One of the great things about the annual “Small Works on Paper” traveling exhibition sponsored by the Arkansas Arts Council is the publicity it gives to artists whose names aren’t yet a household word.
Kimberly Kwee is one of those artists, though she’s surely known to students she taught at Pulaski Technical College and to Chicagoans who saw her fall show at Halfmoon Gallery there. Her work in the SWOP exhibition, “Wild World,” combines pencil and ink line drawings of squat figures on paper and overlain sheets of vellum cut into shapes that have been neatly stitched to the paper. The figures are not unlike James Tisdale’s squat ceramic folk exhibited last year at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. (The name she tagged on the website image of “Wild World” is “Beasty Bush,” surely in reference to one of the figures.)
Work by Kwee and 38 other artists is on exhibit at the William F. Laman Public Library in North Little Rock, the first stop on a year-long journey across Arkansas. Winning purchase awards were William Barksdale of Cotter; Ginger Grahn of Paragould; Neal Harrington of Russellville; Dennis McCann of Maumelle, Jason McCann of Maumelle and Mike Means of El Dorado.
All the winners were worthy, but “Swimming Hole/Buffalo National River,” a photograph by Don House of Fayetteville (who is not among the unknowns), should have gotten some kind of award (though perhaps expense figured in; the six winners shared $2,000). In this photograph, a girl in red tights stands on the rocky bank of the river facing a boy in burgundy swim trunks on a rock mid-river; he is warming himself with his arms clasped over his torso. House has emphasized the figures’ pale skin and red garb and kept the river and bluff in the background dark. Intentional or not, there are shades of Sally Mann in the posing of the subject matter; though the girl’s back is to us, she’s topless and just tall enough to be on the verge of puberty.
Paragould artist Grahn was another revelation. Her illustration “When Smelly Met Stinky” is a comic but elaborate pencil drawing of a long-nosed elf (?) patting a skunk’s head while a rabbit holds his nose. A flying squirrel and a possum watch from branches above.
Suzanne King of Fort Smith, an arts educator whose work has been selected in several SWOP exhibitions, and Dennis McCann of North Little Rock have finely-wrought pastels in the show. King’s still life “Pitcher and Bowl” is in deeply saturated blues and deep yellows; McCann’s "East 18th” street scene is in a less complicated palette, picturing a block of identical green-roofed houses with cars lined up at the curb in front.
Thank goodness for Robert Reep, I always say: Here at last is a conceptual piece in a weird medium (finely ground up leaves and dirt), which the fastidious Reep has used to form a square background topped with letters (also in leaves) that spell YARD.
In a nice break from his perfect-body nudes, Victor Chalfant’s “Matchstick Man” is an appealing digital print of a man spotlit in a forest with his head on fire. Benjamin Krain’s iphone photo “Boy v. 2.0” is a baby picture that the talented Krain has pixilated in places and otherwise fiddled with to make an engaging portrait.
Laman keeps SWOP until Jan. 29; next stop is the National Park Community College in Hot Springs.