The gentleman who guards the galleries at the Arkansas Arts Center gets to see a lot of art, and so he knows whereof he speaks when he notes that there are lots of familiar names in the Delta Exhibition this year: The Grand Award winner, for example, is Mark Lewis, who in 2012 won the Contemporaries Delta Award. Both of the Oklahoma City artist's winners are graphite and paper collages titled "Peoria Avenue" (No. 5 in 2012, No. 7 in 2013).
The other award winners, however, are new to the Delta, my (digital) records tell me, and welcome additions they are. Arkansas artists Neal Harrington of Russellville and Rex Deloney of Little Rock are represented by super work: Harrington won a Delta Award for his "Snake Shaker's Shack" woodcut of snake handlers dancing around a woodstove, hooch in the back pocket of the man and R Crumb lurking (virtually) in the shadows; Deloney won an honorable mention for his commanding "Self Portrait/The Artist as Teacher," painted in a palette of rich blues, reds and purples. William Killebrew of Nashville won the other Delta Award for his Fairfield Porter-under-water "Sun Porch," and Brandice Guerra of Skokie, Ill., won an honorable mention for "Neonate," a small oil on panel rendered in exquisitely fine strokes of a male and female bluebird standing guard over a tiny human infant. Guerra's second entry, of a two-headed cow and a tornado in the distance, is also superbly wrought.
The guard, Bob Thornton, also commented that while some artists have been chosen repeatedly, it's been by different jurors every time, which says something about the appeal of their work. It's not a Delta without paintings by Dennis McCann; his son, Jason McCann, has also racked up a number of Delta appearances (five if I'm counting right). Work by photographers Kat Wilson and Steven Jones, painters Liz Noble and Joey Borovicka and sculptor Niles Wallace may also be familiar to Delta faithfuls.
About Wallace: The Memphis artist won an honorable mention in 2005 and should have gotten some kind of mention this year for "New Normal," his long black table groaning under the weight of what appear to be dozens of cut glass bowls and wine glasses and vases but which in fact are plastic reproductions. The plastic pieces, some misshapen, catch the light and bounce it in all directions. (A commenter on "Eye Candy" on the Arkansas Times website complained about the lack of sculpture in the exhibit. It could be that few sculptors were among the 800 entries juror Monica Bowman viewed before she selected the 45 works from 34 artists for the show, though that's unlikely. At any rate, besides Wallace's piece, there are a couple of nice small works on pedestals by Marianne Munro of Hot Springs, one a composition in found metal and the other three-dimensional rectangular wood, and an installation by Louis Watts.)
While we're on Delta works that should have won something, Steven Jones' "Red, White and Blue" is an absorbing photograph of three children on the State Fair midway: an indifferent boy with two girls, one with a teen-aged come-hither look and the other with a practicing-come-hither look. Behind them, the lights of the Himalayan ride sparkle red against a black sky; the boy, who is black, carries a blue balloon. Very American, indeed.
Add Catherine Rodgers' "My Summer Vacation," a large painting in various shades of gray of misty bathers in lake backed by textured mountains, to the list as well. Her painting has got a 19th century impressionist spin. I was kind of fascinated by Springfield, Mo., artist Borovicka's "The Scientist," a weird scene of a shed/laboratory stocked with wood and batteries and a figure draped in a sheet with hairy hands and hooves, and much impressed by Herbert Reith's 120-inch by 140-inch stitched and painted fabric piece, "Marsyas and Apollo." Something should also be said about Tad Laurentzen Wright's wall of scribbles and paintings, "Smile Heavy Sessions," comical paintings of smiling creatures placed on a wall covered in pages of sketches.
Though who am I to criticize? I have to say two things. One, why use two canvases when one will do? Liz Noble's separated her figure's fantastically painted head from its body on a second canvas. Why? Also: Why draw a line around your paintings when the edge of the canvas itself creates the border? This is a Southernism that Jason McCann has used in both his paintings in the Delta, "Waterpark No. 1" and "Red Escape." Dare to go to the edge!
There's a lot to see in this 55th annual Delta. It runs through March 10 in the Winthrop Rockefeller Gallery.
The exhibition is supported by the Andre Simon Memorial Trust in memory of all who have died of AIDS.