This Land: Photographs by Jack Spencer

"In March 2017, University of Texas Press publishes This Land: An American Portrait, a visual meditation on American landscape and identity by longtime Oxford American contributor Jack Spencer. The photographer spent thirteen years working on the project and traveled more than eighty thousand miles across all forty-eight contiguous states looking for scenes and moments that he says, are "an expression of the perception of an ideal."

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Rana Rochat, Dwayne Butcher side by side at David Lusk Gallery

Critics can usually finesse a relationship between two artists having simultaneous gallery exhibitions, as in “Notice how chartreuse dominates in each of their works” or “You cannot avoid perceiving the resonance between the curvilinear forms each artist employs.” Not so in the case of Rana Rochat’s “New Work” and Dwayne Butcher’s “Memphis,” through April 22 at David Lusk Gallery. Don’t strain at gnats, my friends; just enjoy each artist’s work for what it is and what it accomplishes.

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All the Art Fairs

It is currently Armory Week in New York City. The 11 art fairs, consisting of hundreds of galleries and thousands of artists, are spread across Manhattan. Memphis’ own David Lusk Gallery is participating in Art on Paper. Full disclosure, I am represented by DLG and have eight pieces in this fair. Other artists from the gallery that are participating are Maysey Craddock, Anne Siems, William Christenberry, Kathleen Holder, Tyler Hildebrand, and Tim Crowder.

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Jack Spencer: On the Road Again

Jack Spencer, modern master of American photography, has two new books of work coming out this spring. The first, titled This Land, captures with consummate artistry the heart-stopping grandeur we take for granted in this abundant country, your land and mine.

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Mackerel Sky

"Mackerel Sky" Photographed by Catherine Erb

The view from my bedroom window last week was spectacular.  I found out later this cloud formation is known as a “Mackerel Sky”.  I had to know more so I asked Wiki: A mackerel sky is a common term for a sky with rows of cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds displaying an undulating, rippling pattern similar in appearance to fish scales;[1][2] this is caused by high altitude atmospheric waves. But a little more reading revealed further  gifts: Other phrases in weather lore take mackerel skies as a sign of changeable weather. Examples include “Mackerel sky, mackerel sky. Never long wet and never long dry”, and “A dappled sky, like a painted woman, soon changes its face”.[4]   and also: It is sometimes known as a buttermilk sky, particularly when in the early cirrocumulus stage, in reference to the clouds’ “curdled” appearance.[7] In France it is sometimes called a ciel moutonné (fleecy sky); and in Spain a cielo empedrado (cobbled sky);[8] in Germany it is known as Schäfchenwolken (sheep clouds), and in Italy the clouds are known as pecorelli (little sheep).

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All About Me: Hamlett Dobbins at David Lusk Gallery, Nashville

Hamlett Dobbins’s new exhibition at David Lusk Gallery in Nashville, “I Will Have To Tell You Everything,” is a perfectly titled show of about a dozen paintings that resist specific interpretations while also demonstrating Dobbins’s extraordinary technical ability as a non-figurative painter. Outside of reading the artist’s statement, it’s difficult to discern any underlying narratives or themes beyond these works’ gorgeous formal elements.

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Memphis-based artist Hamlett Dobbins’s latest collection of acrylic paintings epitomizes one of the greatest challenges posed by visual abstraction: the suggestion of specific artistic intent as expressed only by pure color and form. A lack of figuration can frequently source a dichotomy for viewers, a push and pull between the intellectual curiosity enabled by non-representational elements and the desire to uncloak a particular narrative, sentiment, and/or motivation at the core of a work. Perhaps this is why Dobbins has appropriately called his exhibition of untitled abstract paintings I Will Have to Tell You Everything on view at the David Lusk Gallery through the month of January. “The artist presents to viewers paintings that look to be cognitively taxing yet ultimately gratifying labors of love achieved only after many long, hard hours of focused meditation.”

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Tad Lauritzen Wright spellbinds with Classical images in 'Politics of Power'

Virtuosity in itself is no virtue. If I played Chopin’s Waltz in D-flat major, Op. 64, No. 1 — popularly known as “The Minute Waltz” — in one minute, the result might be a prodigy of dazzling technical agility, but any sense of context, interpretation or nuance would be lost in the blur. (Besides, the piece’s nickname was originally pronounced “mi-NUTE,” as in “small waltz.”) Thankfully, in his mesmerizing exhibition “The Politics of Power,” Tad Lauritzen Wright not only practices virtuosity but also exercises a keen feeling for art history, for the dynamics of erotic and mythic force and for the dire comic possibilities that engage the bleak and brilliant moments when human beings intersect with the gods.

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2016: Best art exhibits in Memphis

Trekking through the electronic archives of this newspaper, reading through my reviews for 2016 to find the best exhibitions of the year, produces a high level of anxiety. So much good art! So little space! Whittling down the list, however, is a necessary task, so after much thought and contemplation, I offer the shows that provided me with the most pleasure and the deepest meditation during 2016. I could append a few runners-up that justifiably clamor for attention, but I’ll resist that temptation in favor of a sense of completion and conclusion. The order is reverse chronological.

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