Little ways 

Smallness doesn't necessarily mean anything when it comes to artwork, unless it's really small. Making something, say, thimble-sized can cause you to be boggled at the technique or enamored by the fun change in perspective. At the fifth annual "Small Works Invitational" at Valencia Community College's East Campus, the dimensions -- nothing measuring more than 16 inches in any direction -- aren't all that little; the smallness means only that more works can fit on the walls. There are newcomers and established artists among the 25 participants, and the many media -- photography, painting, ceramics, sculpture -- provide a varied, bumpy viewing experience.

Jay Shoots' three untitled black-and-white photographs are beautifully rendered portraits of people standing matter-of-factly in the center of square frames. The details of clothes and expression -- a Band-Aid on a leg, a cheesy wedding tuxedo, a reluctant half-smile -- make you linger. But there's something too easy about the results when taking slightly awkward or eccentric people as subjects and upping the discomfort by making them face the camera so unwaveringly.

Two oil paintings from Don Sontag reveal an intrigue with the everyday. In each, an average-looking man seems to be caught in a moment of inner-life vitality, even though his gestures don't display much -- and the ability to convey this hidden spark shows Sontag's obvious talent. Allette Simmons-Jimenez manages an opposite but equally interesting effect with her "Elements of Nature" mixed-media series. Keeping the collage effect minimal, Simmons-Jimenez layers a paper scrap or a leaf over a painting of a face or a body part to create a concentrated effect, although her painting technique is so me-ticulous (compared to Sontag's energetic grace) that the images are a bit static.

Two clay vases by Mike Lalone are vibrant and unexpected; what at first seems rough and spontaneous melts into formal harmony. The two cocoon-shaped vessels look as if they were wrapped in bandages before being fired, and the base of the dark-pink one appears to flutter like a curtain in the wind. The openings at the tops are too narrow to be useful as actual vases, but they're unique and accomplished works of art.

A few pieces have a pleasantly decorative appeal (Jay Wiese's porcelain light-green tea set, Linda Broadfoot's photograph transfers of detailed leaves), and some quirky works are fun but seem sidetracked by their own weirdness (like Kim Lemonakis' clay and steel human-form sculpture "Unfeigned Heart," which is effectively raw -- but what's with the fish on the foot?). And I loved Timothy Tyler's "Unconditional Love Seat" -- it's a sheep sitting on a stately wood chair. You find that odd? I found it strangely sweet.

As always with college galleries, the hours aren't convenient (8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday), and the exhibit's second room was locked when I first tried to get in. But this is a chance to see a brief survey of a wide range of Florida artists working in their less grandiose moods.

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