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To the Heart of Things

Works in metal at the Dixon and in luminous color at Askew Nixon Ferguson.

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"Metal in Memphis" on display in the Dixon Gallery & Gardens' Mallory and Wurtzburger Galleries features work by six sculptors, all of whom are also artists-in-residence at the National Ornamental Metal Museum: Jacob Brown, Kevin Burge, Andrew Dohner, Mary Catherine Floyd, Jim Masterson, and Jeannie Tomlinson-Saltmarsh.

From the sleek sterling-silver perfection of Burge's art deco Cake Knife to the curled lip, misshapen throat, and pitted, pear-shaped body of Brown's Rock Vase, a forged-steel homage to life's imperfect beauty, assistant curator Julie Pierotti has gathered together artworks by sculptors who push their materials to the limit.

Floyd's mastery of mild steel borders on alchemy as she convincingly simulates leathery sheaths in Cocoon, dark brocade in Vaughan Design Wallpaper Study II, and what could be the cratered surface of a moon in Vessel II. By fraying the top edge of this crescent-shaped work, Floyd also conjures up an ancient boat covered in animal hides and a bamboo basket in-the-making.

Tomlinson-Saltmarsh pushes meaning as well as metal to the limit in the cast-aluminum installation "Escaping the Net." Using the heads of rubber baby dolls as molds, she creates what look like three torn pieces of tapestry. Viscerally compelling as well as metaphorically complex, we both see and feel the innocents' attempts to disentangle or push their way through the metal netting. By adding tiny trolls, jack 'o' lanterns, clowns, and disembodied hands and feet to the tapestry, Tomlinson Saltmarsh takes us from whimsy to kitsch to horror. 

At the Dixon Gallery & Gardens through March 18th

Mike Coulson's abstract landscapes in "Recent Paintings," on display at Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects, evoke the world's constant flux and passages of rare beauty. Layer after layer of what look like translucent skin, sky, and swaths of fabric in Stepping Out suggest deeply tanned beachcombers au naturel and back-dropped by piercingly blue sea and sky. They move in and out of the light beneath beach umbrellas with crisp-edged stripes that fade to gray to black, then lighten to near transparency as their colors bleach in the sun.

Coulson's works — acrylic on canvas and inkjet prints — contain exuberant calligraphy and complex crosshatchings backed by seemingly endless variations of color and topped off with saturate stripes. Remarkably, they never look overworked or confused or muddy. 

As titles like Awakening, Through the Middle, Peeling an Onion, Heart of My Heart, and Eye of the Needle suggest, Coulson attempts to get to the physical, emotional, and psychological heart of things. In Sanctuary, he creates a safe haven that brings to mind sunlight and breezes moving through the Venetian blinds of an open window and across the walls of a room in which we nap. Depending on how deeply we doze and each wall's proximity to the light, Coulson's subtly modulated color fields, brick-red, burnt-orange, raw sienna, and umber bleed into one another. Luminous orange threads (cords to the Venetian blinds, perhaps, or fleeting dream images) wafting across the surface of the painting make Sanctuary one of the most evocative works in this or any other current show.

At Askew Nixon Ferguson through March 12th

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