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Art Around Us

The Main Street Station commissions are finally installed, and two galleries show us art behind these artists.

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In his three-paneled “Richmond Crossings,” planned and prepared during more than a year before its installation in the station’s lobby, miles of land and river lead the viewers’ eyes to distant horizons. The nightfall scenes are illuminated by street and building lights that sometimes reflect off the river, softening the severe diagonals cut by tracks, roads and the James.

“Further Crossings,” small drawings and paintings by Fox exhibited at Reynolds Gallery, further prove the artist’s ability to cast urban Richmond in a hypnotically mystical light. These 11 drawings and paintings include Fox’s studies for the Main Street commission as well as versions of other scenes involving trains, bridges and water. As in “Richmond Crossings,” these pictures transform banality into poetry.

Hand Workshop’s current “Disguise the Limits: Sculpture and Drawing by John Newman” offers numerous examples of the artist’s tabletop objects. These include “Homespun,” the inspiration for “Skyrider,” which now hangs under Interstate 95 outside the station.

“Disguise the Limits” provides an invaluable introduction to Newman’s aesthetic.

Primitive forms, mechanical objects and disparate properties of materials all figure into sculptures that seem to be living things. In each piece, sometimes not much larger than a shoebox, materials can morph five times and take multiple directions and shapes. At their best, his quirky objects, deliberately confounding in form and material, are patterned so that the viewer instinctively completes them, as if they become visually rational. In this sense, Newman’s art is a mental challenge made fun by eye-grabbing color and texture.

The evolution of “Skyrider” from model to final installation required a bridge engineer and an involved approval from the Virginia Department of Transportation. So “Skyrider” has become a symbolic link between state bureaucracy and local resolve, as well as between public transportation and cultural enrichment.

But “Skyrider” doesn’t offer as much thrill as its inspiration, “Homespun.” The smaller piece was made with wicker, bronze, sisal, wood, papier-mché, resin and ink, and it oozes with tactile qualities and evidence of skilled handwork. “Skyrider” stiffens in a deadpan, completely metal form.

Its ribbonlike figure-eight portion, built out of perforated aluminum that allows light to penetrate, becomes a weightless element that helps it take flight. But the ribbon element becomes a less graceful C-shaped frame partly sheathed in bronze-colored metal panels. In smaller scale, the frame might have been understood as part machine and part skeleton, but here it looks like a space frame with no purpose. Still, “Skyrider” is important for many reasons, the least of which is that it gives the viewer credit for understanding its relationship to the city and to Main Street Station.

Before holiday schedules take over, go to Reynolds Gallery and Hand Workshop and get to know the recent work of Stephen Fox and John Newman. Their work celebrates a miraculous urban aspect of Shockoe Bottom that until now most have wanted to ignore — swirling, convoluted tiers of roads, bridges, river and railroad tracks. The art at Main Street Station awakens our sense of dimension and lets us see the cacophony of pathways as something to celebrate. S

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