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Brave New Worlds

Work from prize-winning students and animal aficionados.

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above: Larry Edwards’ Wild Dog Pack

The 26th Annual Juried Student Exhibition at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis is a great opportunity to see in one venue some of the best young artists working in Memphis today.

With a tremendous level of skill, Christopher Robin replicates the glaze-on-panel techniques of 17th-century northern Renaissance masters who painted archetypal figures lit by candlelight. Robin's painting Bugger's Brawl, winner of the Undergraduate Award, wryly updates Georges de La Tour's Beggars' Brawl. Using his friends as models, Robin has created a motley crew of modern prophets, philosophers, brawlers, and troubadours dressed in T-shirts. On the far left, Robin replaces La Tour's elderly matron who trembles and prays with a woman whose luminous face looks both addled and awestruck. The troupe's traveling minstrel clutches his stringed instrument and laughs, presumably telling stories not of chivalry but 21st-century high jinks.

The figure with the long auburn hair in Raleigh Rodger's Graduate Purchase Award-winning Deflection could be a young woman from almost any century. The most saturate, crisp-edged shape in this digital inkjet print is the deep-purple shadow that appears to split the woman in two. What is illusion? What is most intense, alive, and real? Perhaps, as Rodger's photo seems to posit, it's that ephemeral, almost ineffable moment when sunlight turns splashing water into starbursts and the palm of a young woman's hand into molten gold.

The Best of Show Award-winner, Robert McCarroll's Fiestaware, blue is a glowing, dark-blue ceramic piece that arcs back like the head of a cobra and writhes on top of a white pedestal. This sleek serpentine shape is punctuated not with fangs but with what look like the nuts and bolts of machinery. In an era of increasingly sophisticated robotics, artificial intelligence, and heat-resistant ceramic computer parts, McCarroll's surprising synthesis of the phallic, mechanical, and the ceramic walks the fine line between the inanimate and animate, between high and low art.

Through April 18th For the Memphis College of Art's exhibition "A Dog's Life," University of Memphis painting professor Beth Edwards gathered works by talented artists from across the country. Their paintings and drawings tell stories about the deep bond that has existed between man and dog for millennia and the plight of animals displaced by recent economic crises and political and ecological disasters.

You could easily miss Rudy, the small gray dog in Katy Schneider's oil on canvas Rudy's Kitchen. In this poignant, uncompromisingly honest look at animals and owners who are just getting by, Rudy is as integral a part of the scene as the industrial-grade cookware, the peeling windowsill, and the gray window panes framed by chipped woodwork. Not that Rudy is complaining. The title as well as the image are worth a thousand words. This is Rudy's kitchen, his world, his life.

As the title of Riva Lehrer's charcoal drawing Family: Tom O'Dowd and Buddy suggests, Buddy is both a pet and a beloved companion. He sits on a bed next to his master who lies motionless beside him. Whether O'Dowd is asleep, disabled, or temporarily incapacitated, he can rest assured that this wet-nosed, bright-eyed mixed mongrel (one of the most alert, alive creatures in the show) will be there for him.

In Robert Warrens' apocalyptic painting S.P.C.A. Pet Rescue, an old hound hunkers down in the bottom of a boat, a large black dog with wolf in its lineage stands at the prow, and pedigrees and mutts pile on top of each other. Another flood and another ark. But, here, instead of Noah, S.P.C.A. volunteers row past flooded homes gathering up animals. With lurid pinks, metallic blues, and folk-art-like figures, Warrens, an artist who experienced Hurricane Katrina firsthand, bears witness to the nightmarish, psychedelic landscape created by the storm that destroyed a major American city and turned New Orleans' waters into a cesspool of chemical and animal waste.

The jagged lines, fragmented body parts, and howling faces in Larry Edwards' pastel work Wild Dog Pack V create the impression that we are surrounded by creatures moving so fast we only catch glimpses of them. Edwards' "wild" dogs could be feral, or perhaps they are ferocious because they are starving.

If the exhibition's compelling visuals and poignant narratives move you to make a donation to the Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County, that's a good thing. For a $10 donation, you'll receive the exhibition's poster; for $15, the catalog; and for $20, the poster and the catalog. For more information, go to memphishumane.org.

Through April 10th


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