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Baptism in Dark Waters

The evocative "Duende."

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For the current exhibit at Art Forms at Grace Place, nine sculptors from around the country deliver "Duende," a concept that Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca described as a dissolution of ego and "a baptism in dark waters -- where volcanoes, ants, gentle breezes, and the enormous night, straining its waist against the Milky Way, abide in tenderest intimacy."

These sculptors have studied with master artists and artisans around the globe. Their art is quirky, multi-cultural, and complex. For example, the figure of Linda Cares' Le Petit Prince has muscular legs and slender dancer's feet that leap with joy. His crown is a wide-open vessel and his face an erupting volcano. This is a face before language, before thought. Cares was trained in the Middle East and in Korea, where fierce-faced deities fill museums and shamans expel evil spirits. She believes that artists are conduits of intense energies, and so it follows that Le Petit Prince looks like a primordial dance, like something that has flowed from her.

Another notable work is Celtic Passage IV, Paul Braun's pitted and textured blue-black steatite that simulates a menhir, a prehistoric stone slab that marked sites possessing special powers. Then there are Pam and John Wagner's evocative totems made out of 19th-century baking tins, early-20th-century wooden barbells, croquet balls, weathered scythes, and African corn mashers (and more), which they find in European and American Southwestern flea markets.

Sandra Ehrenkranz' clay, mixed-media Circus Woman is an overweight 40-something with missing body parts and tiny wires, lights, and beads radiating out of her body. Fortune Dance is a laser-eyed, flushed cheeked dancer with mangled arms who is posed so that she appears to be endlessly turning. These scrappy, enchanted circus performers -- one decorated like a Christmas tree and the other spinning out of control -- are fitting metaphors for life's hardships and exhilarations.

Using techniques she learned from potters on Africa's Ivory Coast, Helen Phillips coiled and pinched clay into Exquisite Egret, which shows both hope and regret. The egret's beak dips over the edge of a bowl, the inside of which is cracked like parched earth. His top knot of feathers are frazzled copper wires, and his silky white face is hardened and grayed like African savannahs during drought. Portions of this beautifully crafted stoneware sculpture are glazed and polished with encaustic, while other areas are mushroom and smoky gray. The vessel, while durable, is also breakable and serves as Phillips' homage to devastated wildlife.

Bin Gippo carves grace out of the hard earth. In New York in the 1960s, Gippo studied with Noguchi and Nizuma and learned to push her materials to the limits. Today she is noted for her ability to convey movement in stone and metal. Light shines through waving folds of alabaster in Joy in Motion. In Black Swan Presence, huge bronze wings ripple over the long neck and head of a swan that is being startled out of slumber.

In The Offering, Lisa Jennings envisions herself as cedar, sycamore, and stone. Her seven-foot cedar torso arches up. The layered quartz veins in her perfectly oval stone face suggest the layers in the artist's psyche as well as in nature. Jennings hoists a twisting sycamore branch whose wood has decayed into patterns resembling feathers. Using Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent of music, art, and education and the only Aztec deity that did not require human sacrifice, as a guide, Jennings offers herself to creativity and life.

Sculptor and painter Anton Weiss, who was educated in Europe and New York, explores earth from the Big Bang to present-day. In Pangaea Column, a series of increasingly large orbs are carved into the center of a nearly six-foot copper column. On top sits Pangaea, an ancient land mass splitting into earth's continents. In Balance 2012, another monolith tilts precariously on a metal log, and in Pangaea Universe, Pangaea floats in nuanced stains of raw sienna. Whether we see environmental devastation, social/political turmoil, apocalypse, and/or the end of an epoch (the year 2012 marks the end of the Mayan calendar), Weiss' powerful sculptures remind us of the earth's balancing act.

"Duende" at Art Forms at Grace Place through June 4th

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