Visual Arts

Heike Pickett delays big art show, adds two small ones

Sassafras Babe by Ron Isaacs, acrylic on birch plywood
Sassafras Babe by Ron Isaacs, acrylic on birch plywood

Heike Pickett's annual invitational exhibit, an expansive show that features work chosen by the gallery owner, is usually one of the area's must-see autumn shows for art lovers.

This year, however, will be different.

Due to a variety of circumstances, several key artists whom Pickett hoped to highlight were unavailable. So Pickett decided to postpone the event until spring and to host two scaled-down, boutique-size invitational exhibits that highlight works from Pickett's private stable of highly acclaimed artists.

The themes for each show — Pickett's Versailles gallery focuses on the human figure, and the Lexington space features relief wall hangings — grew organically, which is how Pickett prefers to curate.

"Since most visual-arts venues were concentrating on equine exhibitions for September and October during the WEG event, we decided to highlight Kentucky artists that we have shown before who have gained national or international acclaim that derive their inspiration from the human figure," Pickett explains of the Versailles leg of the current dual exhibitions, titled New Figurative Works: Seven Kentucky Artists.

"For example," she says, "Daniel Ludwig had just had a most successful and critically acclaimed exhibition of new work in New York that illustrated a significant shift to his approach to the figure."

Ludwig, who has been affiliated with the Pickett gallery and venues in London and New York since the 1980s, explores the female figure with classical ardor, juxtaposing serenely balanced oil figures with fragmented, even brooding backgrounds that create striking but subtle emotional conflicts.

Other featured artists differ radically from Ludwig's classical approach to the figure. That was an intentional choice by Pickett.

"When creating an exhibit such as this, it is important to us that the theme evolves naturally," Pickett says. "With that in mind, we tried to make the exhibition's media and content as diverse as possible."

That diversity shows in subject matter and technique. Pickett uses a broad, inclusive definition of the figure when selecting pieces.

Ron Isaacs, for instance, whose delicate new birch wall carvings emulate delicately crafted clothing, does not focus on the literal figure at all, but rather the absence of it as suggested by the work. The outline of an unworn coat or the detailed wrinkles of gloves without hands to fill them offer a more haunting take on the figure.

And Stephen Rolfe Powell, whose glass artwork generally is not considered figurative, elegantly — and even playfully at times — fleshes out his conception of the figure in glass. Works inspired by dance and the female form are key pieces in the exhibit.

Speaking of playful, wood sculptor and former Montessori teacher Steve Armstrong is the rare artist whose work is meant to be touched and interacted with. His sculptures of the figure include wooden cutouts with moveable figures within. Look for a crank or pulley, and feel free to wind them up and see the tongue-in-cheek meaning in his work.

Other featured works, including the colorful mixed-media work of the late Norris Embry, the illumined pastels on paper of Emil Robinson, or the colossal, involved woodcut prints of Jay Bolotin, round out the diversity of the exhibit with fresh, engaging approaches.

The companion exhibit in Lexington, Off the Wall with Fourteen Artists: Three-Dimensional Wall Pieces in Metal, Wood, Ceramic, Paper and Mixed Media, evolved in a similarly organic and diverse fashion.

"The relief show evolved because there were several pieces from different origins that we wanted to exhibit for a while but did not fit in with other exhibitions," Pickett says. "The three-dimensional aspects were the central thing the works had in common, so we expanded on that idea."

Pickett began by establishing a couple of key pieces to form the spine of the exhibit.

"The constructed wooden piece by Sam Richards and the British pop artist Richard Smith's vacuum-formed work were the points of departure upon which we expanded," she says.

A couple of artists pull double duty in both of Pickett's exhibits.

Steve Armstrong and Ron Isaacs make appearances with sculptural wall hangings. Armstrong's interactive wood box sculpture is playful, and Isaac's sculpture of a little girl's dress fading into a framed chalkboard is evocative of a faded childhood.

Wood sculptors, however, do not rule the day in this exhibit.

Paper sculptor Takeshi Takahara creates texturally complex sculptural landscapes working with intaglio on gampi paper, and its extreme delicacy is a contrast to the bold lines of movement in the work.

Metal makes several appearances in the form of aluminum or steel wall sculpture, as in Dennis Whitcopf's geometric abstract wood and welded steel.

With twice as many artists featured in the Lexington gallery space, the accumulated diversity in technique and subject matter is a feature of this three-dimensional show.

"We thought it would be interesting for the viewer to examine the different techniques in which the artists expand the medium of painting, printmaking or sculpture as opposed to the artist working from one plane," Pickett says.