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An avenue of provocative art

Dynamic work is on display on the walls at two galleries on St. Petersburg's Central Avenue. And don't forget to look in the bins.

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 2002


Dynamic work is on display on the walls at two galleries on St. Petersburg's Central Avenue. And don't forget to look in the bins.

Let's consider bins. Not the kind that hold laundry, vegetables or dust, but those you find at almost every artist's booth at outdoor festivals and sometimes in galleries. I was reminded of their value during a recent visit to 531 Central Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

Rifling through bins is a time-honored activity in the art world. In the 19th century, impecunious artists frequented stalls on the Left Bank where they could uncover prints by Renaissance masters for a song. Unearthing that kind of find today is rare.

Local art bins yield different treasures. At 531 Central, Rocky Bridges' remarkable assemblages can sell for several thousand dollars. In a nearby bin is an unframed early portrait for $150, a real bargain. Not all galleries have them, but ask when you visit. And look through the bins that artists put out at outdoor festivals.

The walls of local galleries offer up visual delights as well this month. Bridges' show at 531 Central is a combination of work dating back years and new work. He is not an artist who stands still. Numbers, which he calls "such a poetic language," are now married to his handwritten scrawls that have become dense, almost unreadable, and function as a single abstract image. It's a new lexicon. The iconic folding chair of several years ago has become a circle, a symbol of continuity and optimism. Bridges also created a series titled 9/11, a group of small mixed media works that evoke the events of that day as unfolded in a growing sequence of smoky images.

Worth walking to the back of the gallery to see are the mixed media works of Arturo Guerrero and pastels by Jacqueline Roch.

Across the street at Gallery Enormous, work by two other compelling artists is on view and for sale. (No bins here, though.)

In an unexpected pairing, the venerable Theo Wujcik shares space with emerging artist Leslie Elsasser.

"Theo is a professor there but he's also my friend," said Elsasser, a graduate art student at the University of South Florida. "The artist who was supposed to show with me didn't work out, so I asked Theo. He was so gracious in saying yes."

"I think it works well together," Wujcik said. It does.

Wujcik continues to appropriate images from other artists and repeat symbols from past work but he never paints himself into a corner. Six new canvases juxtapose modernist references with baroque furniture. Really. But what an interesting idea.

Drips of paint "like Roy Lichtenstein's paint movements" overlay the burl veneer leg of a 17th century bombe chest, itself dripping with ormolu, the elaborate metal-alloy filigrees that were attached to furniture of that time. The chain link "grids" are still present, but subtly, in a decorative panel that mimics the legs of a foot stool above it and in cross-hatch bands that look like wallpaper. Art as an accessory, to be matched to room decor, is an all-too-common impetus in art purchases, and Wujcik's having fun here with that practice.

Elsasser's three paintings balance erotically charged interiors with a highly formal and studious composition. As densely as she layers her oils, the paintings are flat, glowing with colors. Her use of light and allegory are like Caravaggio's, though her subject matter is contemporary. In each, a woman sits at a dressing table, her back to the viewer and a semiclothed man. We see her face reflected in a mirror, looking bored or aloof. He is supine and supplicating, but his hands are on or near her. The interiors are full of intimate domestic details, but they form scenes of dissonance. Messy as these lives may be, the paintings are full of calibrated harmony.

Narada and Her Astra, for example, is divided into three equal planes -- the broad surface of a man's bare back bisecting the canvas, framed by the golden glow of the woman in the mirror above and the deeper colors of a chair and table, under which a pile of pearls or beads has spilled.

The French have a saying: In every relationship there is one who kisses and one who is kissed. Elsasser's paintings leave us guessing.

REVIEW

"Full Circle," works by Rocky Bridges at 531 Central Fine Arts, 531 Central Ave., St. Petersburg through Sept. 11. Noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, or by appointment. (727) 786-2987. Works by Leslie Elsasser and Theo Wujcik at Gallery Enormous, 540 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. through Sept. 18 or by appointment.

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