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Echoes, Memories And Dreams

Select musings on what's up around town

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The new year brings a host of variety to our art scene. Painting and photography predominate the shows, and a couple of current exhibits reflect the personal pasts of the artists.

* Echoes: A Century Survey, on display through February 8 in UNC-Charlotte's Rowe Arts Main Gallery, is a fantastic exhibition by New York artist Arnold Mesches. A figural, self-referential painter, Mesches uses contrasting tones and loose strokes -- most often termed "expressionistic" -- in these paintings, which are mostly acrylic on canvas.

The Gate and The Gold Chain have a bold, Kathe Kollwitz approach to the medium. Some of Mesches' smaller, simpler, late 20th century drawings effectively reflect some of the same vivid, aesthetic power of that German graphic artist, best known for her drawings from the 1920s and 30s.

A pair of Mesches' evocative larger works, Lead Soldiers (1996, 70"x62") and Read for Knowledge (1996, 66"x76"), depict the painter's memories of times past, and contain the recurring image of a young boy who seems to allude to the artist himself. Lead Soldiers depicts Mesches as a little boy, heading off an enlarged company of toy soldiers advancing toward him in the middle of the brightly colored living room carpet.

In the large, active Read for Knowledge, a chockful panoply of color and detail commemorating the Times Square style newsstand, circa 1950, it's the young Mesches who sits behind the counter. Those gaudy kiosks with their racy contents continue to exist, on some level, in some cities, but their bright tawdriness is nowadays diminished by Internet accessibility of much more lurid and much less innocent material, leading inevitably (but we hope not) to the gradual demise of magazines with titles like Ladies from Hades and Celeste, the Gold Coast Virgin.

Hanging on the wall either side of Read for Knowledge are accompanying smaller pieces painted to resemble the same sort of "horror" and "detective" magazines depicted in the big painting, much as "putti" flank a large central altarpiece. There were many more of these squared-off over-ripe magazine cover mementos of adolescent fantasy at the show's origination in Oregon; in the Charlotte showing, less than a dozen or these "Horror Stories," or "Lady from Hell: Sinister Woman," remain.

The show invites interesting comparisons between these images of comic book covers and Mesches' many honorific portraits of his mother; a nearby diptych depicts the elderly Anna Mesches resting in a Matisse-like armchair.

Several snapshot-style black-and-white paintings coexist with larger ones in this UNC-Charlotte exhibition, bearing images and symbols of events important in Mesches' life. Painted to resemble a photograph, the diminutive and intimately scaled Echoes 51 (2000, 7-5/8"x4-5/8") reenacts a 1941 outdoors snapshot of a young woman, saluting girl-scout style, silhouetted against the pale sky. Is she a symbol? Or is she simply shading her eyes into the sun?

At 77, Mesches isn't really old enough to claim an entire "century" of memory, but he's getting closer. In this survey or retrospective of sorts, he offers the art-viewing public a personal perspective on the historical connections that run between Jewish Americans, especially those whose families immigrated to America via New York. This is one of the best painting shows to come to Charlotte for several years; it's a "must-see."

Regular gallery hours at the UNC-Charlotte art department are 10am-4pm weekdays. For more information, call Dean Butckovitz, gallery manager, at 704-687-4479.

* Jews who immigrated to the Middle East have a different perspective on life than those who came to America -- a viewpoint reflected in Son of the Kibbutz by Chanan Getraide, an exhibition of photographs at Central Piedmont Community College that feature Israeli landscapes and life in the kibbutz. The artist lives near Tel Aviv, in Kibbutz Shiller, where his parents immigrated during WWII and where he was born and raised. According to publicist Fania Greenwood, Chanan's work focuses on "...nature studies, industrial landscapes and interactions between people and technology."

This work is on view through February 22, 2002 at the CPCC Art Gallery, across from Pease Auditorium on the main campus. Mr. Getraide will present slides at a closing reception on Thursday, February 21.

Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday, 11am-3pm; Fridays, 11am-1pm; or by appointment. Phone: 704-330-6480. There's another reception, exclusively for photographers, at the Light Factory Gallery on Saturday, February 23.

* Argentine artist Raul Diaz celebrates his fourth solo exhibition at the Jerald Melberg Gallery in The Landscape of Dreams: Paintings, Sculpture, and Works on Paper, on view through March 9, 2002. Softer than the more hard-edged surrealism of Europe of the 1930s and 40s, Diaz's work nevertheless conveys similar dreamlike feelings imparted by paintings by those earlier artists.

Melberg says that Diaz's "images of boats, kites, horses and peaceful human figures [are] evoked by the artist's memories of his youth in Cordoba, Argentina." Well, present-day Argentina hasn't been very peaceful so far this year, but there is a gentleness in Mar Distante (2000, acrylic on wood, 31-1/2"x43-1/2"), populated with figures against blocks of pretty, rich ochres and sun-washed cobalt blue, and in Mar Verde (2000, acrylic on wood, 63-1/4"x49-3/4"), in which one boat is occupied while others float nearby in a tranquil expanse of distinctive green. More "illustrative" than the last work by Diaz I saw, but equally lush and painterly.

You can see them on-line at www.jeraldmelberg.com or in the flesh at the gallery, open Monday through Saturday from 10am until 6pm, in Morrocroft. For more info, call 704-365-3000.

* A new venue in our midst is ElderArt Gallery, located between SouthEnd and Dilworth, at 1427 South Boulevard, which opens a show to celebrate Black History Month on Friday, February 1 from 6-9pm, in conjunction with Charlotte's Gallery Crawl.

"We want ElderArt to be a place where people of all ages feel welcome and want to visit often... Children and parents are encouraged to enjoy and learn from our exhibitions," says Larry Elder.

ElderArt is open Tuesday through Friday from 10am until 6pm and Saturdays from 10am-2pm or by appointment. For more info, contact Larry Elder at 704-370-6337 or lelder@mindspring.com.

* Elsewhere in Dilworth, it's hard to get your footing alongside the Latta Pavilion construction project on East Boulevard, but if there's a pause in the traffic, you can glimpse the six-paneled mural by James Preslar (best from across the street) depicting "street scenes" that decorate the wall of the construction site.

Conceived as a way to "give pedestrians and commuters a peek at things to come," co-developers Dennis Richter of Richter & Associates and Clay Grubb of Grubb Properties commissioned Preslar to paint the 88-foot long, 8-foot tall mural. The work has a cheery self-taught quality, depicting storefronts, a courtyard cafe, dining by candlelight and a view from the terrace of a penthouse. I wish the painter had studied the great French Post-Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte before painting this last panel -- no one evokes urban views from a balcony more effectively. But a mural is a good idea, and the developers are to be congratulated on employing artists to evoke their dreams. *

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