In the case of David Murray's current show (a joint exhibition with Lisa Mahar), I agree with a comment made by a young visitor, probably in grade school: "I like the paintings. I don't get the little houses all over the place."
This is probably my lack of sophistication, but Murray's lengthy artist statement might provide guidance: "While my roots are firmly based in landscape painting, my art explores ideas, emotions, and images couched in landscape imagery. In a sense my art is quite personal, pursuing a broader understanding of these ideas through a kind of 'physic mining.' I have always believed that art is an extension of who we are and that it is possible to better understand ourselves through art. With an endless flood of images to choose from, I paint those that are the most compelling to me."
Murray paints a kind of fantasy landscape in a very loose brush stroke. The sky is usually as important as the land in his choice of composition. The landscapes are all very dramatic in a romantic style. Then he adds box-like stick-figure houses tumbling down the side or middle of the composition. I don't get the houses, but if the idea is to tone down the romantic drama of his compositions, it works.
Murray's artist statement is very articulate and appears to hint at why he uses symbols in his compositions: "Memory is a rich wellspring of source material. I drink deeply from this well, piecing together bits from the past to make tangible the feeling, place, or event called forth. The re-creation is, however, a hybrid. It is not meant to be the past, but part of the now, arising to offer new insights, but with a history - much like a friend. Signs and symbols hint at the depth and mystery of this new life."
The statements appear to set very lofty goals for his paintings. It is up to us viewers to decide if he reaches them within ourselves.
We reviewed Lisa Mahar's work last year when it was at the Quad City Arts gallery show Putting the "Fun" Back in Functional. Our comments then still apply: Her kitschy work brings a smile to the viewer, it is priced reasonably for collectors, and it is consistent with her statements about it. Mahar's artist statement is short but accurate: "As an artist, my challenges come from transforming ordinary inanimate objects into intriguing, colorful, eclectic pieces of art. I draw inspiration from the simplicity of nature's color and form, the function of skilled craftsmanship, and the complexity of high design."
The only addition I'd make is that she adds a sense of humor. For example, her chair titled Helping Hands is a folding chair painted white with the images done in pastel colors. The chair is pleasant to view, and then you realize that you'd be sitting on a pair of hands grabbing you, which made me smile. If you don't have a tolerance for being grabbed, though, it might evoke a desire to dial 9-1-1.
I like Lisa Mahar's work. It is well-done with a good finish and is a good representation of kitsch art. She does transmute ordinary imamate objects into eclectic pieces of art. A good example of this is Conversation Piece, which has a side view with a smiling face looking out at the viewer.
Her table called Four Women shows a sensitive selection of composition and color. As the four women circle the perimeter of the table, apparently swimming around the top, the middle of the table appears to be the body of murky water. Her work consistently brings a smile to my face.
The two-artist show is running through September 29 at the Iowa Welcome Center in LeClaire, Iowa.