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In the Red

The spare and penetrating work of Terri Jones.

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In her current Power House retrospective, "Drawing a Line from 1993-2004," Memphis artist Terri Jones combines raw gallery space, nuanced linework, and a palpable sense of light to give viewers an elegantly unsettling opportunity to experience a microcosm and boundless space simultaneously.

Tiny creatures undergo tiny changes in Jones' graphite drawing on vellum Untitled (2003), a work included in the exhibition's digital slide show. One can almost feel the pulse of life and see virtual trails of electrons as, step by minute step, the shapes group together, separate, replicate, and fade.

Jones' ingeniously provocative Merging Histories, Shared Secrets and Not Yet (1995) is a North Gallery installation consisting of 23 tumblers placed on a dark steel shelf that divides a white wall panel. Each glass but one is filled with water and paraffin and contains a fish hook threaded with line from the tackle box of her father, who died shortly before the artist began work on the installation.

The varying distances between the glasses of water, the lines of tackle that pool onto the concrete floor or into a gourd from Jones' garden, and the fish hooks that imply notes on a line of sheet music create a rhythm as complex and haunting as "Follow the Drinking Gourd," the song that inspired this work. That song tells a story about runaway slaves who hid in railroad cars and followed the Big Dipper and the Mississippi River north to freedom.

Keenly aware of background as well as foreground, Jones uses all available space. In her 2000 and 2003 shows at David Lusk Gallery, her squiggles, ovals, and squares appeared at the edge of gallery walls, walked around corners, and hung free-form in space. In her current exhibition, Jones' art appears on 30-foot-high window sills, liquefies in a broom closet, and grows as a profusion of zinnia tendrils she plants and harvests every 10 days or so in Power House's cave-like former fuel room. High on the wall, to the right of the main entrance, is the artist's signature neon-blue Horseshoe (1996; remade for exhibition in 2004).

Nashville Drawing (2000), another work in the North Gallery, takes us on a journey from the two-dimensional to the three-dimensional to the numinous. Four tiny graphite squares on vellum are framed in a box and mounted on a rectangular pedestal that is backdropped by a large wall of windows. Focusing on a delicately miniscule drawing on a five-foot base in front of a wall of sunlight engages viewers with line, volume, and light and, for some, creates dramatic perceptual shifts.

What Jones does with nuances of line, spatial field, and light she also does for the color red. Within a small dank room downstairs, she has placed Hot Wax Line (2004), a slender nine-foot mullion that contains red wax heated to a constant temperature. This is liquid red at 160 degrees Fahrenheit, pungent with the odor of hot wax, glowing with reflections from its shiny copper container, and surrounded by the stains, spills, and uneven cement floor of a former broom closet. (The artist will produce another statement on heat and the color red when the zinnias she is growing just outside of Power House bloom in July.) For this exhibition, Jones also chose red to color the three-inch wedges of glass that she cast and placed on the floor against the high walls of the South Gallery and red to color the 600 pounds of sand and sawdust that she piled on window ledges to become broken lines that circumscribe the walls of this towering room.

With the subtlest of art objects, Jones directs our eyes to the stained floors, obscure corners, and near-ceiling windows of Power House, an eroding industrial-era art object with its own reds and lines in the form of crumbling bricks, electrical circuitries, heating and cooling conduits, and smudges created by the coal that it housed and burned.

In the North Gallery installation called Hurry (1996), a dead tree hangs from the ceiling below a blue neon sign that lights up the word "hurry" in reverse. In this work as with others, the found and personal objects Jones chooses, her allusions to change and fragility, and her works' spare elegance provide clues to how she envisions her art and experiences life. Distilled, her artist/life statement could read, in part: Don't hurry; feel the space inside and around you, recognize the spare and ephemeral beauty of each line, each light, each thought. n

"Drawing a Line from 1993-2004" at Power House through August 1st

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