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Respect your elder

SouthEnd upstart previews five intriguing artists

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The ElderArt Gallery is the new kid on the block in the SouthEnd area of Charlotte, a neighborhood which appears to be vying for a larger piece of the art market.Larry Elder is showing a preview of five artists he'll show solo later this year. Four Shadow Plus One is a sampling of what this gallery will offer Charlotte in the coming years. These artists are out-of-towners who have gone little seen or unseen in the Queen City before now. Like ElderArt Gallery, these five artists venture a little off the beaten path, draw deserved attention and are welcome new blood in Charlotte.

Painter Leonel Matheu uses lush organic surfaces of wax and oil to communicate a narrative of modern man's clumsy attempts to make peace with his natural environment. The outcome of this disjointed fusion appears to be neglect, sorrow and flight. At best, Matheu's muddled man may surrender his perceived superiority and destructive hubris to the more resilient and reliable natural world around him.

"Where I Come From To Where I'm Going" is a large (60" x 50") painting of a bare-backed man fleeing the threat of a swinging sledgehammer and the confines of a high rise, low end housing project. The man's head is an elongated building sporting antennae, an apparatus insufficient to the task of finding his way out. A haloed, handless angel with dragonfly wings weeps for the man. Matheu's iconography is simple and brawny, his surfaces both lush and lurid; his paintings are spirits in revolt. His narrative is sad and powerful.

Karen Powell casts bronze sculptures depicting women trying to keep their balance. "Balancing Act" is a nude woman deftly teetering on the top rung of a rope ladder. The ladder rises from atop a globe precariously impaled on the tip of a hip roof covering a skeletal house. The woman's impossible feat appears paradoxically possible, even inevitable. Perhaps it's only reasonable because the act is so necessary. Artist Powell says in her statement: "Living is balancing. Our whole life is about balance: the difficulties of reaching it, trying to maintain it, and losing it."

The women in her work are caught the lofty instant of perfect balance. None appears ready to fall.

Tom Perkinson's paintings are this show's best sellers. He is an "Ohh" and "Ahh" painter whose work melds seamlessly into the optimistic and mood-dominated school of late French and American Impressionist landscape painting. In his statement, he himself best describes the tone of his paintings: light spirited, romantic, idealistic, innocent, carefree.

The painting "Tower Bridge, London" shows the famous landmark through a busy mix of whirled green and yellow oil paint. Blurred and silhouetted buildings rise from water's edge into the night sky. The sky reflects the water, the water reflects the buildings. The tower's spires pierce the fog and dissolve into the water. Tiny points of light on the horizon also pierce the fog. The fog-shrouded "Tower Bridge," like other Perkinson paintings here, easily elicits a specific mood as it delivers you to a particular place and time.

Perkinson's watercolors exude a similar sated, halcyon and romantic mood, but he takes less time and more risks with these. The colors are stippled washes, and the effect heightens the ethereal quality of the landscape. The watercolors breathe easier than the oils.

Jill Jones' artist statement is a joy to read: direct, clear and spare -- an anomaly in the world of artist's statements. And her pastel and charcoal drawings of trees are even better than her words.

Jones is all trees here, drawings small and large. Her trees are both integrated and segregated from the surrounding landscape -- they're part of the ground and sky, but they stand, solitary or grouped together, apart from grass and path and clouds, as if they were brought forward to the front of the line for special attention. Her trees are pinned somewhere between the cult of individual personalities and the divine.

These drawings of trees don't initially invite a criticism of technique but instead lure you in, seduce. We step inside and are instantly biased once we're inside, part of the work. But the work holds up once we step out and look back.

Jones writes, "I came to see the work as studies in relationship: what it means to be part of a group; what it means to stand alone; how each of us fits into our individual "landscapes.'"

Jones uses the trees as metaphors for self, representing "less the world around me than a world within." She likens us to trees, making us larger with her comparison. We're flattered by the metaphor.

Gina Gilmore paints small, quirky, inscrutable visual narratives. Each painting is 4" by 4" and wrapped in a plain white box frame. There are 24 little paintings here, each group of three or nine titled "Notes from Orient 3," "Notes from Orient 2," and so on.

These are quick mysterious pages from a children's book, all the images describing a reduced or abstract landscape, waterscape or human activity.

The tiny paintings appear both labored over and quickly done, as if the image comes to the artist instantly, but she worked to get the communication just right, the painting just so. They are cartoons, picture postcards from an imagined life. The postcards are from an enviable vacation.

In two rooms at ElderArt Gallery are paintings by American Impressionist painter Leon A. Makielski from his travels in France around 1912. Much of this work has that instant evocation of mood and place found in good Impressionist paintings from the early 20th century.

Leon Makielski was Elder's inaugural show. Finding a talented and longtime underexposed artist for his gallery launch was so gleefully unlikely, Elder must see it as a sign. His luck and savvy will likely keep him around awhile.

The exhibit Four Shadow Plus One runs through February 22 at ElderArt Gallery, Suite 101, 1427 South Boulevard. Call 704-370-6337 for more information.

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