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Mixed moods

Big statements at Top Drawer Art Center
By GREG COOK  |  August 18, 2009

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A MONSTROUS DREAM Brun's Jason Killed Freddy.

The painting that sticks in my mind from "Beyond Will Power: The 5th Annual Top Drawer Group Show" at Top Drawer Art Center (2731 Pawtucket Avenue, East Providence, through September 4) is Anthony Brun's mixed-media painting Jason Killed Freddy.

It depicts a sort of stick-figure-like figure in scrubby red and black and gray stripes on brown board. At the top is a circle head with ominous red eyes. Something gray — a knife? blood? smoke? — comes from the figure's blue right hand. The subject seems to be the 2003 crossover slasher film featuring the two famed movie killers. But the artwork is like a child's dream of a monsters, both wary and fascinated, rendered monster-size, in this case pieced together on seven boards arranged something like a hopscotch grid that add up to about eight feet tall.

"Beyond Will Power" is a sampler of work made by participants in Top Drawer's art programs for adults with developmental disabilities. Like a lot of group shows, it's a mixed bag. Some of the pieces are excellent, some strange, some just messes. There are charming childlike depictions of a rainbow and a house and a boat. Though the work tends to be brightly colored, like Brun's painting, a number of pieces depict monsters or other fears. The variety is representative of the program's range of artists, as well as the room Top Drawer gives them to explore, offering them chances to make small drawings to large painted canvases to substantial sculptures. Scale is part of what makes the work here so impressive.

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INTENSITY Simmons's Frankenstein.

Another example of how size matters is Paul Martland's Japan, a charred-looking abstract sculpture that is four or five feet long that brings to mind the iconic black wooden sculptures of Louise Nevelson. The piece's shape resembles a makeshift little pen, open at one end, cobbled together from scrap planks (they look like wood, but up close turn out to be Styrofoam), maybe left over after a fire. And the title conjures up both metropolises and perhaps World War II. Its scale gives it a grandeur that would disappear if Martland was instead working smaller, with popsicle sticks or toothpicks.

These artists seem to serendipitously happen upon styles and solutions that academically trained artists — like Nevelson — spend years searching for. For example, Jaclyn Parkos's abstraction of white and gray daubs on white canvas brings to mind Robert Ryman's white-on-white paintings.

And the artists bring an exuberance and determination that energizes the work, as in Brian Lamora's obsessive small marker drawings. He fills boards with dense black lines that he then fills in one by one with colored marker — reds, purples, greens, blues — like abstract stained-glass windows. Some of this intensity can be found in Victor Simmons's Frankenstein as well. The acrylic painting depicts a brown mask-like face covered with heavy red crossed lines, like stitching, floating on a blue background. Turquoise circles around the eyes, nose, mouth. It's like a person peering out from inside a cage.

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MIXED MESSAGES Cathcartt's Medias Cyclones.

Katrina Cathcartt's Medias Cyclones is a large painting of contrasting rainbow stripes that seem, from across the room, to flash like a cinema marquee. At the top right a pair of whales float around a globe; running diagonally atop the stripes are words like "volcanoes," "John Kennedy," and "Abraham Lincoln," with other words sprouting from each letter like an acrostic. Some words pop up like random non sequitur thoughts: "Beach Boys, 1960s," "Pizza," "Green sherk slime." A compelling tension develops between the bright patterns of colors and nervous words: "nightmares," "evil eyes," "shadows." And then there are warnings like: "pollution kills all of animals every day" or "bloody deadly attacks strike oceans completely every day."

More cheerful is Katie Carcieri's painted cascade of hearts and asterisks stars. It feels like a shower of flowers. Dominic Cabral fashions a robot out of cardboard boxes, foil, and tape, all painted mechanical gray. A simple smiling face is cut out of the head like a jack-o-lantern. Clip lights become glowing eyes and a bead necklace hangs around its neck. Looking at the jaunty fellow, you can't help but smile too.

Related: Affirmative action, Autumn views, The soft shock of the new, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , The Beach Boys, John Kennedy, Painting,  More more >
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