Tale of the tape

New works at Traverse, Chazan, and Dead Cat galleries
By GREG COOK  |  January 29, 2008
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IN FLUX: The walls they are a-changing at the “Tape Art Artaquarium” at Traverse Gallery.

A couple of the folks behind the crazy, brilliant “Apartment At the Mall” project are camped out at 5 Traverse Gallery (5 Traverse Street, Providence), turning it into the “Tape Art Artaquarium” (through February 15) What that means is that mallsters Michael Townsend and James Mercer, with help from frequent collaborator Jay Zehngebot, are covering the bare gallery walls with drawings in green house painter’s tape. And inviting visitors to help them. Kids are particularly welcome. And the whole thing is being broadcast by live webcam to 5traverse.com.
 
The pictures on the walls keep changing as the artists and collaborators draw, and then rip the tape down and start over again, and again. Early last week, the drawings included a girl on a horse and a kid holding a balloon. A few days later, the three Providence artists had covered a wall with a drawing of a guy watching TV, while a diver wandered into the room, and a shark swam in a window above them. At the opening last Friday, kids filled a second room with fish drawings.
 
There’s no theme, except, vaguely, an aquarium (the gallery floor is covered with a blue tarp and gravel) and that the gang is photographing their drawings to create an animated video for a song by the Boston band State Radio that tells the story of the lead singer’s grandfather’s descent into dementia. So far the drawings are charming, but nothing earth-shattering. The emphasis is on the process. It’s like a genuine, old time happening. What sticks with you is how welcoming, generous, and fun the project feels.
 
Townsend says he’s working on a plan to teach tape art to all Rhode Island elementary school kids over a period of three years, to make tape art the art of Rhode Island, as well as the defining common experience of a generation. Stay tuned.

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TAKING ON A LIFE OF THEIR OWN: Derry’s works at Chazan Gallery.

The Wheeler School’s Chazan Gallery (228 Angell Street, Providence) presents paintings by Amy Wynne Derry of Pawtucket and Ernest Jolicoeur of Scituate (through February 7). Derry’s paintings are mostly silhouettes, of tree branches or ship rigging or, maybe, whales underwater. It feels like an easy gimmick. She gets up to something a bit more complex in “Thanks Vinny” (2008), a web of brown tree branches and power lines on a blue background, all painted directly on the gallery wall. The difference is that the design repeats itself, reflected off the middle like a Rorschach-test, and the pattern begins to take on a life of its own. Jolicoeur’s abstract paintings on canvas, wood, and Formica (some of it gouged out) look a bit like brightly colored aerial maps cut apart, shuffled, and pasted back together. His collages indicate how cutting and pasting is key to his thinking. His colors are often hot and his compositions appear energetic at first glance, but the end result feels listless. Both painters have a distinct, honed style, but the work needs more get up and go.

Dead Cat Gallery (669 Elmwood Avenue, Providence) is showing work by nine University of Rhode Island students or recent grads (through February 8). It’s a mixed bag; the best stuff feels like it’s still under development. Victoria Lockhard Morton presents six black-and-white linocuts in which a spindly-legged girl holds a parasol outside a house with a cactus garden, kids in uniform stand in a field, a man and three women sit around a table, and a couple sits on a couch with a boy and a single present sits on the coffee table before them. Morton is skilled with the medium, and particularly attentive to light. Her scenes look like they’re based on old family snapshots (which apparently is the case with at least some of these), and have an appealing feeling of nostalgia mixed with the oddness of getting intimate glimpses into the lives of strangers. Brendan Sullivan’s acrylic paintings show a talent for using color to create mood. In “North Woods,” a man wanders a mysterious dark forest where the trees have heads. Its heavy on blue and violet, giving it an underwater feel. “Photosynthesis” looks like some Alien spaceship reactor core with crackling electric yellow-green ribs.

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