Salt Water Taffy

Satisfying eye candy
Salt Water Taffy
Through Dec. 18 at Atlantic Center for the Arts at Harris House
214 S. Riverside Drive
New Smyrna Beach

At first glance, the new exhibit at Atlantic Center's Harris House Gallery appears to be all fun and visual games. Barbie-pink vintage cars seem poised over inviting surf in Tammy Rejimbal's pastels, and stormy clouds are boldly decorative bands in Lesley Giles' oils. Edges curl gently upward in boat-shaped vessels by ceramist Robert LaWarre, the varied textures of their quiltlike surfaces begging for the visitor's touch.

But a closer looks reveals that Salt Water Taffy offers more than its eye-candy appeal. And that's a happy surprise. Too often Florida galleries — commercial and nonprofit — can drift along showing superficially pleasing "fine arts." Harris House's fall show is serious while still lively and accessible, and at the same time it's a satisfying look at current Florida art.

In Rejimbal's impressionistic pastels, nostalgia dances lightly with dynamic angles, hot hues and entertainingly dramatic compositions; she toys with her viewers' expectations. The muscular fin of a '50s-era Caddy becomes an amusing monster in "White Lightning," its shiny chrome reflecting distorted figures and its red taillights bug-eyed. The trunk of a Falcon convertible dominates "California Dreamin'," evoking a bygone surfer Eden. It's not just the New Smyrna Beach artist's subjects that delight, however; her handling of the pastel medium is superb, creating dense, atmospheric effects.

By contrast, Giles builds her compositions with solid blocks of color, reduced almost to pure geometric forms in a style reminiscent of American abstractionist Arthur Dove. The Daytona Beach painter reduces houses huddled under wildly flying tarps to cubes, and churning waves to jagged banners flecked with toothlike layers of white foam. Everything is animated in Giles' vivid canvases, capturing in a highly personal way the feeling of watching a storm approach and living though it.

Very different are LaWarre's exquisite ceramic vessels, the elongated boat forms in blends of salt-fire and glassy crackled glazes, flat and stamped surfaces that lend an intriguing quilted quality to his platters. Quieter (initially) than Rejimbal's animated bids for hang-ten sentiment and rich tactility and more cerebral than Giles' visceral oils, the Christmas, Fla.-based potter's works invite contemplation and deep respect.

They elicit a swift series of associations, while also denying them all. "A Stirring Too," with its matte-black pitcher-esque beak, is emphatically not capable of holding liquids of any sort. Instead, even as it suggests a classical form of functional pottery, there's also a leathery slab of clay that turns the "pitcher" into sculpture — art for art's sake. LaWarre entices his viewers with careful detail work, from glazes that push their limits to whimsical forms that seem to laugh at the idea of pottery as demeaningly utilitarian. Witty and wonderful are his riffs on the teapot, "Summertide Entanglement" and the equally loftily named "Salted Winter Path."

It's easy to see that this bright, energetic display, thoughtfully installed by curator Sarah Higgins, serves as a welcome-back: for snowbirds returning to the Volusia seaside; to locals ready for a cooler season.

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