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Constance Alexander: New Murray State exhibits celebrate creativity, visual cacophony, and silence

On a rainy winter day, a cold mist slaps you in the face as you make way from the parking lot to the tall building at 15th and Olive. The vision of a roaring fire, a cup of hot tea, and a good book seem more appealing than almost anything else, but my destination is Murray State University’s Clara M. Eagle Gallery, on the 6th floor of the Price Doyle Fine Arts Building. The exhibitions of works by three distinguished artists are on view, and they are bound to add fire and color to the most dreary afternoon.

Standing at the threshold of the cavernous main gallery, a cacophony of three-dimensional artwork fills the space, each one speaking its own weird language. Artist Donald Fodness presents “Transmogrification,” an interdisciplinary display that includes drawing, sculpture, furniture, and found objects. The setting is dramatic. The expanse of polished black flooring begs for a bevy of tap dancers in patent leather shoes. An empty staircase – featuring glossy black treads — is flanked by two of Fodness’s fantastic transformations, each one clamoring for attention.

On the left, “Chiminea” is part fire-breathing monster and part patriotic send-up to a fallen hero, President John F. Kennedy. The piece is festooned with a clothesline of wash that dried long ago, and a bust of the president bears a cluster of fake fingernails around his left eye. They trail down his cheek like tears.

On the right, the four pink arms of “Swag Emission” invite further inspection. The beckoning hands wear white Mickey Mouse-style gloves, a goofy smiling face in the middle of each one. The piece is aglitter with details, including a tiny disco ball, plastic eyes, electrical cords, peacock feathers, and a 20-gauge shotgun.

Upstairs from the main gallery, artwork by Michelle Burdine welcomes silence and reflection through the theme, “Living Loss.” Dominating the stark landscape are five large pieces of crumpled paper. They appear randomly tossed on the floor, like discarded artwork of a frustrated giant. Closer inspection of the fragments reveals drawings of a burst of yellow hair and the bodice of a child’s blouse, gently scalloped around the edges. A remnant of a brown-eyed baby doll portrait has been torn in two. The face is scarred by the bisection, but the pink cheeks and rosebud mouth are still discernible.

The gallery walls are lined with hazy images of winter trees as if seen through a cold mist or tears. Altogether, the impression is one of sadness. The compelling artist statement reveals that Ms. Burdine was working through sudden and irretrievable losses in creating this tribute to her own aging, as well as to the illnesses and deaths of her parents.

The Mecoy Hall Gallery photography exhibit, “the horizon as a dark line,” portrays another barren landscape. Artist Calista Lyon describes it thus: “…the scalped, the mined, the industrially farmed, the drilled, the polluted…endlessly manipulated for further development and profit.” Ms. Lyon, born in Nagambie, Australia, will visit the MSU campus later this month to discuss her work.

Gallery director T. Michael Martin explained the selection of exhibiting artists as a blend of various references and sources that go beyond traditional visual art boundaries. An exhibit of Martin’s work is currently on view at the Murray Art Guild. Entitled “Material Shift,” the work makes use of gallery walls and floor, filling the whole space with line, color, and some mundane materials, including drinking straws.

“Material Shift” is on view at the Murray Art Guild, 500 N. 4th street, until February 27. For more information phone 270-753-4059 or log on to www.murrayartguild.org.
“The horizon as a dark line” ends on February 12 and “Living Loss” will be displayed until February 14. “Transmogrification” runs until February 17. All exhibitions are free and the public is welcome.

Hours at the MSU gallery are Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Friday from 8 to 4:30. For additional information contact the University Galleries at 270-809-3052, or email msu.eaglegallery@murraystate.edu.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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