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Outstripping Thier Influences

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When John Sabraw moved from Saint Louis to the "strange micro subtropical zone" of Athens, Ohio, a year ago he discovered the intriguing changes fog can produce: "Every other morning you wake up and the landscape is re-created for you," he says. Though his previous work included trompe l'oeil paintings of "cast-off implements, rusty tools, and old medical photographs," for his new small pieces at Thomas McCormick he began depicting outdoor scenes in morning mist.

Sabraw's objects float almost weightlessly. The low blue fog that hugs the ground in Eventually makes the trees that rise from it seem like dream objects, and a country lane disappears into the background. The road in One Turn is very low in the composition, and its neutral blue-cream color connects it with the foggy sky, so that rather than providing an anchor it seems to drift upward. The trees in Next are almost overwhelmed by hazy light, but at the bottom edge is a line of precisely painted blades of grass. Not surprisingly, Sabraw is influenced by the Hudson River School landscape painters but also by 17th-century Dutch still life painter Pieter Claesz, a primary source for his earlier work. The grass curtain conveys an objectivity, a reluctance to completely abandon the solidity of things, that gives his fog even more mystery by contrast.

Balancing the influence of other artists with one's own experiences isn't always easy, but Sabraw does it well. So does Margaret Evangeline. One group among her pieces at Byron Roche--sheets of metal punctuated by bullet holes--recalls Lucio Fontana's slashed and punctured canvases, but her work has a messy physicality very different from his austerity. "His idea," she says, "is that the cuts would open onto deep space in a way that had to do with metaphysics." Raised in an Acadian community in Louisiana and taught to shoot by her grandfather as a young girl, she shoots her works herself using different kinds of guns, which create holes of different sizes. Then she carefully paints the perimeters of most of them in a way that renders these lacerations both disturbing and beautiful.

Polychromaculate #3 has two large exit holes with extremely jagged edges as well as 11 smaller holes. The surface is painted reddish brown with clouds of gray and black around each hole, suggesting gunpowder and accentuating the feel of physical violence. Evangeline--a New Yorker whose studio "looked right into the towers"--began thinking of shooting her art only after 9/11. In these works' agonized conflict, she tries to aestheticize the holes with paint yet traces of raw violence remain, signs of a wound that won't completely heal.

The principal influence on Arthur Marks's untitled photographs at I Space is the great American landscape photographer Robert Adams, whose work Marks first saw in 2002, a year after he graduated from art school. Avoiding the self-contained compositions of Ansel Adams and many lesser photographers, Robert Adams creates images that seem partial views of a landscape and that record the human impact on the land over time. Marks continues this tradition with pictures taken mostly from trains. As a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Marks discovered "a real emotional empathy for landscape"; he also traveled on Amtrak a lot. Starting to notice small variations in the flat terrain outside town, he began to realize how little of the land was untouched--even a cornfield with no fences or buildings in sight was still a human creation.

Marks used a disposable camera for all but one of these shots, and their slight fuzziness adds to a feeling of rapid movement that's absent from Adams's photographs. These are the fleeting views of a traveler only momentarily connected with what he sees. In one image evocative of uncertainty and impermanence Marks is passing over a highway where the cars are moving perpendicular to his train, except for one that's stopped between an exit and the road as if undecided which way to go. An image with a weeping willow on the right and the top of a mobile home in the foreground dramatically denies compositional "perfection" and evokes the larger continuum from which these images were wrested. A view from a railroad bridge over a river includes a wooden platform in the foreground, an acknowledgment of the viewing process and the limitations of any one perspective.

John Sabraw

Thomas McCormick

835 W. Washington

through October 16

312-226-6800

Margaret Evangeline

Byron Roche

750 N. Franklin

through November 12

312-654-0144

Arthur Marks

I Space

230 W. Superior

through October 9

312-587-9976

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Fred Camper.

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