by Fran Watson

Once in a great while, people appear who truly care about art and artists.  At 506 Ash this rare miracle has morphed into a highly successful, bottom line-less, mutually advantageous, limited opportunity to allow collectors access to the finest of area art in a most unlikely space. The show-place is, in fact, an old garage on a dead end industrial street in Elsmere, Kentucky, and at the opening on May 17, it was packed.  Red dots lit up the walls and the artists were kept busy discussing their art with prospective buyers during this brief six hour exhibit time.  Openings are held on Saturdays to avoid conflict with the traditional Friday night openings around town.

That one day is it.  506 is not open to the public until the next opening, but the works are kept there for several months for buyers who wish to think over choices or  pick up work they’ve already purchased by appointment.  About 650 invitations to the opening are mailed or e-mailed, allowing the recipients to bring guests, or simply spread the word. The 650 are chosen by the directors of 506 Ash from known collectors and art aficionados.  There is no commission charged, nor any contributions required to finance  extensive refreshments offered.

This particular opening featured four artists;  Everage King, watercolors and acrylic, Jarrett Hawkins, sculpture, Jennifer Grote, paintings and sculpture, and Celene Hawkins, sculpture and photo-based prints.  Each was obviously thoroughly in command of their media, and perfectly displayed with enough space per art piece or pieces to fully appreciate their merits.  In other words, beautifully hung.

Everage King’s watercolors were small and splashy, the perfect opening to the exhibit in the separate area of the entry way.  Some leaned toward traditional , like “Umbrella Group” but did so with a sure hand and the unique excitement aroused through speedy execution.  “Lonesome Tree” the largest of his works, 28 1/2” x 36 1/4”,  was the epitome of the exuberance which often proves the importance of watercolor.  However, two simple acrylic paintings, featuring the facade of a white house portrayed in impasto against a diluted background of foliage were particularly intriguing in their combination of media.

Completely different were the sculpture and acrylic paintings by Jennifer Grote.  Grote manages to reinvent her art on every occasion I’ve seen her work, always successfully I might add.  This clutch of works more surprisingly covered both sculpture and two dimensional work, the former of which incorporated porcelain and wood in both wall and free-standing modes.  “Journal of Nightmares”, featuring small tooth-like white ceramic elements placed in used wood, managed to both attract and frighten with equal impact. In a quick change of styles, five pieces of combined porcelain and wood comprised a most attractive wall installation, while equally attractive as individual sculptures  Porcelain was formed to fit the corners and edges of wood, its pristine cleanness working in harmonious contrast to the dark, rough wood.

The paintings were large and geometric in subject matter, yet they were not the cold, un-human compositions often associated with that description.  The six “Dispersions of Color” were comfortable, pleasant arrangements of shapes, overlapping, tipping over, floating, and using beautifully compatible color.  The acrylic shapes were matte, and over these were rather discrete little surprises of clear gloss forms that added further to the controlled action taking place on the canvas. “Red” was the largest of the paintings at 6’ x 8’.  It was, as were the three wire and metal sculptures, “All That Remains” I, II, and III, an homage to her father, who had died recently.  The largely red surface, topped by the sketchy marks of its evolution, ends with hard-edged letters “L” and “O” crudely angled to one side.  No brushy painted areas intruded on the smooth surface: the starkness of the bright colors expressing the message of “L O”ss.

That leaves Jarrett and Celine Hawkins, married and partners in running the business of art as Hawkins and Hawkins Custom.  This combination seems to provide everything one could want of creativity, inside and out.

Celine Hawkins’ photo-based pictures and sculpture were clear references to nature. By  interpreting plants and their variety, the artist makes them all brand-new again through modern methods.  Some of these framed pieces are back-lit, adding another dimension, which does little to change the high quality of the original image.  One of these manipulated photos, “Branch”, was interestingly accompanied by two small, less than 10” in any direction, sculptures looking like lost bronze clouds echoing the abstract focal points in the photo.  They were displayed on a plinth nearby.  All three artworks could stand on their own, but together they became a delight.

A wide opening at the back of the gallery leads to  a small, but carefully constructed garden, shaded by the “Sun and Sky” canopy, where the crowd could fully experience the larger sculptures of Jarrett Hawkins and envision them in their own garden spaces.  Outdoor light provided additional advantage in the changing perception of the art as the day passed.  Two of the sculptures were of Indiana limestone, charged with incised textures, and poetic recesses to motivate imagination.  Neither was taller than 3’, nor wider than 16”, suitable measurements for most private gardens.  Other sculptures shown were of lacquered or patina-ed aluminum; two of these shown as a pair worked quite well, one brilliant blue  and a “shadow” of incised aluminum.  These tall, thin  abstract shapes created new views, new forms with each viewer movement.  Still more were of bronze, richly burnished and imbued with immortality.

Seldom does a critic discover the serendipitous combination offered by 506 Ash.  It was a pleasure to attend, and a pleasure to review.  Long may it wave.

506 Ash will host two more exhibits in the coming year.  The next will be on opened on September 20 entitled Northern Kentucky and featuring artists from that area.

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