In a space dedicated to interiors, the expansive second floor of Bromwell’s downtown, Celene Hawkins brings together several of the city’s most accomplished artists with works “in which nature is found, observed and re-made in elegant and subtle ways.” So, the outside comes into these high-ceilinged, fireplace-studded display rooms to mutual benefit.
Most of the work is shown in the soaring main area, but some appears in smaller, more intimate spaces. There’s a pleasant suggestion of a pub, complete with bar, where two or three of Cheryl Pannabecker’s skillfully detailed “Niche” ceramics can be examined at close range along with Sara Pearce’s shadow box collage scenes. Both of these artists make their points with humor; among Pearce’s discursive, funny titles are “There Were Odd Nightly Excursions in the Garden,” “Mama Was Becoming Increasingly Concerned About the Children’s Fondness for Mushrooms” and “Social Butterflies Emma and Marjorie Were Honing Their Networking Skills.” Pearce mines dated women’s magazines and books for her cut-out figures. Hawkins’ own “Not Quite Perfect Nature,” an airy sculpture like a drawing in the air, is well placed here. Another piece by her, “Small World with Deer,” in the large room is the only work overwhelmed by the setting — unfortunate, in that it perfectly reflects her curatorial call for elegance and subtlety.
Three of Doug McLarty’s color photographs are in another alcove, this a mock-up of a fireplace with couch and chairs drawn close. Sinuous line and glowing color on black background mark these works, which are large but not overwhelming in a domestic setting
Also in the entryway at the top of the stairs are two large digital photographs by Hawkins, departing from her usual role as sculptor. One is back-lighted, the other has a slick and glossy surface; both suggest nature’s fecundity. Neighboring pieces by Kate Kern are even more biomorphic, leading the viewer to her two large works in the big room. Kern uses acrylic drawing ink over graphite on paper to make these complexly plotted, appealing works. This ink gives an effect similar to watercolor, pale and transparent but nevertheless definitive.
Ana England’s splendid sculptures in ceramic and bronze are in this main room, thought provoking and serenely beautiful. She takes on a somewhat different medium, ceramic with polystyrene and silicon, for “See,” the object that might be the key to this exhibition. It bulges from the wall, a half sphere set with eyes that in their variety could provide sight for many different kinds of living creatures. It is startling.
Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis’ twin works, “Hy-Que Monkey in Captivity,” have no problem holding their own in the generous space of this room. The two artists combine teasing subject matter with serious porcelain and, in this case, screen-printed paper that forms the background for each work and could be a comment on popular taste.
Anita Douthat’s photograms do away with the camera entirely, relying on light and shadow from plant forms arranged on gold-toned printing paper for the final result. The gold-tone becomes pale brown in the finished works, setting off tenuous shapes that almost seem to move or dissolve before our eyes.
Anthony Becker’s long preoccupation with birds, whose relationship to the human world is usually fatal to them, appears here in two drawings of considerable delicacy and beauty, “Buckled Wing I” and “Buckled Wing II.” In each of his suspended sculptures, “Wood Note I, II and III,” a birch branch spine is set with goldenrod spikes to become a seven-foot feather, swaying gently with the air currents.
More rigorous critics than I have questioned, in other publications, the use of this commercial showroom space for an art exhibition and also the appropriateness of a curator including her own work. Many of these works would be rewarding to live with, so why shouldn’t they be seen in settings approximating a home? The exhibition itself is a window on what’s being made now, in Cincinnati, by some of the best artists here. Hawkins certainly qualifies to be of that number, so the question is irrelevant to a show designed to present, not define, local art activity.
FLORA AND FAUNA is on view at Bromwell’s through July 14. 117 W. Fourth St., Downtown, 513- 621-0620, www.bromwells.com