[Times photos: Toni L. Sandys]
Sharon Engelstein cleans fingerprints from one of her sculptures, which are rounded forms made of white vinyl-coated nylon layered on top of each other.
By LENNIE BENNETT
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 30, 2002
A sculptor wife and painter husband combine their talents for an airy, pastel look at space and form.
TAMPA -- "Bandy" is a confection of a summer show at the University of South Florida's Contemporary Art Museum, sweet without being saccharine, lighthearted without vacuity.
The installation is a collaboration between Sharon Engelstein, a sculptor, and Aaron Parazette, a painter, who met as undergraduate art students at USF, married and now live and work in Houston. Each is developing a solo reputation, and though they do not create in tandem regularly, they are obvious aesthetic soulmates whose work plays well against each other.
The exhibition's name is a reference to the back-and-forth volley of a ball in a game or words in a conversation, and Engelstein's inflated sculptures, though stationary, suggest mobility. They are like bright ideas floating on air, brought down to earth and anchored by the bands of color Parazette has painted on the gallery walls. The Mr. Marshmallow softness of the sculptures and the good-enough-to-eat pastels of the paintings acquire gravity through their abstract formality.
This piece, Mr. Tibs, is one of a series of small pieces in the exhibition.
Engelstein describes the three sculptures as "biomorphic," rounded forms made of white vinyl-coated nylon layered on top of each other. They are of identical design, a detail not apparent at first because they are positioned at different angles; two are suspended from the ceiling, one grows from the floor. They suggest that point of view colors what and how we see a thing, as in so many other aspects of life.
They are kept inflated by air pumps producing an ambient hum that distracts at first but soon dissolves into a background sound like waves washing ashore.
The installation is about space and form, not images, but Bandy will evoke them. In one of Parazette's massive wall paintings are two color planes that look like sand and sky bisected horizontally by a deep, ocean blue. Cabanalike stripes stretch vertically and create a foreground. The sculptures around it could be clouds or beach balls. Another painting looks like ribbons of woven color, and a third is an elegant study in blue.
Both artists are meticulous in crafting their art, aided by computer programs that map out their designs. For Engelstein especially, the computer is sometimes more partner than aid.
"The objects live inside the computer, and I want to figure out how to get them out without compromising the perfect images as they exist there," she says.
She creates patterns with another computer program, then sends them to a manufacturing company to have them cut and stitched together. A series of small sculptures, also computer-designed, are created by lasers spraying heat-infused powder into shapes dictated by the computer program Engelstein supplies the company that fabricates them.
By comparison, Parazette's equally contemporary work seems downright traditional. To achieve precision lines, he measures, draws and tapes the designs, then paints them by hand with latex house paint. It is a laborious process. The results are appreciated up close.
Bandy was commissioned by the Contemporary Art Museum, and as with much installation art, it will not exist past its exhibition dates. Parazette's work will be painted over for a new show, and Engelstein's sculptures will be disconnected from their life-supporting air pumps.
"I like it that you can have particular experiences that exist only at one time and in one place," Parazette says.
Artists Sharon Engelstein, left, and Aaron Parazette, who are married to each other, are flanked by two of Engelsteins three sculptures in an installation created for an exhibit at USFs Contemporary Art Museum. Engelstein and Parazette met while attending USF.
Engelstein and Parazette have curated a second CAM show of some of their contemporaries on the Houston arts scene, calling it "Blip," "like a signal that's coming from Houston, something to go and investigate," Engelstein says.
Whether by design or coincidence, many of the works share the pastel softness of "Bandy" even as the 10 artists cover a range of mediums. Todd Herbert's acrylic paintings distance icons of youth and happiness -- a football, a smiling snowman -- in lonely landscapes. Mark Flood creates a lace curtain from layers of paint that fools the eye with its realistic delicacy and texture. Brad Tucker creates fun visual puns with foam rubber. Chas Bowie's photographic triptych with elaborate titles is a reminder of Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces.
The show is a far cry from the high-concept art coming out of New York these days, and it contains not a single example of video art. Though it may not be cutting edge, it's solid and a reminder that good work is being done in lots of places, including here.
"Bandy: Sharon Engelstein and Aaron Parazette" and "Blip," work by Houston artists and co-curated by Sharon Engelstein and Aaron Parazette, through July 20 at University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday and university holidays. Admission is free; $2 parking on weekdays. Call (813) 974-2849.
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