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By Philip Jackson

September 14, 2011

Art: Fixated on art

Galerie Hertz celebrates 20th anniversary with ‘Obsessive Attention to Detail’

Obsession is often related to compulsion, an irresistible urge over which a person has no control. Yet the pieces in “Obsessive Attention to Detail,” a group show at Galerie Hertz, exhibit extreme self-control. The work of each artist is detailed and nuanced. Walking around sculptures made of snakeskin, turtle shell and porcupine needles; surveying digitized photographs; and contemplating bronzed cassette tapes, leaves and light bulbs, it is hard to deny the impact craft has on today’s contemporary art.

Brad White’s sculptures are metal representations of everyday objects, giving us an opportunity to think about things — stuff — in another way. A few of White’s works combine plastic bottles with branches, a dichotomy between nature and the manufactured. But the most successful works are the cast-bronzed representations of daily items. These objects communicate through familiar shapes and forms. Since we have these objects in our daily lives, and the artist has stayed true to their size and structure, we are left with an understanding that the process of making — and looking at what is made — is the foundation of art.

Similar in craftsmanship but radically different in style are the works by Albert Sperath. Using snakeskins, porcupine quills and turtle shells, Sperath creates playful and kinetic sculptures and shadowboxes. The quills on one sculpture sway under the force of the ceiling fan, and on another, a turtle shell suspended on hinges bounces lightly. They are designed, controlled, thought-out uses of organic materials.

The show also includes oil paintings of eggs, in heightened lights and darks, broken from their shells. In painter Philip Jackson’s realistic works, the yolks and liquid whites take center stage, resting on backgrounds of brown and purple. Although done in oil, a viewer thinks of egg tempera and the quest for robust colors throughout the history of painting. A few of the paintings are referred to as “studies,” and one shimmering glazed painting hangs alone.

“Most of my paintings are painted indirectly, which involves 10 to 15 layers of transparent washes, much like that of the old masters,” Jackson says. “I begin with an underpainting as a grisaille (a monochromatic painting in tones of gray). Then, I slowly layer each ‘glaze’ of color on top of the underpainting, which gives its rich effect of luminosity, as if it is lit from within.”

The exhibition opens with a Michelle Castro collage and a digital photograph by Jim Ferringer. The placement is strategic — both Castro and Ferringer were in the gallery’s inaugural show, which opened Sept. 13, 1991.

Castro’s work on the lead wall is a two-dimensional collage, but within the exhibition, she has three-dimensional works on view as well. Creating paintings and sculptures with applied adornments, Castro utilizes iconography often seen in Mexican folk art — religious symbols, a human heart and a ribbon painted with the words “Begin with the end in mind.” Even Castro’s image at the front door, what may be a self-portrait, echoes depictions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, with a downcast gaze, long flowing hair and a gemmed robe. Her works utilize these powerful symbols to comment on our everyday experiences.

Colorized and layered in Photoshop, the digital photographs of Ferringer also employ classic symbols. They are laden with sculptures, decorative framing devices and homoeroticism. The photos are interesting in how textural lines and fuzzy Photoshop filters are applied to the attractive models. Reminiscent of scratched negatives, it’s as if we have reached perfection with imaging technology and are now compelled to alter that perfection.

Artists who are compelled to mine art history, master a craft, and discover new ways to communicate with an audience are all represented in “Obsessive Attention to Detail.” While taking in the exhibit, congratulate a pillar of Louisville’s art community on 20 years of success. Art lovers across the city benefit from Galerie Hertz’s fixation. Obsession, it turns out, can sometimes be a wonderful thing.

‘Obsessive Attention to Detail’
Through Sept. 25
Galerie Hertz
1253 S. Preston St. • 551-1017
www.billyhertzgallery.com