Critical Mass Creative Stimulus 2011 The four local artists who received the Regional Arts Commission's 2010 Critical Mass Creative Stimulus grant — Emily Hemeyer, Sarah Paulsen, Alex Petrowsky and Lyndsey Scott — here display recent work reflective of their practices and their shared commitment to community activism. Hemeyer displays a series of wooden boxes you peek inside to see a retrospective survey of artifacts from her past performances and community interventions, projects that run the gamut from a mobile gallery (in a minivan) to musical ensembles and workshops. Paulsen displays an animated video projected on a toy-town set that is in fact a stripped-down version of Kirkwood's city hall. The imagery references the tragic 2008 city hall shootings, while the soundtrack features the artist's interviews with her mother, who reflects on her Mayberry-esque hopes for the ostensibly idyllic suburban enclave. Petrowsky exhibits two series of masterfully executed prints, one dedicated to a mobile "green" office cubicle — a miniature workspace transportable by bike — and one of incidental lawn ornaments (a Pabst can, a billowing plastic bag reading "Thank You") that betray what the artist terms the "socio-cultural peculiarities of their grounds people." Both series are executed with a quasi-anthropological objectivity and savvy slickness whose retro aesthetic roots them (ironically) in 1950s-era American optimism. Scott's work is the most installation-driven: paintings, notebooks, collages, found artifacts — seemingly anything the artist could feasibly collect and adhere to a gallery wall — blossom in exuberant profusion. Arcing between composite images of stereotypical suburbia and utopian-activist vignettes, the vision is deeply community driven, railing at societal failings and advocating grassroots solutions. The show's cumulative impact follows you right out of the gallery, impelling you to seek active, ameliorative involvement. Through September 4 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard; 314-863-5811 or www.art-stl.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Featured Review: Sea of Hot Pink Buffalo Local artist Nanette Boileau has created a three-part video installation dedicated to that durable symbol of American westward expansion, the American buffalo — and tinted it pink. On one screen a series of still images renders in close-up detail the familiar narrative of buffalo-as-icon. An adjacent video contains footage from an annual roundup at Custer State Park in South Dakota, where herds of bison are branded, vaccinated and readied for market: a jarring and noisy process in which the enormous animals are funneled down canals and squeeze chutes. In a silent counterpoint to the clanking metal, huffing buffalo and shouting wranglers, a text authored by Boileau hangs on the gallery wall, illuminated by a spotlight. The written piece focuses on a single specimen that seems to embody the "female spirit" of Native American myth. In Boileau's evocative reflection, a more complicated symbolic bison emerges — less driven by the muscular brutishness of Manifest Destiny and imbued instead with maternal beauty and dignity. A bison diva, really, one that's worthy of as much hot pink as she can tolerate. The final, most visually arresting video is a diaphanous pink-hued sea of buffalo grazing on a plain. As the creatures move, the horizon line undulates like waves. It's an odd vision — limned in the natural world but at the same time phosphorescently toxic — and one that successfully re-envisions a familiar trope and invests it with fresh and unexpected consequence. Through August 28 at Los Caminos, 2649 Cherokee Street; www.loscaminosart.com. Hours: by appointment.
The Lonely Rainbow Few artists have as distinct and unswerving a gift for recorded sincerity as St. Louis-based Peter Pranschke. He's easily identified by his draftsmanship: drawings influenced by classic comic books in which he portrays himself in seemingly infinite configurations of all-too-human compromise. But Pranschke's not limited to drawings; he has produced pieces out of spliced Bible pages, found erasers, dental floss, tree branches, Band-Aids and, in this case, sleeping bags and old books — all of which manage to embody the sensitivity and personality of the artist. As the exhibit's title suggests, an air of semisweet melancholy pervades. First comes a comic strip in which Pranschke recounts his initial ambition to have every piece in the show match the dark-green hue of the Sheldon gallery's carpet, his failure to have done so and his and apologetic caveat that these works are a departure from his usual self-portraits — these, he states, are fragmentary narratives drawn from life but shattered so as to become unrecognizable. The disarming intro likewise detonates any straightforward approach to "reading" the exhibit. Thereafter unfolds a half-blindly optimistic, half-doomed series of scenes rendered on green grid paper in colored pencil. A workday lunch break, the checkout lane in an art-supply store, an office cubicle, a sidewalk gathering of smokers outside a gallery opening — all banal on the surface but truncated in key areas to suggest that, sadly, everything is not quite right. Interspersed between the drawings are needle-point images stitched into swaths of old dishtowels or napkins and simply titled Sleeping Bag. An enormous green sleeping bag with smoke rings stitched in bisects the exhibit like a hinge — or perhaps the big sleep made wryly manifest. Through September 10 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or www.sheldonconcerthall.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.
