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Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

In school, colored pencil is a medium for those who've matured beyond crayon but aren't quite ready for paint. In the hands of experts, though, colored pencil can produce remarkable, diverse, and vivid results. With more than 1,600 members and the mission "to present the public with the highest aesthetic standards in fine art," the Colored Pencil Society of America has selected its finest 105 for its "Signature Showcase," an exhibition that includes winners from the society's competitive international exhibit. Displayed in a former elementary school, now the Cornell Museum, the works are exhibited in loose thematic groups so that you'll find fruits, veggies, and flowers in one room and animals, landscapes, and architecture in another. The styles are as varied as the colors: realism, photorealism, impressionism, cubism, and abstraction among them. Some are predictable in their subject matter — for instance, "Peppers IV," a serial study by Arizona's Bill Cupit — though expertly executed. Several, like Seattle-resident Laura Ospanik's Shadow Lights, study the play of light through transparent objects. Others are striking in their creativity: Lula Mae Blocton from Connecticut uses a bold, geometric pattern (presumably African) to dominate the foreground of Amistad Mende while an image of the historical slave ship repeats in the background. Running concurrently, "Gathering of Kuumba" (Swahili for creativity) presents a multimedia exhibition by African-American, Haitian, and Caribbean artists in South Florida. The uneven show includes the works of both very talented artists and their less-accomplished contemporaries and displays originals — textiles, ceramics, sculptures, paintings — alongside giclée reproductions. (Through June 3 at Cornell Museum at Old School Square, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-243-7922.)

Now on Display

You'll find an artistic Zen and natural reverence in "Isabel Bigelow: Paintings & Monoprints and Luis Castro: Sculpture." The wife-and-husband show demonstrates the balance necessary to make relationships work, whether personal or aesthetic, two-dimensional or three-. Like the Japanese shoji (translucent, decorative screens) that inspire her, Bigelow's art is as much about the media as it is about subjects, most of which are naturally inspired — vines, trees, and landscapes. Brush strokes and wood grain provide texture and dimension that seep from otherwise flat forms, reducing the terrain to its most essential. Bigelow keeps even her palette simple. For instance, Field 28 captures — like most of her work — the undulations of its landscape in different shades of a single hue. Castro's sculpture, which the Venezuelan-born artist has designed to be touched (that's right, you can cop a feel without a gallery reprimand!), is similarly organic, in material and in form. The smooth stone, wood, and marble sculptures explore color, density, and textures of its materials. You'll want to stroke The Perfect Couple, two smooth oak-teardrops with the wood's grain coming to a point with the form. Box, a limestone six-pack of billiard-sized balls within a box, begs to have its speckled spheres fondled. In keeping with the nature-friendly theme, Castro's materials are all recycled from New York's abandoned buildings and construction sites. (Through April 29 at Mulry Fine Art, 3300 S. Dixie Hwy., West Palm Beach. Call 561-228-1006.)

There's a sculptural surprise in the lobby of the Broward County Library: the colorful, mixed-media animals and figures of Felix D. Gonzalez. Past the gift shop sits the Angler Fish, Gonzalez's most abstracted and unusual piece, composed of found objects ranging from jagged pieces of metal, bicycle lights and pedals, spark plugs, cables, wires, and, as the lure on top of its head, a satellite dish. Bike tires make up the grotesque, crescent-shaped mouth, complete with voracious underbite. The piece captures the essence and ugliness of the anglerfish in a very attractive way. A more naturalistic, whimsical Giraffe, made of wood, steel, copper, and brass, stands near the shallow indoor pool. Two sculptures have wooden posts for bases, with branches gently carved into the knobs of a coat rack; a parrot perches on one, and a cutesy owl wearing a bow tie is perched on the other. One piece of wood flows into an elegantly carved fish with brightly colored fins and gold detail. The works are kitschy, but at least two out of three are functional; any Florida resident will recognize and possibly resent how overdone fish, dolphins, and parrots are. Gonzalez's naturalistic and figurative piece titled Tsunami is interesting in approach, with blades of grass and flowers carved from mahogany, climbing from the ground into a torso with plexiglass wings and a quizzical face. The name, however, changes the perception of it from what seems to be a gentle force of nature to the devastating destruction of it. (Through April 30 at the Broward County Main Library, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-357-7444.)

