The Naturals

"Elements: Steel, Wood, and Paper"

But Benezra also has her serene side. Wanting to Rock isn't much more than a gracefully curved strip of steel that's somehow oddly melancholy, while Towers I Through VI positions half a dozen austere structures ranging from about three feet tall to about five feet tall in a haphazard line. Again and again the sculptor returns to her primal form, the triangle, then stretches and distorts it, as in Zen, which consists of a small triangular table with triangular legs, topped with a mirror ball cradled in a nest of slightly curved steel triangles.

"Zen" might well serve as a series title for the exhibition's 16 wood-based pieces by Katherine McCauley, whose deceptively simple asymmetrical compositions offer, paradoxically, the perfect balance of Zen rock gardens, in which the tiniest details assume metaphysical implications. A piece such as Remembered, for example, is little more than two wooden panels of different sizes mounted side by side on a wall adorned by a fragment of a tree branch. The placement of the branch feels so intuitively right that to shift it even an inch would wreck the piece.

Like Benezra with her oxyacetylene torch, McCauley uses propane blowtorches, as well as metal-burning tools and candles, on the pieces of wood that are her primary medium. She sometimes supplements them with sheets of copper or aluminum and other materials. "The flame is the brush, the burns are the canvas," she writes in her artist's statement, and these metaphors are right on the mark.

Bird-pecked wood serves as the "canvas" of Katherine McCauley's Paleo Prayer
Bird-pecked wood serves as the "canvas" of Katherine McCauley's Paleo Prayer


On display through November 28.
Coral Springs Museum of Art, Coral Springs City Centre, 2855 Coral Springs Dr., Coral Springs, 954-340-5000.

McCauley's earthy pieces have the feel of objects used in mysterious ancient rituals, items from some obscure pagan altar, and she enhances this sense both with her religious-tinged titles and with the runes and fragments of archaic languages that she sometimes etches onto the pieces. Covenant, for example, is a wall-mounted horizontal wooden panel that holds a burnt tree branch and features etched characters from the Phoenician language. Vessels For the Ritual is another wall-mounted rectangular wooden panel, about two feet tall by four feet wide, that includes a crude piece of wood forming a sort of shelf and three charred gourds affixed to the panel, which is also etched with fragments of ancient Hebrew.

Sometimes McCauley introduces a few modest complications that reinforce the notion that she's working with remnants of lost cultures. For a trio of pieces called Reliquary, Sylvan Sanctuary, and Tabernacle II, she uses wooden compartments, their charred, hole-scarred doors ajar to reveal such contents as twigs and branches or pieces of silver leaf. Tabernacle II becomes an even more explicit altar by virtue of a small set of "stairs" mounted on the wall beneath the compartments.

Two side-by-side pieces tucked away in a corner of one small gallery represent McCauley at her most expressive. On the right Paleo Prayer, a stark abstract, is tagged as consisting of bird-pecked wood, acrylic, spackle, and burnt nails, which in its own weird way is as "elemental" a characterization of McCauley's art as we're likely to find. And on the left, Icon I: Observe As You Are Being Observed features a crude wooden frame around a shiny sheet of charred, acrylic-spattered copper leaf. A roundish piece of wood resting on a rectangular block of wood on the right side of the piece stands in for us, the observers looking into the image. The piece is a succinct reminder of the dual role of art as both a mirror and a window, as well as a resounding confirmation of McCauley's talent. She's clearly the star of this show.

"Elements" is one of the first few shows at the Coral Springs Museum since it severed its turbulent relationship with artist and philanthropist Max Schacknow, and it's the best sign yet that the museum, under director Barbara O'Keefe's leadership, has established an identity of its own.

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