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Men get real

The softness of nature, the coldness of death, the details of the everyday are just a few of the angles male artists explore in seeking their definition of reality.

By BRANDY STARK
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 31, 2002


photo
.40 Cash by Richard Estes
What is reality? Is it defined by what is tangible, like the ground beneath your feet or the newspaper in your hand? Or does it include the abstract, such as memories, dreams and statistics?

The 40 established artists in the Selby Gallery's "Real(ist) Men" show tackle the question, following up on the women artists' work displayed in 1998's "Real(ist) Women" exhibit.

Kevin Dean, gallery director and curator of both shows, chose works for the new show that paralleled themes seen in the 1998 show. For example, Jud Nelson's Toilet Paper VIII, carved from Carrara marble, depicts a life-size and extremely detailed roll of wet toilet paper, complete with wrinkles and floral pattern. It also was chosen to balance Marilyn Levine's ceramic Black Shoulder Bag, which created a stir in the 1998 show.

Laura Avery, assistant gallery director, says the two shows point out differences between the sexes.

"There's a different atmosphere between the two shows. The men's show is, perhaps, a bit cooler. One difference is that the women tended to use more of their own items in their works, creating personal symbolism, while many of the male artists distance themselves by depicting items that they don't own."

The variety of techniques and mediums makes this show rich with diversity. Richard Estes fools the eye with his extremely detailed work .40 Cash. The photorealistic work captures the view into a cafeteria. The lines of the building create a remarkable grid. The only item that throws off the sterility of the work is the cash register, which has not been cleared of its last transaction: 40 cents in cash.

Don Eddy's Three Story Question II has realistic subject matter, though a startling combination displayed in an "I" shape. The topmost work shows branches of pink blossoms against a deep blue sky. The middle shows a spiral staircase descending to the third panel, showing crystalline water. Eddy, trained in custom-painting cars, used an airbrush to create the work, accounting for its softness.

Guy Johnson's Humanscape IV captures perhaps the harshest reality of all: death. Johnson uses an elaborate process to transfer negative photographic images to a metal plate, which he then paints by hand. What appears to be a collage of famous people transforms upon close examination to a semi-spiritual statement. Among the crowd of models, actors and nuns, among others, are the images of the Grim Reaper, Jesus Christ and a body in a casket. Pageant contestants wear banners representing religions, while a boy wears a T-shirt with "atheist" printed on it. Some of the smiling figures appear corpselike.

"Inspiration for the show came partially from the changing student body here at Ringling School of Art," Dean explains. "Until 1985, women predominantly attended the campus. Now, men outnumber women. As part of an educational institution, it is our job to show art that raises fundamental questions in the mind of our students and also the public."

* * *

REVIEW: "Real(ist) Men," Selby Gallery, Ringling School of Art and Design, 2700 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Through Feb. 16, Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Tue. until 7 p.m.). Call (941) 359-7563.

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