O'Brien, a member of TAG, the Thursday Art Group Huffman helped organize, painted a scary "Boogie Man," complete with a tiny door, anxiously ajar.
All these names are relatively well known on the Tucson scene, promoted at Raw and elsewhere. Call them the Old Guard of the New Wave. But it could be that the lesser-knowns, poised to burst onto the alternative art scene, will carry on the Raw legacy. Such artists as Russell Kahn, Pasqualina Azzarello and Matt Cotten bring to the show the kind of uncooked art that's been Raw's trademark. Kahn contributed a provocative dragon, a serigraph print in great flat planes of red, green and yellow. Azzarello's "Monster" is downright Huffman-like in its childlike joy with weird shapes and colors. Cotten's "Grueling Feats of Contortion" is a prototypical Bad Painting. Half graffiti, half naïve art, this mixed media pictures a monstrous woman with a mechanical-looking face, composed of yellow and brown geometries; her body a putrid purple.
She ain't pretty, that's for sure, but she's raw and she's outrageous. And the painter who painted her has just opened a gallery, Tucson Puppet Works, around the corner from Raw on Congress Street. So, perhaps, the wild rumpus can continue.
Where the Wild Things Are continues through Saturday, May 27, at Raw Gallery, 43 S. Sixth Ave. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 882-6927.