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Christina Empedocles' "The Birds" at Burnet Gallery.

, Burnet Gallery

Drawn to detail

  • Article by: ART REVIEW MARY ABBE
  • September 28, 2012 - 2:06 PM

Trend-spotters alert: Three pretty amazing shows of drawings -- and two of paintings -- are now on view in Minneapolis galleries.

That isn't enough to call a trend, but it's a definite sign of something in the air. After seasons dominated by photo shows and sprawling installations, there's something refreshing about exquisitely finished pencil sketches and bold paintings, both figurative and abstract.

Soo Visual Arts Center

Contemporary fashion magazines often revel in misery. Gorgeous, lanky blondes gaze sullenly from glossy pages, their anxious eyes betraying fear and doubt behind their hauteur. These are the haunted creatures Serena Cole unmasks in nine drawings and watercolors in "Through a Glass, Darkly."

Cole has an exquisite hand with a colored pencil, conveying in precise lines and delicate tones the beauty and distress of her mostly female subjects. They float, apparently drowned and abandoned, in dark water or gaze from black mirrors, their features ever so slightly out of whack, with reddened eyes, too-small mouths, oversized noses. In her beautiful nightmares, surreal lovelies sport skull earrings, guns and tiaras as they run through flaming landscapes buoyed by clouds of beads and flowers. Her bleak assessment of the destructive undercurrent in the beauty myth is enhanced by a vast collage of her source material, all high-fashion photos tinged with decadence and decay.

Clever sketches by three other artists fill SooVAC's secondary gallery. Brian David Downs mashes together centuries of incongruous images -- John the Baptist's head(s), dapper dancers, Assyrian sculpture, Egyptian gods and grocery carts. Jason and Jesse Pearson, twins who also call themselves Dick and Wayne, have produced watercolors marked by gay jokes, fey insults and kitschy psychedelia.

Through Oct. 20. Free. 2638 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. 612-871-2263 or www.soovac.org.

Burnet Gallery

Even under the closest scrutiny, the crumpled movie posters look like photos in Christina Empedocles' hyper-realistic pencil drawings. The San Francisco artist spends weeks -- even months -- creating her illusions, which include a scrap of a Brenda Starr cartoon taped to a slab of wood, a crumpled Alfred Hitchcock film poster, a discarded love note and bird illustrations. Her enthusiasm for pop culture detritus goes hand in hand with very impressive Old Master skill.

By comparison, the fantasy landscapes of Minneapolis artist Pamela Valfer seem wan and underdeveloped. Like Mark Tansey, who has injected little portraits of philosophers into Grand Canyon landscapes, Valfer's "Landscape Simulations" combine facts and fantasy. She sticks a "Star Wars" hut on an Irish plateau, plops a Weimar-era German building onto the banks of Ohio's Cuyahoga River and drops Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie into a Yorkshire gulch. The concepts are potentially engaging, but the execution is unpersuasive, her lines too tentative and forms undifferentiated.

Through Nov. 11. Free. Le Meridien Chambers Hotel, 901 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-767-6900 or www.burnetgallery.com.

Groveland Gallery and Annex

A consummate draftsman, Michael Kareken heads to an auto salvage yard for a show that could well be called "Death in the Afternoon," as it features cars crushed in accidents or abandoned in age. In 22 drawings and paintings, he records rusted engine blocks, stripped door panels, burned auto interiors and smashed windshields whose cracked glass sparkles and gleams in the midday sun.

Throughout, he deftly balances depiction and poetry by describing hoses, cables, springs and other innards accurately while letting paint streaks and drip add to their rough beauty. Mesmerizing colors in his cracked glass -- aqua, lime, lavender, yellow -- dazzle the eye even as the image conveys the heat and claustrophobia of a head-on crash. The show hits an emotional peak in the third gallery, where images of crushed windshields and deployed air bags hint at the dark fates of the cars' former owners.

In Groveland's Annex gallery, Colorado artist Jean Gumpper explores desert landscapes in a series of exquisitely beautiful and extraordinarily complex woodcuts. Known for her images of reeds and leaves reflected in water, she was challenged by a recent water-deprived residency in the Mojave Desert. Besides a lovely series of playing-card-sized images of cacti and flowers, she produced stunning prints suggesting the seasons and moods of a place marked by muted hues, bare twigs and dry grasses bent in winter winds.

Through Oct. 13. Free. 25 Groveland Terrace, Mpls. 612-377-7800 or www.grovelandgallery.com.

Gallery 13

Best known as a sculptor and arts writer, Duluth artist Ann Klefstad has turned 20 plywood panels -- each 8 feet tall -- and several steel sculptures of deer and wolves into a North Woods diorama. Hinged like folding screens, the panels are "painted" with tar, and feature images of life-sized deer in forest habitats. Her graceful sculptures, which she rightly compares to origami, are an appealing extension of the two-dimensional woods that surround them. Arranged like a theatrical set, the installation allows viewers to move into and around it as if onstage.

Through Oct. 14. Free. 811 LaSalle Av. S., Mpls. Artist's talk 2-4 p.m. Sat. Sept. 29. 651-592-5503 or www.gallery13.com.

Douglas Flanders & Associates

Doug Flanders and new gallery director Japeth A. Storlie have paired two Minnesota artists, quasi-realist painter Mary Lingen and abstract painter George Farrah. Autumnal colors dominate in an unfortunately overcrowded display. Lingren's attractive landscapes of woods and water are faceted as if designed for conversion into quilts or stained glass windows. Farrah's thickly pigmented canvases also hint at landscapes or geological features, albeit more obliquely as they shift from map-like aerial vistas to gestural abstractions with mere hints of branches or tree trunks.

Through Nov. 3. Free. 910 W. Lake St., Mpls.

651-213-2662 or www.flandersart.com.

mabbe@startribune.com • 612-673-4431

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