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Face to face
Artists Portray Artists at Hera

There should be more exhibitions like the one currently at Hera Gallery, in Wakefield. What a simple concept there is behind "Roundelay": artists who know each other, doing portraits of each other. Who better to take on the challenge than a friend?

The idea for it grew out of a Sunday morning drawing group. One day the model didnít show up, and Hera member John Kotula suggested that they draw one another. In addition to six visual artists, a poet and a songwriter/ musician contribute to "Roundelay." Thatís appropriate, since the title refers to a song or poem with a regularly recurring refrain.

The atmosphere in the gallery is informal, inviting. A prominent table and chairs, at which there are sketchbooks and drawing implements ó including crayons ó suggest that we sit a spell and join in.

There is a wealth of paintings, drawings, and photographs, plus the bonus of portraits in poems and prose. Contributing the latter is Lisa Starr, among whose contributions are "The Roundelay Tales," small ribbon-bound chapbooks with verse portrayals of the artists. Printed in an old English font, the reference is to Chaucerís Canterbury Tales, in which colorful characters meet on a pilgrimage. (What is a Sunday artist group if not a religious expedition?) "Roundelay" even offers some songs and instrumentals by Barry Brown, who is also the subject of several paintings.

With a photogenic face, sporting a mustache and Vandyke, Kotula is a favorite subject of his fellow artists. An interesting theme and variation results ó again the musical reminder. Capturing the warmest personality is Cynthia Scottís "John," in conté crayon, whose mood-right smear of yellow on the forehead reminded me of Emile Noldeís expressionist watercolor portraits. Scottís oil paintings are also arresting, usually accomplished through a placement that throws us off-balance a bit and makes us wonder. The standing figures in "Moire & Michelle," for example: are they dancing, or just caught mid-gesture? One extended arm juts out of frame, and the otherís womanís feet are partly cut off, as though this is a hasty snapshot.

Luke Randall gets an entirely different feeling into his take on Kotula, exaggerating the size of the brown irises and showing him looking off meditatively. Painting in oil on wood or Masonite panels, Randall captures the other artists in the group in similar quiescent states, like frozen action eternalized on Greek vases. Caught in reverie, perhaps, the face of "Cynthia Scott" is a Rorschach test for us in determining whether a slight smile is impending or has already begun to break out. Randall also contributes numerous photographs, both Polaroid prints apparently taken for this occasion and images that appear years old.

Self-portraits are an opportunity not neglected. Katherine Meyer takes a novel tack with her sole inclusion. Her charcoal drawing "Portrait of the Artist," perhaps 40 inches tall, is an expanse of granite. Its folds and creases could suggest flesh, but that isnít the whimsy here. In the background is a pattern of dense foliage, and anyone familiar with her work recognizes that the outdoors, free of people ó never mind telephone poles ó is her realm. Losing herself in nature, as Meyer does, was bound to come to this.

Othersí self studies are impressive in more conventional ways, such as Randallís "Self-portrait in black," with him surrounded by the creativity-inspiring odds and ends of an artistís studio, such as a tin man marionette and a huge thermometer. Kotulaís "Self Portrait Grid" goes Warhol on us, but with a more interesting variation on a charming, though modestly so, self-image than Andy cared to accomplish. Among his several contributions, "It ainít art until you play with it" is the most imaginative and "Time to Reorder" is the most generous. The former consists of cubes that assemble into puzzle portraits. The medium of the latter is photocopy paper, and the invitation to "Please help yourself" is posted above six portraits of friendly faces.

Proceeding in an inner rather than outer direction is Mara Metcalf, whose "Impressions" of the artists are abstract and loosely geometric compositions on rice paper, using ink, including ballpoint, and acrylic, with occasional celebratory swaths of gold leaf. Innovative in a different way are Alec Thibodeauís close-up portraits on bricks cracked roughly in half. Maybe itís the reddish surface beneath the paint, suggesting the rosy glow of late afternoon, or maybe reminding us of the blood ó and dust óbeneath flesh. Either way, they certainly are striking.

"Roundelay" is an amiable show, more like a potluck than a formal exhibition.

There will be a panel discussion with the "Roundelay" artists at Hera Gallery on Saturday, December 11 from 2 to 4 p.m. Directions and additional images are online at heragallery.org.

Issue Date: December 10 - 16, 2004
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