The current show at MidCoast Gallery West is all about transformations by artists perfecting their work and style. The exhibit, featuring 37 photo-paintings by Dave Sorensen and 25 sculptures by V. Skip Willits & Kristin Garnant, runs through June and is well worth the trip to downtown Rock Island.

Sorensen has totally transformed his photo-artwork since I saw an exhibition of his work at the welcome center in LeClaire last November. His series on dancers, with the blue background, resembles enameled copper paintings more than any kind of photography. Sorensen has taken his camera and Photoshop and transcended both tools to create art that is reflective of his images, wit, and fancy. I could not tell that the works used a photographic base, and I mean this as a very high compliment.

With many people working with Photoshop, the viewer can tell that there is a merging and melding of photographic images. The tools seem to grab the artist, instilling a gee-whiz effect, so the artist doesn't get beyond merging actual images. Sorensen, on the other hand, alters the images to fit his imagination and distorts them to create flights of fancy that are beautiful, humorous, and sometimes making puns. The photos that go into his compositions are more like brush strokes to an Impressionist painter.

Rover (What NASA Didn't Show Us) resembles a Salvador Dali painting. From the checkerboard or tile floor retreating toward a single vanishing point, to the smoky background, to the leg and foot protruding from the figure's head, it is clearly a surreal image.

In Sorensen's November 2003 show, all the images were nature photographs, whereas in this show all of the images are, in the artist's own words, "a short romp through my right brain."

The transformation in Skip Willits' work might have a lot to do with the collaboration with Kristin Garnant. Smooth, graceful, and proportioned curves and lines in the current works replace the lines and curves that we've seen before in his sculptures; they looked unplanned, starting in one direction and then going in another just to find a weld joint at an unexpected point. I found those older works jarring and difficult, whereas these pieces are a joy to view.

The exhibit is a tour de force of variation on the kimono theme, both in form and materials. The two artists combine elements of steel, tin, wire, wood, brass, copper, and paper to assemble dozens of kimono-based sculptures that range in size from 6 inches to 6 feet and in style from Rothko-esque conceptual to Giacometti-esque figurative. Contrasts are drawn and effectively used between the color and texture of related pieces, such as raw rust next to refined grinded stainless steel or lightweight and white-colored wood sticks cradled by heavy-gauge, dark-steel rods. In these works, the weld joints are still unfinished and the steel is still unpolished, but the lack of finish and the placement of the joints add to the overall impact of the work.

As you walk in the gallery, New American Nomad dominates the space due to its sheer size, gallery placement, and texture. It is a corrugated steel kimono using natural rust, weathering, and corrosion to provide the color and interest. The lines, patterns of decay, and placement of the steel all conspire to maintain viewer interest. It is a two-dimensional sculpture, by which I mean there is clearly a front and a back that covers an area nearly seven by 10 feet; the side view is less than a foot thick. It works well and is displayed to good advantage in the gallery setting.

"In this exhibit we are exploring a single form - the kimono," Willits & Garnant say in their artist statement. "Traditionally this garment suggests concealment, ceremony, and decorum. Its design has been interpreted in an amazing array of beautiful fabrics from utilitarian cotton to finest silk. It has been attire for Shinto priest and peasant. We have redefined this symbol as sculpture object in metal, paper, and wood."

All of Dave Sorensen's photo-artworks are priced at $100, and the Willits-Garnant sculptures vary in price from $75 to $1,545, with most of the works in the $75 to $225 range. There are a number of very good values for the quality of artwork on display.

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