"The whole idea," Mike Dominguez says, "is not to make miniatures, but to get a good idea--this big."
This big, as he indicates with a hand gesture, is mighty small. What Dominguez is talking about is Davis Dominguez Gallery's annual Small Works Invitational. For the last 11 years, gallery owners Dominguez and Candy Davis have invited artists to make whatever kind of work they please for the show, as long as it fits roughly into the space Dominguez has created with his palms--about 12 inches wide.
This year, Dominguez opines, the artist DeAnn Melton has contributed a piece that exactly fits the criteria. Her luscious little oil, "Ibis," is a fully realized painting that just happens to be tiny. There's no dumbing down here: The buttery "Ibis" is loosely, deliciously painted, in a burst of thick Florida colors from salmon to orange to green. Front and center is the black-and-white bird, expressionistically rendered.
In the past, the gallery has invited only Tucson artists, making the exhibition a fun annual accounting of local talent. But this time around, they've invited all their gallery artists, including a number of out-of-towners. Among the carpetbaggers are such worthies as Pamela Marks and Robert Royhl, who've checked in with a watercolor landscape shattered cubist-style and a multicolored portrait head in egg tempera, respectively.
Still, Tucson's big guns are mostly accounted for--from Alfred G. Quiróz, prize-winning star of the TMA Arizona Biennial, to Nancy Tokar Miller, Jim Waid, James G. Davis, James Cook, Joy Fox and even the late Bruce McGrew--along with some newer-comers.
Beyond the size demands, this appealing show--64 works strong--has no particular guiding principle. Dominguez argues that the inadvertent theme might be "dream," but it's hard to ignore the pull the natural world has exerted on his artists. Maybe it's on account of the annual summer longing for an escape from the city, but nearly half of the works, Melton's and Marks' included, are landscape-inspired. Many painters have cut the monumental Western landscape down to Small Works size. Duncan Martin's oil "Saguaro West" is all green saguaros and cacti glittering in the sun. Its backdrop blue mountain looks a lot like the one in Farzad Nakhai's "Sunset Over Tucson Valley," a boldly painted acrylic on canvas.
Debra Salopek, a fine painter long laboring down Patagonia way, has switched teams and moved to northern New Mexico. Gone are her rolling Southern Arizona hills; in their place are the folds of New Mexico's canyons, so familiar from the work of Georgia O'Keeffe. But Salopek, always a distinctive painter, has stripped this rainbow land of color and painted it black. The only concession to color in her "Ojo Caliente, N.M." is a flash of red on a horizon line, perhaps a tribute to O'Keeffe's fleshy hues.
Not surprisingly in this dry season, a number of the paintings picture water. Don Bell's "Sabino Canyon," an oil on board, pleasingly conjures up the mountain oasis' alluring pools. Other painters had to depart the ecozone to find water. Philip Melton painted a woodlands creek in his acrylic "Water of Leith." Judith D'Agostino made a pastel of an autumnal forest, with the trees' golden leaves reflected in puddles in the foreground. McGrew's painting depicts the coolest of all these geographies: the crashing waves of the Scottish coast.
In the non-landscape division, human figure category, Willie Bonner has made a charming drawing of jazz musicians; next door, painter Monika Rossa has one of her trademark child violinists practicing in an eerily empty house. Robert Varga's "Side Glance" is a beautiful little portrait head in oil. Susan Conaway, who effectively uses fruits as stand-ins for humans, makes a wrenching grouping of old masterly pears in her oil "Family Crisis."
In the miniscule abstraction category, Mike Stack's intelligent oil on "Light and Variations" assembles short bars of colors into intricate geometries. Colored in mauves, purples and pale pinks, the little painting is a foretaste of a one-person Stack show scheduled for the gallery's upcoming season. Sculpture standouts include Fox's mournful "Red Necklace," a ceramic head with a neck pierced by nails, and Barbara Jo McLaughlin's dangerous "Spike," a prickly combo of wood and copper.
Even all the landscapes are not just pretty pictures. "Tucson Tractor," an oil on canvas by Nancy Prevo, is nicely painted--a pale rendition of a not-at-all-picturesque Tucson yard. The trees are wizened, the dried earth is gray. A dusty blue tractor, emblematic of a Tucson that once was, presides forlornly in the midst of this desiccation.
Quiróz can't resist imposing a naughty erogenous-religious overlay on the land. At first, his "La Virgen entre las Montanas," an oil on canvas, looks like your typical Virgin of Guadalupe, though in this case superimposed upon some mountains. Then you start noticing that she has no face. It turns out this Virgin is not a full-fledged woman but full-fledged female genitalia in pink and green clothes. The yellow flames surrounding her are pubic hair, and the mountains beside her are a pair of female thighs.
It's a full-scale Quiróz outrage, rendered tiny--just what Small Works asked for.