Chuck Scalin at Ghostprint Gallery
For many years Richmond artist Chuck Scalin has used trash and found objects to make small, jewel-like collages. In his show, “Paris: Fragments of Urban Reality” at Ghostprint Gallery, Scalin continues to work as a scavenger, but uses a camera to preserve what is otherwise disregarded and to call attention to its beauty. Scalin isn't breaking any ground here; photographing details of street surfaces at close range is a common exercise used by artists and designers looking for inspiration. But his color photographs, enlarged to 24 inches by 32 inches, frame some spectacular compositions in crystal clarity. Pebbly paint, pock-mocked and crushed metal, and peeling paper become the stuff of lush, painterly compositions, many of which fool the eye to believe it is seeing the real thing. Through Nov. 29. 220 W. Broad St. 344-1557.
“Not Fit for Human Consumption” at Gallery5
Because overconsumption is to blame for so much of what ails us these days, Gallery5's mounting of “Not Fit for Human Consumption” couldn't be more timely. The exhibition assembles technically and thematically ambitious ceramic work by 11 artists from across the country, all dealing with the social impact of materialism. A cloud of sarcasm and distrust fills the gallery, but the sentiment comes from powerful and unexpected imagery, making the show worth the trip.
Curator and contributing artist Adam Caldwell describes the artists represented as emerging, yet the work is mature, daring and impressively crafted. The large scale of many of these works is the first surprise. Chris Dufala's free-standing arch, “Urban Renewal,” built with ceramic blocks simulating discarded masonry, is large enough to walk under, and Elena Lourenco's seated female figure in “Forgotten Journeys” is nearly life-sized.
Several of the artists express tension between the natural world and that of the manufactured one with figures of wild animals in various forms of entrapment. Shay Church's wall-hung sculpture, titled “Undergrowth Wolf,” is one of the most dramatic in this category, featuring a massive, realistically rendered beast growing from a tangle of thick roots. “Not Fit” is a cohesive and elegant commentary. Through Nov. 29. 200 N. Marshall St. 644-0005.
“Sparkle Plenty” at Quirk Gallery
Of all the local art shows designed to inspire holiday shopping, Quirk's annual “Sparkle Plenty” offers by far the most temptation and inspiration. Featuring jewelry made by national artists, it consistently demonstrates that some of the most imaginative sculptors in the country work within the jewelry tradition. As usual, this year's “Sparkle Plenty” involves innovative materials and unexpected forms. Kiwon Wang combines pearls and sterling silver with wormy lengths of layered newspaper, and Rob Jackson juxtaposes gold and semiprecious stones with iron. Several artists construct their jewelry to pose as table sculpture when not in use. The most elaborate works in this category are C. James Meyer's shadow boxes (below) in which jewelry is cleverly integrated into sculptural arrangements of natural objects and things the artist fabricates himself. Through Dec. 23. 311 W. Broad St. 644-5450.
Robert Foster at 312 Gallery
When artists draw or paint directly from photographs in order to capture a likeness, often the sense of three-dimensional space is lost and the subject appears flat. Virginia Commonwealth University associate professor Robert Foster avoids that trap in his graphite portraits, partly because he takes the photographs himself, but mostly because he understands the human form. 312 Gallery's intimate space is a perfect environment for Foster's eight portraits of African-Americans, many of which capture the subjects' full figure. Foster engages the viewer with the ease of his marks, the credibility of the likenesses and suggestions of narrative. On the lookout for the remarkable in every figure, Foster seems to render his subjects' spirits as much as their figures. Through Nov. 28. 312 Brook Road. 339-2535.
Bruce Wilhelm at ADA Gallery
A regular exhibitor at ADA, Bruce Wilhelm is a painter who is always inventing new ways to paint and present his painting. A former Richmonder living in Philadelphia, Wilhelm has produced many traditional paintings on a variety of supports, but his video paintings in which his painted animation is presented on a wall within a frame have gained the most attention. In his work at ADA, the artist plays his own random painting style against appropriated sporting paintings of the past. He's also devising new means of supporting his paintings. “Jupiter and Saturn” is painted on a plywood structure with faceted corners that project off the wall, while several other paintings involve negative spaces that expose other paintings beneath the top surface. Through Nov. 31. 228 W. Broad St. 644-0100.
“Taxonomic Intoxication” at Transmission Gallery
Transmission's “Taxonomic Intoxication” features new work by Richmonder Ryan McLennan and Boston's Amy Ross, two more artists devoting attention to the natural world. Both work in the tradition of biological illustrators, realistically representing their targeted species with attention to detail, yet underhandedly injecting elements of fantasy. Both isolate their subjects, so that each image is suspended on white paper. In a statement about his work, McLennan suggests that he's interested in how wild creatures use and adapt to their surroundings without exhausting resources.
At Transmission, McLennan paints pseudo-documentaries of creatures responding to an object of the artist's invention. The object, a bear made of woven vines, ambiguously suggests a manipulated form of nature, perhaps akin to a designed landscape. In each painting, moose, vultures or deer respond to the unraveling bear, seen below. (Vultures make a nest with it, for example.) In Amy Ross' smaller, delicate studies, she invents strange crossbreeds of plant and animal life. Here the artist obsesses over mushrooms and birds. In one image, birds are born from mushroom caps. Cerebral and witty, McLennan and Ross' form of scientific inquiry sets up a new dialogue about our understanding of the natural world. Through Nov. 29. 321 Brook Road. 200-9985.