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Longtime artist friends finally stage a group show at Davis Dominguez Gallery.

By Margaret Regan

JANUARY 20, 1998:  FOLLOW THE ROCKS in the new Mini Blockbuster show at Davis Dominguez Gallery. If you read them right, they tell the story of a longtime relationship among three pioneering artists up at Oracle's Rancho Linda Vista.

James G. Davis has painted a big gray boulder set against a blue-green landscape in "Friends," an oil on paper. The rock is the backdrop for two men affectionately posing arm in arm. You'll find the same rock, a half-circle flattened out on the bottom, in Bruce McGrew's "Colorado Pond," an oil on canvas. McGrew's rock is in one of his characteristically transcendent landscapes, a deep-green pine forest split in two by a shaft of light. There's the rock again in Davis' "Beaver Pond," jutting above dark waters in a forest. This painting looks even more like a McGrew than "Friends" does, and it's set in a clay frame by Joy Fox, who also contributes a frame or two to works by McGrew, her husband.

Nobody familiar with their work would mistake a Davis painting for a McGrew, but it's easy to read the uncharacteristic Davis rocks as homages to his friend McGrew, who has long painted the local landscape and made something of a trademark of rocks. The Davis collaboration with Fox honors her familiar works in clay, colored in the reds and beiges of the Oracle earth, and it echoes the more familiar Fox-McGrew collaborations in clay and paint.

The three artists, all gallery regulars, have never before shown their works together there. This charming show is a big one for Davis Dominguez, with some 39 works by the three artists squeezed into the small space (more on that later). In common they have their friendship, long-time tenancy at the ranch and some level of inspiration from the Oracle terrain--Davis less than the others. But naturally all three have distinctive artistic styles. Davis, for instance, who has spent a good deal of time in cosmopolitan Berlin as well as in the lovely Oracle boonies, brings a kind of urban tension to his landscapes that the other two don't have.

Unlike McGrew, Davis almost always sets figures into his depictions of land and sea, and the uneasy relationships between the people are reflected in nature. Two little gems, "Coffin Island/Red Sea" and "Jealousy," both oils on canvas, trace out complicated interactions among three people at a lake, which by turns is blood-red and envy-yellow. Davis flattens out his terrain too, compressing foreground, background and horizon into a solitary plane that can be claustrophobic, even foreboding.

McGrew, on the other hand, is more like the 19th-century painters who found in the infinite land a source of redemption. In fact, McGrew's startling shafts of light, beaming into the forest in "Colorado Pond" or illuminating the land where it meets the water in "Lady of the Lake," have a distinctively 19th-century quality. His light makes of the earth a thing sublime. His colors are wholly contemporary though, in a mostly light palette that takes in pale pinks and yellows and lavenders to deep greens and blues.

If there's anything awkward about his lovely works, it's the classical-style nudes that McGrew occasionally introduces into them, a naked Adam and Eve, for instance, or a mysterious lady on the shore. He does much better when he keeps people out of his land altogether. The large "Oracle Afternoon," a watercolor/collage, is as good as McGrew gets: Its hillside is lit up by the sun, but its yellow desert trees and red clay earth shine with a radiant light all their own.

That same red earth is what makes Fox's clay works such a visceral delight. Her floor pieces, some as high as four feet, are sensuous sculptures in clay, twisted into fantastic desert creatures that owe as much to Native American legend as to real-life Sonoran fauna. Half-human, half animal, they are wholly of their place, tinted in the red and beige of the desert dirt, blackened by fire, and etched like petroglyphs. "Imaginary Friend," in clay and metal, is a typically witty cross between woman and rabbit. Her face is a black ceramic fragment of a face mask, with wire eyes made from found coils, and her body is an amalgam of wild clay shapes bolted together and tinted in pink, beige and yellow.

After this show closes, there will be only three more in the current Davis Dominguez space, located in an office park on North Oracle. Gallery co-owners Candice Davis and Mike Dominguez are moving the business out of the foothills and back downtown, where they started more than 20 years ago. Davis said the move to an old warehouse at the corner of Sixth Street and Seventh Avenue will convert the gallery from one of the smallest in town to one of the largest. They'll go from the present 1,500 square feet to about 5,200 square feet, allowing not only for larger changing shows, but also a permanent display for their regular artists.

"It's kind of exciting," said Davis. "It's a beautiful space...We wanted a larger space for a long time...And downtown is really starting to happen."


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