Viewers Can Escape in Exhibit’s Worlds Print
Art - Reviews
Tuesday, 19 June 2001 18:00
The works of Ralph Iaccarino and Jay Stratton have such a professional finish that they allow the viewer to concentrate totally on their shapes, form, and feelings. It really is a joy to observe and walk from piece to piece in their two-person show at the MidCoast Fine Arts Gallery in LeClaire’s Iowa Welcome Center, because there isn’t a weak link among them.

The artists are also well-matched. An undulating form sculpted in wood by Stratton is seen repeated in a vegetative form painted in an Iaccarino watercolor hung next to it. The soft palette of colors used in the watercolors echoes the smooth, flowing shapes of the polished wood, and there are no sharp, jagged edges to be seen anywhere.

Both artists exhibit a mastery over their media through compositions executed with a finish that bears witness to their maturity and experience.

The work of Davenport artist Iaccarino is exhibited in collections and galleries throughout the United States and several other countries. His mastery of the watercolor medium is indisputable, and he has established a style that includes a riot of color and a complexity of composition that draws the viewer into another world. In this show, that is either the world of the deepest rainforest or the machine gear, giving the viewer a choice between natural and industrial.

Much primitive art lacks depth in its intricate use of surface textures. Perhaps the return to a primitive subject, like the rain forest of Costa Rica, is reflected in the painting of intricate, extremely detailed surface patterns in most of Iaccarino’s nature watercolors in this show. My favorite work is Rainforest Waterway, which is a partial departure from the surface-patterned compositions found in the other paintings. Rainforest Waterway is a landscape with depth, and that might be a rare find in a densely vegetated tropical forest.

My second favorite painting is a Study for the Rainforest Waterway, which takes a single flower and renders it lovingly, with depth and feeling. Perhaps it is because I enjoy Georgia O’Keefe’s flower paintings that I very much like this study. But I think it might also be the detail, complexity, and sheer number of subjects included in many of Iaccarino’s watercolors that boggle my mind, and when a simple image is rendered with such beauty and care, it brings home the concept that sometimes less is more.

Yet I think Iaccarino would take issue with my desire for simplicity. In his artist statement, he writes, “The rainforests and jungles are known yet unknown. Even though there are recognizable shapes and patterns, the sheer abundance and visual complexity of these patterns cause the framework of my preconceived visual biases to collapse. In turn this allows me to perceive alternate patterns, shapes, and possibilities.” This is true of the gearhead paintings, as well. They avoid being geometrical, a major feat given that gearbox ratios and gear-driven power-transfer schemes are all about geometry.

Like Iaccarino, Stratton is known outside the Quad Cities. He has created commissioned work for clients throughout the Midwest. His pieces in this show are smooth, flowing shapes in highly polished wood, with one fiberglass exception.

The fit and finish of Stratton’s three-dimensional creations are professionally executed to the extent that you forget they are made of wood. It is by transcending the medium that Stratton elevates his work from craft to art. His vocabulary in wood expresses his feelings to the viewer with help from such titles as Whirl, Ascension, and Hidden Figure.

Stratton expresses his philosophy in his artist’s statement: “Everything that is around us influences us in every aspect of our lives. These influences, and how we utilize them, are what make us who we are. … The way we flow with these influences determines the inspiration we may have in our work and in others.”

This “going with the flow” attitude is somewhat common in artists who work in wood. It must be that the grain, shape, texture, and hardness of the wood present such problems that the artist must enter into a dialogue with the wood to bend it as much as possible to his or her will. Some of Stratton’s sculptures clearly fall into this category, such as the freestanding six-foot-by-eight-foot screen-like sculpture Rapids. In this work, the wood appears to undulate, as water would ripple as it tumbles over boulders and down gorges.

Stratton expresses this concept well in his statement: “Wood is alive, and I believe you have to be able to feel that life and move with it for the piece to work and be pleasing to the eye. Proportion, thickness of a line, contrast of another wood – all so very important in how a piece moves and attracts the eye ... bringing a person in for a closer look ... pulling the hand to the piece so you can become intimate with the object. When you get wrapped up with a piece physically and emotionally, then I know it’s right.”