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An Explosion of Color, Light, and Life PDF Print E-mail
Art - Reviews
Written by Johanna Welzenbach-Hilliard   
Tuesday, 14 June 2005 18:00
If you like the simplicity of form and function, with the added panache of vivid color, you should make your way to the Iowa Welcome Center in LeClaire to see Bob Brehmer’s ceramics at the MidCoast Fine Arts Gallery’s most recent exhibit. Also on display (through July) are the skillfully rendered images of nature photographers Robert & Linda Scarth.

While perusing the booths at the recent Iowa City Arts Festival, an explosion of candy colors – rather like Skittles – caught my eye. I was literally salivating when I saw the tantalizing array of platters, bowls, and vases on display. In the heat and the crowds I paid no attention to the name of the artist. Some time later, I went to MidCoast in Le Claire, and there they were again!

This time I was able to take my time, in the cool air-conditioning of the gallery, to peruse Brehmer’s works. Although I appreciate the ordinarily soft and muted tones of earthenware vessels (gray, black, terra cotta, azure), I have to admit that the colors don’t jump out and grab my attention. On the other hand, this artist’s choice of vibrant rainbow hues and smooth, glossy glazes made me want – no, need – one (or two or three) of his pieces right then and there. There’s just something about the vessels’ cool textures and their brilliant colors that brighten my mood.

Brehmer uses simple motifs – the sun, spirals, and fish. His sun bowls have a spiral design in the center, and the rim looks like the sun’s fiery aura with pointed waves splashing outward. These bowls come in a variety of colors – usually two colors blending into each other such as yellow/orange, pink/blue, blue/green, or a deep iron red.

His vases and pitchers are full and voluptuous, again having a two-tone color theme (purple/blue, pink/green, black/gold), with the exception of one pitcher that is a rich cobalt blue, embellished with a green zigzag around the top. There is also a large orange platter with a pleasing, woven-basket motif around the edge. My favorite is Brehmer’s fish pitcher. Multi-colored with circular and diamond-shaped scales incised around the vessel, the pitcher’s wide mouth becomes a gaping fish face.

Brehmer knows how to market a product. In his artist statement he says that he makes these bright and colorful pieces with simple, clean designs that can be used in everyday life. He loves his work, and is grateful that the public buys his art. (And he must do quite well because he goes on to write, “It is the public’s patronage that allows me to continue to work with this wonderful medium for my living.”) I’ll bet that even plain food tastes great on his dishes, and that wilting flowers perk right up in his vases.

Just as enticing to view are the nature photographs of Robert & Linda Scarth. My first thought when I see excellent nature photography is not so much “How did they do that?”, though the Scarths are excellent manipulators of exposure and lighting. Rather, I think, “Wow! They searched and waited patiently to capture all these fabulous animals and landscapes on film.” There is envy mixed in with my admiration.

For instance, what serendipitous turn of events brought the Scarths to find a newly hatched dragonfly drying its wings on a blade of grass? Fresh is a marvelous closeup of this insect, with its filigreed fairy wings and bamboo-like tail incongruously matched with a large bulbous head and alien-looking eyes.

And when did they happen upon the scene depicted in Achoo – a photo of a wood frog resting on a charred log that is decorated with a scattering of small pink blobs like bubblegum? The pink bubbles are really puffball fungi, but they look unreal, as if the picture were purposefully arranged.

Another tremendous image, Reflected Glory #1, is that of a drop of dew (probably magnified a thousand times or more) suspended from a blade of grass. The viewer sees a cluster of yellow cone flowers reflected in the perfect globe of water. Interspersed among their amazing, closeup images that magnify the miniature, the viewer is also treated to familiar pictures of a sunset, and the solitary image of an owl or a lotus blossom.

Then there’s Blast Off, in which hundreds, maybe thousands, of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese take to the air when startled by a coyote. The image is nothing but bird bodies and a great flurry of wings. Even in the photograph the noise is deafening.

The Scarths seek inanimate objects, too. In their Agate series of photographs, they reveal the mystical flowing layers of colored stone – rose, ochre, pearl gray, and milky white – and the complicated designs formed in stone by eons of the earth’s expansion and contraction.

Coming Snow is an image of an abandoned corncrib in northwest Iowa. I liked the simple composition of this photo, which emphasizes the stark beauty of the old structure next to a small copse of bare trees on a field, softly corrugated by years of tilling and harvesting. In the distance, one sees the white haze of an impending snowstorm.

In their artists’ statement, the Scarths reveal that one of the purposes of their photography is “to capture and focus attention on the details of the world, its non-human inhabitants, and their importance.” The images on display are certainly detailed and definitely draw the viewer into a world not usually seen by the naked eye, or in the busy-ness of quotidian life. I thank the Scarths for taking the time to find and develop these images. At least I got to see them in a photograph.
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