Exposure 14 Nature is a durable muse. So says the work of the three artists selected for this year's annual local showcase, Exposure, hosted since 2005 at UMSL's Gallery 210. Brigham Dimick's pieces are literally infested with natural life: Bees inhabit a series of observation hives in which the artist's portrait, encased in wax, is slowly devoured by the insects. The oak-framed contraptions take on the form of altarpieces — a deeply unsettling take on the notion of the iconic. Greg Edmondson's meticulous pencil-on-vellum drawings trace the microscopic patterns of plant species, distilling their self-organizing systems to undulating abstractions. A procedural dimension informs the work, which is at once taut and diaphanously delicate. This temporal aspect is explored in two videos — one consists of the slow phases of the moon; the other features various drawings infinitely interlocking — that reinforce via metaphor the elegant relentlessness of the artist's painstaking approach. Ronald Leax's medium is the common Petri dish, arrays of which he mounts on paper in grid-like fashion, dates and stamps as "specimens," and encloses in frames. The dishes contain organic cultures in advanced stages of luminous decomposition: the peculiar aesthetics of science itself, in its most minimally adulterated state. Cumulatively, the works' slippage between science-as-art and art-as-science speaks to a kind of longing: In his unstinting, solitary experiments, the artist yearns to produce something of lasting and vital utility, something less like art and more like a cure. Through October 1 at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Drive (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976 or www.umsl.edu/~gallery. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Featured Review: Four Chapters in the Present We Were After interviewing a passel of Americans old enough to possess memories of World War II, the Kennedy assassination, the 1969 Apollo moon landing and 9/11, artist Lisa Bulawsky has crafted a trenchant series of prints rooted in those recollections. An ironing board and button down-shirt bear the faint residue of bloodshed; Wonder bread's primary-hued polka dots intermingle with pages from a handwritten journal and mirror the red bullet holes that dot an adjacent print; gas-rationing coupons float above piles of foil-wrapped Hershey's Kisses and Morse code messages rendered in red — here history is grafted upon the quotidian, reversing the conventional hierarchy wherein the personal becomes secondary to the national. This version of the past, etched in hand-drawn marks and collaged ephemera, presents itself like a new memory recalled, inviting viewers to revisit their own sense of the not-too-distant past. An empathetic listener and observer, Bulawsky summons images as diverse as fighter planes and the broken yellow line that divides some stretches of highway, in order to get a firmer grip on what it means to be "American." The long and deep stream of her interview subjects' consciousness places more-recent watershed events in a context less often considered — i.e., one of perpetual warfare and struggle accompanied by human ingenuity and making-the-best-of-it goodwill. Walking through the exhibit is like rerunning a dream: an unfolding of familiar tragic subtext shot through with buoyant and freshly discovered humanity. Through October 16 at the Millstone Gallery at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-6555 or www.cocastl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
The Lonely Rainbow Few artists have as distinct and unswerving a gift for recorded sincerity as St. Louis-based Peter Pranschke, who last month was named one of RFT's 2011 MasterMind Award winners. He's easily identified by his draftsmanship: drawings influenced by classic comic books in which he portrays himself in seemingly infinite configurations of all-too-human compromise. But Pranschke's not limited to drawings; he has produced pieces out of spliced Bible pages, found erasers, dental floss, tree branches, Band-Aids and, in this case, sleeping bags and old books — all of which manage to embody the sensitivity and personality of the artist. As the exhibit's title suggests, an air of semisweet melancholy pervades. First comes a comic strip in which Pranschke recounts his initial ambition to have every piece in the show match the dark-green hue of the Sheldon gallery's carpet, his failure to have done so and his apologetic caveat that these works are a departure from his usual self-portraits — these, he states, are fragmentary narratives drawn from life but shattered so as to become unrecognizable. The disarming intro likewise detonates any straightforward approach to "reading" the exhibit. Thereafter unfolds a half-blindly optimistic, half-doomed series of scenes rendered on green grid paper in colored pencil. A workday lunch break, the checkout lane in an art-supply store, an office cubicle, a sidewalk gathering of smokers outside a gallery opening — all banal on the surface but truncated in key areas to suggest that, sadly, everything is not quite right. Interspersed between the drawings are needle-point images stitched into swaths of old dish towels or napkins and simply titled Sleeping Bag. An enormous green sleeping bag with smoke rings stitched in bisects the exhibit like a hinge — or perhaps the big sleep made wryly manifest. Through September 10 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or www.sheldonconcerthall.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.