A VISCERAL JOLT Colinan’s Baby Doll.
"2013 RISCA Fellowship Exhibition," the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts' annual roundup of winners of the agency's $5000 and $1000 grants, is a curious experience. At the Jamestown Art Center (18 Valley St, through March 19), it serves as a sampler of what's percolating in the state but, with a handful of works from each of the 14 visual artists — plus videos featuring choreography — everything kind of blends together.
A few pieces stand out. Providence sculptor Jill Colinan, who is now a multi-time state grant winner, is known for stitching together creepy, funny, patchwork lady dolls. Her Baby Doll is a lumpy fabric figure laying sprawled, naked, on her back on an overstuffed little bed perched atop four-foot-tall spindly legs. One eye is closed, the other half-open; her lips are parted to reveal creepy bead teeth. Three zippers run down her body, like the surgical scars from some Dr. Frankenstein. One zipper along the middle of her chest is pulled down a bit and white stuffing spills out for a visceral jolt.
KALEIDOSCOPIC APPARITION Scaglione’s Lori.
The photograph Lori by Maria Scaglione of Westerly depicts a woman with red curly hair kissing her reflection in a window. The twinning makes the photo feel kaleidoscopic. Her reflection is like an apparition emerging from the lush green foliage of the garden and alluring blue pool outside. Scaglione's other photos here are just okay, straight-ahead portraits of folks whom she describes as "separated from a 'normal' social environment by their grandiose and difficult personalities." But Lori is in another register. It vibrates like a hallucination.
Carolina ceramics artist Jay Lacouture's soda vapor glazed porcelain technique makes his elegant Fire and Ice Bottle with Platter resemble shards from two or three different vases and plates excavated by an archaeologist and then carefully jigsaw puzzled back together. The impression of age and the alternation between a red feather pattern and an intricate Asian-style blue flower, shell, and butterfly design combine to handsome effect.
The "Fellowship Exhibition" highlights abstract painting and collage, realist sculpture, and various sorts of surrealism or goth, like Colinan's soft sculptures. Also at the goth-surreal end is Providence sculptor Jesse Thompson's mini-tableau Pry. It depicts a gray, smooth-skinned baby-man wearing just a diaper and socks. He sits on a chair in a desolate muddy landscape, next to a rotted tree trunk. He uses a long branch to poke at the desiccated corpse of a bird. Thompson has impressive realist technique, but his imagery feels affected.
Esteemed Riverside photographer Denny Moers's images of bare trees standing in a flooded lake or the ruins of a cabin in the woods are printed expressionistically. The results feel scratched and weathered, as if the images are antiques that have survived burning and rust. At times Moers's technique feels mannered, but when it works it has the feeling of a dark dream.
As for abstraction, Michelle Benoit of West Warwick slathers stacks of flat bars of hand-cut, reclaimed acrylic resin with paint so they seem to radiate color or glower with frost. Pawtucket artist Leslie Hirst's L O N E spells out the title in wildstyle graffiti letters, cut out and floating out from the wall, which is significantly more dynamic than her usual drawings. The twist — both cool and perhaps too pat — is that her letters are collages of antique hand-written notes edged with lace.