Illusion and detail sound like fairly simple, descriptive terms. But ruminate over them; they’ll leave you wondering, feeling a little off-kilter in the way they are full of nuance, mystery, and surprise. Two artists currently on view at Tory Folliard Gallery take illusion and detail to exciting places in distinctive ways.
Many of Dennis Nechvatal’s paintings introduce us to a tangled environment of deciduous leaves, lush woods, or mysterious undergrowth. The foliage of his work is not unfamiliar to the Midwest, but he renders it with a sharp clarity that pulls it into the stuff of dreams, like those crystal clear visions remembered with brilliance despite the haze of sleep. He is meticulous with his contours and shapes each leaf and mere twig for optimal crispness. Light infuses these scenes, but not in a brilliant, flashy way. Just a small touch here and there, judiciously applied, creates a vibrant surface without over-the-top expressive force.
There is restraint and organization in these works. Some pieces are multiple panels in which greenery trails and winds, as the suggestion of empty black space underneath creates seemingly endless depth. His broader landscapes such as “Strange Attractor” and “Hope,” present wild vistas without paths. Nature holds fast to its territory. All is not in nature’s control, however, as seen in his still life, “Offering,” a floral arrangement bursting with colorful blossoms firmly tamed into a well-behaved square.
Nechvatal certainly has painterly flourishes, and sculptural ones, too. In “Facemask II,” he combines these practices in works enlivened by a grid of projecting metal faces. Here the artist takes things literally, in a monumental visage made of many smaller ones. More mysterious is “Message,” where Nechvatal paints his motif of leaves over the sculptural surface. We’re left with a tingling feeling of being watched by figures barely concealed amid the breezy greenery.
Nature is also integral to Ron Isaacs’ work, but quoted with what could be described as understated theatrics of trompe-l’oeil (“fooling the eye”). Isaac’s pieces are quite amazing for their quality of illusion. From across the gallery, they simply look like articles of vintage clothing, rescued from resale shops and accessorized in vignettes with leaves, twigs and branches. The effect is elegiac, a feeling of lost memory and times past. But like actors on a stage, the delicate objects are not at all what they seem. Isaacs, painter and sculptor, executes these with extraordinary technical facility. Get close to see what they really are made of, and you will not be disappointed.
These exhibitions continue at Tory Folliard Gallery (233 N. Milwaukee Street) through April 14.