The dark, tattoo- and graffiti-influenced work of art student Patrick Maxcy covers a wall of the hallway leading to Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt Gallery, now presenting "Picturing Florida." It's an interestingly intimate segue from the expansive surrounding campus to the almost bare gallery. Maxcy's approach differs from the usual paintings hanging on white walls, as he uses all of the space offered to him by applying complementary, mixed-media images directly to the typically blank space beneath his mounted works. This encourages passersby to slow down and absorb some of his art, ranging from sci-fi creatures to realist portraits. At the end of the hallway is the gallery itself, where artists in residence Ellen Harvey and Marc Dean Veca have created their individual but associated wall pieces comprising "Picturing Florida."Veca painted a colorful, large-scale, surfboard-shaped piece in a very Dr. Seuss-like style, spanning two adjoining walls and adding considerable dimension to the gallery. His digitally designed painting, Strangler, references Florida with not only its shape but through mossy-green twisted vines that allude to the native strangler fig, with several not-so-subtle Disney logos and a background of puffy pink clouds and blue skies added to the mix. Harvey's wall installation takes a corner of the gallery but on a much smaller scale. She alternates 80 small paintings of photos submitted by local senior citizens with mirrors to create a checkerboard effect. The paintings of one half represents Ugly Florida, the other Beautiful Florida, and the mirrors always reflect the viewer. (Through April 18 at FAU's Schmidt Gallery, 777 Glades Rd., Boca Raton. Call 561-297-2966.)

The small collection of pre-Columbian and ancient Mexican ceramics and sculptures currently on display at the Norton Museum of Art is aesthetically magnificent and historically significant. "Earthen Images: Ceramics from Ancient America" features 17 objects from six South American civilizations that flourished thousands of years before the discovery of the Americas. Three highly ornamentalized cylindrical vases sit together in a glass case, reflecting skeletal figures and organic designs in natural, subtle hues of orange, red, and cream. A sleek "Coprador" style Maya funerary sculpture of a dog holding an ear of corn in its mouth casts an unsettling gaze at its audience. Even more disturbing is the fact that these iconographic dogs from Colima were actual hairless creatures bred as ceremonial food and companions for the afterlife. The late pre-Classic (100 BC-300 BC) figures were found in eight of every ten Mayan tombs. Another creepy but fascinating object is a ladle, used during the ritual of human sacrifice. It depicts the sacred ulluchu fruit, which was believed to have anticoagulant properties, shaped into a ladle to hold the blood of sacrificial victims. (Through May 28 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.)

The mummy of Tutankhamun, discovered in 1922 in a burial chamber near Luxor, Egypt, remains in its home country, as does Tut's elaborate gold-plated sarcophagus. But 50 burial objects are now on display at the Museum of Art in "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," as well as 70 objects from other tombs and a nifty video reproduction of the grimacing mummy, revealing itself on a flat, bed-like screen with an accompaniment of spine-tingling movie music. The exhibition is shamelessly overpriced (top tickets are $30) and, let's face it, a little on the skimpy side (there are more than 5,000 artifacts from Tut's tomb, meaning we get a measly 1 percent for our money). But you can't argue with the show's artistic merit. The anonymous Egyptian sculptors and goldsmiths who created the objects to facilitate the young pharaoh's passage to the other side were great artists. Here, for example, is a striking, 18-inch, gilded wood statuette of Horus the Elder, with a long, tight-fitting tunic, folded arms, straight Cleopatra tresses, and the face of a falcon. There are the carved heads of cow goddesses, one of them leaving the graceful wood grain exposed, like fur markings. Lanky panthers are caught midstride. And there are dozens of images of Tut himself in various incarnations, doe-eyed, visionary, emanating a vast calm. You begin to understand the excitement of the archaeologists who broke into Tut's tomb 83 years ago. (Through April 23 at the Museum of Art, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)


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