V.L. Cox, or Lynette Cox, and Lam Tze Sheung, or Laura Carenbauer, have never met. Neither was even particularly familiar with the other’s work. But their pairing for an exhibit at the Historic Arkansas Museum, “Transformation and Creation,” is inspired. Though the artists are very different, curator Patricia Grant has found common denominators. Both use window screen as a physical representation of cultural alienation — Cox in screen doors that combine found objects and figurative paintings and Carenbauer in installation pieces. Both like the circle — Cox in her large, textured abstracts, where they read like suns, and Carenbauer in woozy abstracted figures, like heads. Both are serious, careful artists.
In her “American South Screen Door” series, Cox’s subjects — older African Americans — peer out at the viewer from behind the screens with wary expressions. The screens enforce the separateness between us and them, make them hard to know, mysterious. Tacked to the doors, in the manner of the old country store or business, are antique advertisements — “Furnished Apartment for Rent” and “Luckies Taste Better” and “Brown’s Shoes.”
But Cox’s screened off subjects would be knowable, if we would open the doors. Carenbauer’s less corporeal figures, are mysterious as well, but they’re trapped in the hanging mesh, like unfulfilled desires.
In her large abstract paintings, Cox is comfortable suggesting landscape with color fields, letting black space read as crevasse or object in the distance. A particularly strong work in the show is “Delphi” (2008). The palette includes a bright aqua and stripes of gold and the color fields go all the way to the edge of the painting instead of being stifled by borders. Cox also adds found objects to some of the paintings, but, at least in those shown here, they limit the work, the way a period ends a sentence.
Carenbauer’s landscapes, on the other hand, suggest abstraction. A small pastel of bare trees against a luminous pink sky are like scratchy Rothkos. Some of the work — like “the Scream,” a calligraphic take on Munch — packs an emotional punch, thanks to a palette of oranges and reds.
An artists’ reception will be held at the First Friday event next week, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 8.
John Kushmaul, the painter who tackles urban landscapes, has a great little show in the hallway gallery on the second floor. He’s used a thinned paint and pencil technique on many of these paintings — of the skyline in a bright yellow light or the Clinton Presidential Center — and the feel is sketchy and light.
They’re lovely works in a fine hand and years from now they’ll have additional value as capturing a place in time. Apparently, those who’ve gone to see the show agree; much of the work has been sold, including a nifty painting of a squirrel.