The two artists whose work is currently on display at the MidCoast Fine Arts Gallery seem to be moving toward an expression that will be fully realized soon. Tom Lytle has three paintings and 15 three-dimensional works in this show, while Kristi DeMarr has contributed 17 paintings. The exhibit will be on display through September at the Mississippi Valley Welcome Center in LeClaire, Iowa.

DeMarr paints portraits and describes her process in her artist's statement: "I take reference photos and make return trips to visit the site or people. I then work out a composition to the size of the painting, using a combination of conceptual and perceptual elements until I am satisfied that I have a pleasing composition."

The result is not the arresting photo-realism of a Chuck Close or Robert Bechtle but the soft feel of a Thomas Kinkade, who bills himself as "the master of light" and sells a lot of prints and paintings through mass outlets. When I look at DeMarr's painting Aaron, I get this front-lit with backlighting effect and the pastel feeling of a pre-impressionist realistic painting.

DeMarr's portraits capture very well the public personae of the subjects while leaving the deeper secrets buried. A portrait by DeMarr will never cause you to stop and take stock of your life. It will confirm your concept of who you are and what you're about. If you're going to display a portrait in your office, one by DeMarr might be what you want.

"My goal as an artist is to create challenging, visually exciting, and hopefully satisfying works of art while at the same time connecting on a personal level with my clients," DeMarr says in her statement. "I want them to feel that they recognize the soul and personality of the subject and not just their physical appearance."

Lytle's work is abrupt and rough in contrast to DeMarr's soft style. This show has at least eight life masks with various decorations on them. The other three-dimensional works are not exactly sculptures, because they are only meant to be viewed from the front. There is no reason to walk around the pieces as you are compelled to do with a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, whose work Lytle's resembles.

Lytle's pieces have emotion, but he seems in such a hurry to get it to us that he doesn't take the time to polish the compositions or welding joints. The artist's statement leads us to believe that we should have ambient music accompanying the show, and perhaps I missed the true experience.

Lytle describes his exhibit this way: "Off the Earth is a multimedia, multidisciplinary compilation of ideas that I have been developing over the last several years. These works are visual images that I have derived from numerous aspects of micro-cultures around the world. Many of the pieces relate to creation stories and folklore, while all of the works represent a common theme of man and his relationship to Earth."

The works are rough and unfinished in a way that calls to mind the unspoiled, uncivilized planet before humans created roads and skyscrapers. The iron is rusted, the stoneware is oxidized, and the connections are bare. The work truly is simple and evokes man's first efforts at creation.

I get the feeling that Lytle's style is still evolving. So many of the works use life masks that some of the walls of the gallery resemble a New Orleans mask shop before Mardi Gras. Many of the masks just end in ragged edges somewhere around the neck, ears, and top of the forehead. There is no thought to how to finish them off; the works just end.

Each of these pieces has great potential. If he were to extend himself and go for that extra expression through finish, tying together the disparate elements he has chosen for the compositions, I think he would have some excellent and exciting works.

The work of Tom Lytle and Kristi DeMarr will be on display at the Mississippi Valley Welcome Center in LeClaire, Iowa, through September 30.

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