Arts & Culture » Arts: Feature

“Oh Frabjous Day!”

Mosman and Sanasardo capture movement in “brillig” new works at Main Library and Temple Gallery

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With apologies to Lewis Carroll, who rejoices in a day both "brillig" and "frabjous" in his invented-word poem "Jabberwocky," Tucsonans have every reason to revel in two brillig painting exhibitions downtown.

Tim Mosman evokes Carroll's unrestrained aesthetic in his signature painting "Jabberwocky," a riotous tangle of gold, blue and white that's a visual analogue to the author's wild words. The shimmering gold of the paint that snakes across the surface of the artwork even mimics the feared Jabberwock's "eyes of flame."

A longtime artist who recently retired as exhibition designer and preparator at the Center for Creative Photography, Mosman produces boldly colored abstractions swirling with movement. Their energetic strokes of color slip and slide and soar off the paper they're painted on.

Likewise, painter Paul Sanasardo, a 90-year-old who was a dancer and choreographer most of his adult life, conjures up the joyous movement of his dancing days. He makes plenty of facial portraits but he also delights in capturing movement, painting runners catapulting along Chicago's Lake Michigan and stylized dancers flinging their arms and legs into space.

The two nimble artists are both exhibiting work for one month only in downtown locations slighting off the usual art track, Sanasardo at the Temple of Music and Art, and Mosman at the Joel Valdez Main Library.

Mosman's 21 paintings—mostly jewel-colored gouaches on paper—are in the far reaches of the bustling library's entrance lobby, behind lively displays of recommended books. He last showed locally at Temple Gallery, coincidentally, stunning art fans with paintings that were beyond beautiful. The new works, most of them painted this year, match the perfection of those 2016 gems.

They have the same brash and brilliant colors—gold, rose-red, royal blue—and the dizzyingly delightful compositions of the older paintings. Mostly on the small side—11 by 8 1/3 inches—the paintings are gleefully layered, with the bottom colors pushing their way up through to the big swatches on top.

"Re-formed," for example, has a rich red swathe of paint underneath a latticework of fat yellow squares, while "Articulated Form," is another Jabberwockian tangle. Curving black lines that look like wintry branches splay out over patches of mustard-colored paint; the mustard, in turn, spills over still another layer, of red-orange and cerulean. "Moroccan Landscape" has broad strokes of bright blue and black charging across an underlayer of pale pink and orange.

Mosman sometimes makes collages, with lovely and delicate overlays. "Notebook Painting: Ortiz," mixes gesso and collage on Bristol board. Colored deep blue, black and white, it elevates the lowly paper of a scratch pad to high art. And he's experimenting now with fat horizontal stripes that suggest landscape. "This Was Once a Sea" is a cascade of colored bars—apricot, blue, white—that look for all the world like a western horizon, with flatlands and mountains meeting the sky.

In fact, while Sanasardo is a figurative painter and Mosman an abstractionist, they align at some points. "This Was Once a Sea" fits right in with Sanasardo's paintings of Chicago's beloved Lake Michigan and its infinite horizon. And Mosman's "Dance," features rosy pink paint curling—and yes, dancing—atop a brilliant layer of royal blue. Squint and you'll see dancers moving in a painterly choreography.

Sanasardo, born in 1928 in Chicago, rose to the top of the dance world, dancing with Anna Sokolow's troupe in New York, appearing on Broadway and founding his own Paul Sanasardo Dance Company. Ultimately he directed the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company, still known as a hotbed of invention and experimental dance.

But before he leaped onto stages, Sanasardo was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he imbibed the modernism of the 1940s and '50s. (A classmate and friend was Robert Indiana, famed for his LOVE sculptures.) In retirement, Sanasardo is back home in the Windy City, painting constantly.

His colorful expressionist works are simplified and flat, with "hard-edge" images outlined with black bands. The show at the Temple has more than 100 paintings, untitled, and curated by his friend Doug Nielsen, a retired UA professor of dance who danced at Batsheva with Sanasardo, and Tucson painter Craig Cully.

Sanasardo's eye roams widely. Besides the numerous dancer pieces, inspired by the wooden manikins with moving arms and legs that are used to teach the body to art students, he exhibits myriad views of Chicago.

His charming architectural paintings glimpse old-timey red-brick spires by day and by night; the urban geometry of boxy buildings and streets; human figures seen far below, struggling down windy sidewalks. A collection of trees for all seasons are gathered together in a grid; like Harry Callahan's famous black-and-white photos, these arboreal works picture bare branches against the broad expanse of the lake.

The lake paintings mostly focus on the human activity on the miles-long pavements that zig-zag along the shoreline: groups of friends gathered, those speedy runners. But some are more transcendent. A lifeguard gazes out at the endless water in one painting and, in another, the lake is uninhabited. It's nature unmolested.

The astonishing portraits—by my count there are 87—are apparently done from both memory and imagination. These small head shots of men's faces are extraordinary, each one distinct, each one alive and alert. Whether real or invented, these faces carve out a trajectory of a lifetime, an homage to the thousands of fellow humans all of us come across in our lifespans—especially if we hit our 90s, as Sansadaro has.

The most profound portraits may be the four self-portraits gathered in a corner. Sanasardo paints himself as the old man he is, bald and thin. In one he's downcast, but in the other three he looks directly ahead, frowning thoughtfully, and looking like a font of wisdom, a model of a life well-lived. Frabjous.

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