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Heceta Head by Craig Erickson

Art about our world - not just about itself - is back in the 2004 Eugene Mayor's Art Show

Brent Burkett's remarkably energetic painting of a farmer and two horses, "Wendell's King and Tone," creates the perfect atmosphere for this year's Mayor's Art Show, which opened Friday at the Jacobs Gallery. It's big. It's colorful. It's about Oregon. It describes real life. Burkett's giant painting, done in an intriguing mix of acrylic, oil pencil and gold leaf, is representational art: art that's about something other than itself.

This kind of objective art - not slavish photorealism, but art with an emphasis on the world outside the artist, is making a return to the Mayor's Art Show after so many years of being pushed aside by more conceptual, subjective work. Burkett's painting hangs on the gallery wall near another large painting, this one a landscape by Lynn Ibsen Peterson.

"Road to the Coast,'' a rich looking acrylic on canvas, captures the strange energy, caught just beneath the surface and struggling to emerge, of a Northwest coastal scene. This isn't quite realism in any strict sense. You'll look long and hard most days visiting the coast to find all the colors that Peterson uses.

But it's still about the world around us.

A third big painting on the same wall is Walt Stevens' ``Still Life on a Drafting Table,'' an oil-on-canvas study in color and form that's more hard-edged than Burkett's or Peterson's work. Again, Stevens doesn't quite paint what he sees in front of him - or, perhaps, he paints what only he sees.

There are more such works here, surprisingly many. Craig Erickson's acrylic view of "Heceta Head" - the scene is familiar from a hundred postcards and magazine photos - is rescued from being cliched by its clarity and verve. A number of works contribute to the sense that Lane County artists are rediscovering the world around them in some fundamental way:

Bets Coles' "River D," a sweeping and graceful bridge;

Robin Alan Hostick's beautiful acrylic "Spencer Butte - South Slope"; and even

Eric Pederson's jazzy and enormous hand-colored black-and-white photograph, "African Bull Elephant."

Let's not take this too far. Representational art in a dozen works in this year's Mayor's Art Show does not constitute the the majority of the show, or even a huge minority of the works. But they still set a tone by having something strong in common with one another, bringing a sense of community and continuity out of the fragmentation that's typical of group shows like this one.

And, yes, there is much more that's worth looking at. John "Teach" Girard is back with another motorcycle sculpture, this one made of many found objects. James Carpenter's wooden hurdy-gurdy is so appealing it makes you want to ignore the "Do Not Touch" signs all over the gallery. Some works are interesting because the artists used unusual mediums. Rick Klopfer's "Live in the Layers" looks for all the world like carved and painted wood. It's painted polystyrene.

And Bradley Reinman and Thomas Dalton have found a way to make the innards of a computer not just beautiful but architectural.

This year's jury - which consisted of retired South Eugene High School art teacher Mike Van, retired University of Oregon art professor George Kokis and Salem artist Nancy Lindberg - did such excellent work that I really can't find fault with any of their selections.

Special awards announced at Friday night's opening are:

Best of Show went to Ken Herrin's finely crafted "Atlas of My Dreams, Folio II," a wooden box that opens to reveal various intriguing elements, from metal pins to a paper map and a hallway that recedes in artificial perspective.

Juror's Choice awards went to Margaret Coe's oil painting "Primitivo"; to David Campbell's oil on panel painting ``Look!''; and to Sharon Dursi's mixed media sculpture "Pandora's Pinata."

The Mayor's Choice award, selected by the mayor himself from all the works submitted to the show, went to Carolyn Rubenstein's untitled watercolor of children on a fence.

Sept. 19, 2004

All text and images copyright 2004 Bob Keefer