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Simply Put

Local artists break out the charcoal and pencil.


"Strictly Drawing," at Main Art Gallery, includes one work by each of 34 Virginia artists. And while another few dozen top-shelf artists might easily have been added to the mix (if gallery space had permitted), it speaks to this show's quality that there's a who's-who feeling as one moves from piece to piece.

Richard Carlyon, David Freed, Mary Holland, Wolfgang Jasper, Eleanor Rufty, Diego Sanchez, David Tanner, Thomas Van Auken and Lester Van Winkle are among the many boldface names showing. And while their themes and approaches to drawing vary, the beauty of the line is the common denominator.

One theme is the current concern with terrorism and the politics of war. Cate Fitt presents an intimate, deceptively simple but powerfully nuanced work with a complex title, "Two many Stories: Joseph Curseen Jr., postal worker, age 47. Anthrax victim, Oct. 22, 2001/Thomas Morris Jr., postal worker, age 55. Anthrax victim, Oct. 21, 2001." She has rendered two envelopes by a heavy application of graphite. The envelopes are sinister, the rendered flaps being the only thing separating the handler from possible disaster. Fitt's drawing is mounted on a deep red fabric, giving it the appearance of a historical artifact.

In his work, Jorge Benitez considers the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and to put it mildly, he is not amused. His "Hybrid Architecture — Homeland Mythology" is a meticulous, architecturally rendered "triumphal" arch with the notation, "Victory in Iraq Triumphal Arch, Crawford, Texas." It shows an Islamic pointed arch with a floral surround wittily substituted for the classical Roman triumphal arch. In the lower left corner a blind-embossed seal includes a five-pointed star with a Christian cross implanted in the center and attributes the rendering to "Homeland Engineering." The flat Texas landscape is bleak, so the carefully drawn clouds are all the more prominent.

Dawn Latane's "The Retreat" suggests barbed wire and a military or penal setting.

If there is gravity to the show, there are also flights of fancy. Mary Holland's "The Assumption" is among the simplest works, but the most memorable of the show. Here the Virgin Mary is being swept off to her rendezvous with the Almighty, and only her ankles and feet remain in the picture plane. Holland's work made me think immediately of Raphael's elaborate "The Assumption" in the Vatican Museums. Raphael used a huge canvas, elaborate brushwork and a cast of characters to relay a story that Holland's drawing tells with a few well-placed lines.

Brad Birchett's "Liberte" is much more complex, but clever in its image of a Rube Goldberg-type contraption and allusions to the French intelligentsia.

There are many other strong works in the show, including David Swift's "Untitled," a small work that seems to suggest big sky, Vaughn Garland's Zen-like "Untitled II," and Carole Garmon's nostalgic "Loveland" and "Loveland II."

"Strictly Drawing" offers a primer of the limitless possibilities of the line and a delightful introduction to some of the area's best talents at their deceptively simplest. S

"Strictly Drawing" is on display at Main Art Gallery, 1537 W. Main St., through Jan. 30.

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