The art of 'Journeys Into the Mind' brings relief from the mundane world 

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Art by Audrey Phillips

The Rogers Building, glossy and green as a fresh Brussels sprout, anchors the downtown corner of Pine Street and Magnolia Avenue. Inside, modernism's cooking, with five local artists serving up abstract expressionism, alive and well in this age of anything goes. Cicero Greathouse, Nancy Jay, Audrey Phillips, Jackie Otto-Miller and Chris Robb each contribute emotional intensity and gestural worship of the surface.

Greathouse, whose immersive color fields are theatrically large, contributes a somber tone in his Reflections on Japan series. Each one's liquid and luminous, like seeing deeply into a thundercloud on a hot afternoon. "Memories of Japan 1" encloses vermilion and lavender inside a watery indigo structure, while "Meditation on Japan 7" releases the colors, layering underlit space. Here is a master at minimalism, making a narrative out of a few simple shapes.

Phillips and Otto-Miller each carve a different slice out of the meaning of abstraction. Phillips, who has explored a specific palette of sky blues and dusty yellows, interweaves organic fields and lines with other hues, each hinting at narrative with titles such as "Jumping in the Deep End." Otto-Miller leaves narrative more to the imagination; "Learning to Breathe" is an example. Composed of repetitive, closely spaced gold and green vertical strokes, the darker gray background suggests that it may be writing, but not quite. This proto-text carefully avoids a focal point. Both artists strike an ambiguous atmospheric mood, leaving the viewer to decide on its emotional effect.

A more specific focal point is gained with Jay's series of paintings. Smaller and more highly structured, a dark, complex sinew weaves cursively across the eye, occupying the foggy area between art and text. "Through Time and Memory" is one of her works that contains a narrative within what appears to be a single twisted stroke. Pure white quickly wears off, revealing a rich navy blue in the middle of the stroke, finishing off with a deep indigo trending to black. The stroke teeters on a fulcrum, held up by a blue-black triangle right where it needs support most.

The artist Robb works in graphic design, and his series Continuum 36 x 36 is 36 paintings, each 3 feet square. Fascinated with the inks of the printing world, his luscious, saturated colors layer over each other in a sophisticated process that still admits to a controlled accident. Oppositional, perhaps, to the deliberate world of advertising, Robb uses randomness and obscurity as his two themes, naming a completely abstract piece "Continuum.5061: Beat Poets." The series almost comprises an installation together, covering the pop art side of abstract expressionism.

click to enlarge ART BY CHRIS ROBB
  • Art by Chris Robb

America's first true art movement, abstract expressionism threw out representation. Until the abstract expressionists came along, art had to be about something. They showed the world that it can also be about itself and still convey meaning. As we battle with the dullness of routine, and distract ourselves with manic consumption, we can gaze upon these works and find relief from the concrete world, journeying to that most exotic place, the mind.

Strength of eye and heart is necessary to appreciate these paintings and sculptures, but they are somehow not a bringdown on our long summer days. Instead, they invite the viewer into a glimpse of the private world that one carries within. Birds, radio dishes, landscapes and portraits are but vehicles for us to see ourselves differently, and come back to the here-and-now with a new sensibility of the place we inhabit inside and outside ourselves.

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