Plexus no. 8 Using lengths of fine, brightly dyed thread, Mexico City-born artist Gabriel Dawe creates a large-scale, site-specific installation that absorbs, bends and refracts light to spectacular and spectral effect. To say the work is "woven" is imprecise, though the thin strands that compose the piece are laced through floor and ceiling eyehooks, their discrete rows blending in the viewer's eye to create an ethereal whole. And as a direct deconstruction of weaving itself — a craft identified with Dawe's native country — it re-envisions both cottage industry and cultural signifier, resulting in a piece that speaks to more transcendent qualities, even the notion of transcendence itself. That the tall, twisting piece is contextualized in a former chapel and lit by a row of luminous clerestory windows pushes this point, underscoring its other-worldly effect as well as its sheer and illusory nature. This is the handicraft version of Op Art, creating all the optical buzzing and retinal dissonance of a full-color Bridget Riley. Whether appreciated for its conceptual motivation or simply for the "holy smokes, that's really cool" factor, the work doesn't fail to gratify. Through August 27 at the Luminary Center for the Arts, 4900 Reber Place; 314-807-5984 or www.theluminaryarts.com. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Take 4 Drawing together otherwise radically disparate practices, this minimalist, elegant show highlights the elemental restraint and conceptual confidence shared in the work of local artists Juan William Chavez, Greg Edmondson, Jamie Kreher and Brett Williams. Chavez uses promotional shots from the dystopic 1980s sci-fi flick Blade Runner as his substrate and obscures the imagery in black charcoal dust and intuitive, iridescent brush marks; the effect is like a counterclockwise historical loop, moving the items from their futuristic source back to the primeval theater of the cave. Edmondson's work has a raw simplicity that complements Chavez's appropriations, contributing delicate, abstract pencil renderings that alternately recall the patterns of nature or suburban sprawl; etched in small, fine lines, their arterial branches waver between cool precision and an apparent hand at work. Kreher has enlarged one of her signature portraits of architectural banality, focusing on a set of glass entrance/exit doors. Stacked and repeated on an enormous sheet of vinyl, the image takes on a more ominous dimension, suggesting ubiquitous surveillance or the overwhelming excess of similar nowhere zones in America. A colorful foil to all the rest, Williams' two videos (Blur 1 and Blur 2) feature bright-hued haloed lights that throb and flicker to an ambient soundscape. One is viewable on a flat video screen, while the other is projected from the gallery floor beneath an air duct grate. Both are evocative of memory's impressionistic focus — more sensory than specific — and lend an elegiac air to the exhibit, which seems, as a whole, bound by various forms of absence and attendant nostalgia. Currently showing at PSTL Gallery at Pace Framing, 3842 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-4304 or www.paceframing.com. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Triumph of the Wild Chronicling America's history of violence from the Revolution to the War on Terror, indie animator Martha Colburn compresses this durable urge into a ten-minute phantasmagoric onslaught in the most recent installment of Saint Louis Art Museum's New Media Series. Aligning hunters with soldiers, Colburn sketches a parallel between bloodlust in the natural world (where man seeks game) and the technology of war (where man seeks man). Using swatches of old magazines, discarded portions of advertisements, bright cartoon drawings and tiny jigsaw puzzle pieces, Colburn is a scavenger herself, mining vernacular cultural detritus to illustrate her grand theme and, in the process, creating yet another analogy: between war and waste. The self-trained New York-based artist, whose prolific career has involved many musical collaborators — from Jad Fair and Serj Tankian to the band Deerhoof — here chooses a frenetic piano score written by Thollem McDonas, lending the brief film a retro-patina. Bombs explode, fires ravage forests and platoons and animals plot against one another in a jagged, sped-up pace that recalls Buster Keaton slapstick. What initially appears to be a twee montage of colorful cartoons and coupon-book clip-outs proves to be nothing of the kind. Limbs fly, corpses disintegrate and Jesus blooms from the clouds to carry a soldier to darker fates, all in a swift, relentless sequence that complicates whatever awkward beauty gilds the film's surface. Through September 5 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)