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The Howl Dog Collective explores the deep corners of the mind at Aquiles Adler gallery.

Dark Dreams

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As anyone who's ever peeked in can attest, the subconscious is a disorderly place. When William Blake and Auguste Rodin reported on some of the conditions there, a large group of the population decided to try to avoid the place altogether.

Not the Howl Dog Collective. This group of nine or so artists regularly ferries back and forth between that dark bouillabaisse and the better-lighted and slightly more predictable aspects of normal life. Every Sunday evening, the Howl Dogs meet to stir up their minds and make some art.

Led by the Richmond master of the nether regions, Wolfgang Jasper, the artists have assembled a fascinating collection of work that demonstrates their explorations with charcoal on paper. The show begins with a set of three drawings by Jasper. He really is a master in many ways other than his subject matter. He can move media around a surface like nobody's business, whether it's paint or charcoal, color or black and white. Bird heads, various parts of humans, and braying monster faces emerge and retreat in refined demonstration of volume, form and atmosphere from the primal soup where he has them waiting for their cues. After him come his students demonstrating their own efforts to work the charcoal into the dark corners of their own dream worlds.

The show is like an advanced dance class with each movement interpreted individually, yet with all eyes on the instructor. At first, it is a challenge to see the idiosyncrasy amongst the artists. All the works explore the same theme, and all are charcoals of similar size and frame. But it is one of the enjoyable features of the exhibition to be able to perceive the personalities of each confederate. Heeja Freeman's three drawings are brashly wrought and conversely sentimental; Jane Bowe's are ethereal and more directly aligned to a Renaissance aesthetic; Tom Papa's one piece is the most directly self-referential and psychological.

Beth Beaven, Jasper's partner in their Howl Dog enterprise, uses nature's remains as a catalyst for her intimate, reconfigured cosmos. These drawings are energetically hatched with straight and elliptical marks filling in the entire plane. Cathy George's ambiguous drawings are the most abstract works in the collection, depicting a kind of roiling, twisting landscape turning over and in on itself. They appear lighted by volcanic afterglow or by multiple suns setting just beyond the artist's rippling ridges.

Although not always a presentation of fully mature work, this exhibition demonstrates, instead, the freedom of working outside maturity's rigid confines. There are perhaps two kinds of art paranoia to participate in. One comes from an isolated and stultifying fear of failure, while the other is a fertile state of mind to dig about in for material. The Howl Dogs have dragged out that dire old dementia's steamer trunk and are having a great time trying on its hats.

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