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Tempted to Touch

Andrew Havenhand’s seductive works plus a colorful group show at Quirk Gallery.

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After weeks of civic disquietude, a number of Broad Street businesses in the arts district are shedding protective plywood panels and reopening in hopes of regaining their mojo.

With the Quirk Hotel’s re-emergence July 1, on a recent afternoon I traded the sweltering sidewalk for the hotel lobby and wandered into the conjoined gallery. With its high ceilings, bright white walls and ramped up air conditioning, the environs were akin to a luxurious spa. But it was the art that proved most refreshing. Two current shows, “Please Don’t Touch,” comprising seven complex, elegant and ever-so-seductive mixed-media wall pieces by Andrew Havenhand, and “Roses are Red,” a group showing of still lifes, proved a welcome salve for my slightly frayed nerves.

A former Richmond resident, Havenhand is a native of Yorkshire, England, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. After his graduate studies in painting and printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University and receiving a prestigious Virginia Museum of Fine Arts professional fellowship, he built his career in New York and taught for many years at Syracuse University.

I remember seeing Havenhand’s work in 2002 at his one-person show at the former Starch Gallery here. At that time the artist meticulously painted crisp and colorful striped and plaidlike forms on flat surfaces. The abstract works were deceptively simple but beautiful. Those same qualities permeate the seven clever wall pieces that comprise “Please Don’t Touch.” But instead of straight lines, Havenhand has fashioned irregular biomorphic forms that are swaddled snuggly in fine white lace. These works each contain sensual forms, like bustiers that fell just short of being fitted to the contours of a female form.

Each work reveals the artist’s heterosexual male gaze. There is a sense of desire and perhaps memory. This is reinforced with the title of each work-- “Ida,” “Lillian,” “Nelly,” “Beatrice” and “Martha.” I can’t vouch for the gender of whomever inspired the works named “Marshall” and “Hartley,” but rest assured, Havenhand didn’t skimp on applying beautiful lace to these either.

Five of the seven works are roughly 3 by 3 feet, or larger, and all of the surfaces consist of taut, multilayered coverings of white lace. This gives each work a voluptuous, upholstered and pillowlike feeling. Some works contain a contrasting surface material. In “Marshall,” the center space within an amoebalike, lace-skin wreath contains a smooth flat surface painted high-gloss white. The clash of textures is sexy. In contrast, “Lillian” is decidedly more flirtatious. Here, within the ring of white lace, is a fluffy white nest of faux fur.

The sophistication of each assemblage comes through in how Havenhand expresses two apparently disparate qualities, virginal purity and seasoned seduction. But if the artist is being randy with his “Please Don’t Touch” works, he is a consummate aesthete and craftsman. His shapes and forms are original and the way he manipulates and affixes his well-chosen materials and delicate fabrics is flawless. These works are fresh and, at their best, achingly beautiful.

Compared to the whites that permeate Havenhand’s solo show, the “Roses Are Red” exhibition is a color explosion of modest-sized works in watercolor, acrylic, pastel, oil, pigment, ink and mixed media. Works included are by Sami Cronk, Michael Doyle, Pam Fox, Elizabeth Graeber, Susan Graeber, Rebecca Huber, Cecile Myers, Grace Popp, Kevin Sabo, Anne Blackwell Thompson, Randy Toy, Sarah Trundle, Debora Warner, Carrie Walters and Cate West Zahi, all artists in the Quirk Gallery’s stable. There is youthful liveliness in each piece. Elizabeth Graeber’s “Dupont Circle,” a mixed media work on paper, for instance, is a joyous, illustrative overview of the famous Washington intersection. The work combines the immediacy of a New Yorker magazine cover with the humanistic universality of a big-city, pedestrian-filled landscape.

“Andrew Havenhand: Please Don’t Touch” and “Roses Are Red” at the Quirk Gallery through July 26. 207 W. Broad St. 340-6036. quirkgallery.com.

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