Photos by MacKenzie Burger

Article by Daniel McGee

Centering on the image of the hand, “Worlds Apart, Hands Together” in Studio 23’s Tabor Gallery is a delightful, if loosely conceived, exhibit showcasing the work of three promising Delta College artists: Jeri Gravlin, Monica Spencer, and Myles Roznowski.

Gravlin’s photos from a volunteer trip to Africa line the front walls. In these pictures, hands express myriad emotions and attitudes: in “Hidden,” a child holds up part of robe to conceal a shy smile; in “Delicate Details,” hands (presumably of an artisan) present a set of beaded bracelets. Different as they all are, each seems to reveal an important aspect of its subject’s identity through a small gesture, a pose, or a telling object. This writer only wishes Gravlin had better contextualized her photo documents, for having greater knowledge about the people in the photos and the lands in which the photos were taken (“Africa,” after all, is a pretty broad destination) would have undoubtedly enhanced my journey throughout the gallery.

On the wall opposite, Gravlin uses pictures taken closer to home to experiment with lighting and surface detail. In works such as “Looking Up,” she plays to the strengths of her media without getting lost in them, using black and white film to bring out the otherwise subtle contrasts between a pale, heavily freckled visage, hair, and background shadow. She also employs altered film to good effect; burn marks, paint streaks, and tears bring static portrait figures to life and motion.

Further down the hall, Spencer crafts simple, striking scenes of hands in action. Autobiographical remarks add a nice touch to this portion of the show: beneath an image of hands on a typewriter, a letter from her father, a writer, encouraging her creative abilities; alongside a photo of a big hand and small hand collaborating on a sketch, a note of gratitude to her mother. Some of the artist’s other captions can be a bit heavy-handed in zealous optimism (“We are individuals, but also a single Speck [sic] in this thing we call life. We make up the big picture. What we do defines us, and in turn defines the big picture” carries a sententious and even proselytizing tone), but overall they breathe unity into well-executed works.

Spencer’s talent also shines in paintings. Her map of the seven continents in magenta, cyan, canary, and indigo illustrates the amazing diversity of the world today. Together with an equally colorful rendition of the ancient unified landmass Pangaea, it conveys a desire to span distances and make contact with other people, languages, and cultures. This pair of paintings succinctly summarizes the reasons why Spencer, along with Gravlin, plans on traveling to Guatemala and Uganda for service work.

At the back of the gallery, Roznowski’s 2- and 3-D works add to the show’s thematic arc while demonstrating his technical skill and flair for the bizarre. Variegated, close-up images of the intricate whorls and ripples of fingers highlight their beauty. An otherworldly clay hand (“Rise”) and ceramic vessels implicitly celebrate the hands with which we shape the world around us.

Roznowski’s art charms even when it does not fit in with the rest of the collection (and here a clearer and more assertive artist statement would help; his humble note “I’ve come to create pieces I quite like & hope you enjoy them too” does little to orient viewers who are given a wide array of media and subjects). The stylish multimedia piece “Through the Veil” offers an example of his incoherent but pleasing approach to the show: with minimal lines and curves, he depicts a woman grinning from behind a pair of sunglasses, her hair windborne and swirling in one panel and bubbling over with curls in the next. The piece has little discernible relation to ideas of touch, community, or hands; rather, it is a lively testament to artistic wholeness far out-valuing the sum of its parts.

In a side hallway and across the building, works by each of the three artists stand side-by-side. There is much to see here: Gravlin photographs hands wielding tools, holding animals, and reaching out; Spencer sends a positive affirmation for the future in an assemblage of paint and text; Roznowski captures a hand lighting a cigarette in a grainy, cinematic tableau. Oh, what hands can do--especially three creative hands from the Tri-Cities.

© Daniel McGee, 2013