Here Endeth the Lesson

La Monte Anderson's watercolor Agrigento Cat is one of many strong works at the BCC show

The five artists represented in "Faculty 2000: A Retrospective," now at the Fine Arts Gallery on Broward Community College's Davie campus, are all full-time faculty members at BCC. As the subtitle indicates, this show has sent them rummaging through their pasts; as with most such expeditions, the results are highly varied.

The soon-to-retire Steve Eliot has delved deepest into his artistic archives, in one case all the way back to the late '50s. A gallery wall boasts nine Eliot pieces that range from Boat, a 1958 oil on canvas with the dark pigment applied in thick smears to suggest a violent storm at sea, to this year's Room 112, a computer-generated image of a black-and-white sidewalk scene disrupted by a highly realistic electrical outlet, out of which emerges a real plug and a cord that trails down and into the wall.

In between are Eliot's spirited explorations of other media. A trio of '60s pieces includes the mixed-media Beach, a stark, atmospheric composition with the feel of a delicate pastel; Face, an oil painting with just the barest outlines of a human face hovering in murky washes of color; and Hidden Face, a drawing with dark tangles of lines more suggestive of a dense forest than a visage.

One computer-generated image of the bow of a sailboat bears the title See Ya Monday (1999), which a fellow artist and BCC adjunct professor of art tells me Eliot uses as his all-purpose sign-off, the way some people say "Ciao" or "Later." Across the room, perched on a door, is Eliot's generically titled Sculpture (1999), an inverted, rusty aerosol can oozing an odd brown substance that has coagulated on the metal surface. (In a nod to Marcel Duchamp's use of found objects, the piece is identified as a "redi-made.")

Each of the small gallery's other three walls is devoted to one of the remaining artists, with the work of sculptor John Foster taking up most of the room's central space. The show's sole female artist, Catherine Leisek, contributes five pieces that have been strategically juxtaposed: An imposing mixed-media work forms the centerpiece, framed on either side by abstract paintings that are in turn bracketed by works in pastel and charcoal.

That mixed-media centerpiece, Paulette's Dream (1998), is a vertically mounted set of five wooden boxes containing stark miniature scenes under glass. One includes a wooden ladder, another has a wooden bench, and in a third a tiny drawer juts out of the surface. All feature fragments of sculptures (one has a partial female torso pierced with straight pins) as well as little slabs of colored plastic or glass.

The abstracts flanking this stylized dreamscape are untitled mixed-media pieces from 1977. Each is a study in texture, with subtly shimmering surfaces flecked with metallic golds and silvers and highlighted by, in one piece, thin black swirls dancing across the bottom of the image, and in the other, spatters of black.

They appear to be a matched pair, as do Leisek's other two works on this wall: Why Is This Man Smiling? (1986), which includes the broadly grinning subject of the title, who has a large round hole on one cheek and another on his forehead, presumably the work of the partially visible gunman to his left; and Fallen From Grace (1989), a similarly unsettling image of a man brandishing a sort of modified crossbow, while a little girl stands in the lower right with her back to us.

The opposite wall is devoted to ten pieces by David Pactor, most of them brightly colored abstracts. The most striking are three tall, narrow acrylics suspended from the ceiling to form a triptych. Eye of the Needle (1993), on the left, features a few thin shapes snaking across a vivid yellow background, mirrored, on the right, by Tipu (1993), with similar shapes on a bright green background. In the center is Paracas Remnant (1992), with slightly blockier shapes on bright red.

The show includes nearly a dozen sculptures by Foster, most displayed on pedestals throughout the gallery, two mounted on opposite ends of the wall holding Leisek's work. Tuber Figure (1999) consists of an undulating mass of clay that looks as if it had melted and then solidified again, while Self Portrait (1998), also in clay, features a near life-size head and upper torso that appear charred in places.

But Foster's true preoccupation, in piece after piece, is conjoined human figures. Committee IV (1991) is a squat bronze creature with two heads, four arms, and no legs. The clay Sisters (1991) perches two tiny heads on one large, blocky female torso with prominent vulva and wildly disproportionate limbs. Penitence (1993) again plops two female heads on a single body, and the undated Towards Androgyny (1993) does the same with one large and one small head. For Another Three Graces (1995), the artist goes for three tiny heads atop a monumental female body.

As if his choice of subject matter weren't disturbing enough, Foster heightens the uneasiness his work provokes by his manipulation of the clay. The misshapen heads and bodies in his pieces comprise alternating sections of black and white, and their lines of fusion might be interpreted as seams; think Dr. Frankenstein's monster, cobbled from mismatched parts.

Based upon the works included in this show, La Monte Anderson appears to be the most eclectic artist in the group. At each end of the wall given over to his work hangs a serene watercolor, one of a small boat (1999's Sentinel), the other of a pair of small boats (this year's Sea Dancers). Other watercolors include Station by the Sea (2000), a moody rendering of an empty train station, and Paros Schedules (1996), which features a wall with a trompe l'oeil bulletin board and a red motorcycle. For Agrigento Cat (2000), another watercolor, painted in a palette of warm browns, our jarring vantage point is from above, as we gaze down on the title creature, a tabby standing on a manhole cover and a piece of artist's paper.

But Anderson's most commanding works are two large acrylics. Seljuc Patterns, in the main gallery, starts with soft blues, greens, and purples that give way to brighter hues as we're drawn into its vibrant layers of imagery, from the architectural ruins of the foreground to the largely featureless landscape in the background. The only off note is the broad ornate border the artist has applied, which clashes with the rest of the image.

Anderson's other stunner looms in the gallery's foyer, where several pieces by the other artists are also displayed. (Aside from Leisek's 1984 Sea & Cactus, a mixed-media work with spiky, seaward-leaning forms strongly reminiscent of the Chilean surrealist Roberto Matta's alien entities, there's not much else of interest here.) The Anderson piece is called Kangaroo and Tapir (1972), and its kangaroo crouches warily on the left side of the painting, while the tapir lolls on the other side.

The animals are painted without much detail in dull grays, and dribbles of pale gray run down into the sickly cream-colored bottom half of the canvas. I can't imagine how Anderson hit on this odd-couple combination, but in his hands these two creatures exude the same sort of palpable menace found in Francis Bacon's paintings of dogs and apes. Don't ask me why, but it seems somehow fitting that this powerful picture, which sits just inside the entrance to the gallery, is both the first and last thing you see in this exhibition.

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