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4 ARTISTS, 4 STYLES

CONVERGENCE 2001: ON CANVAS

WHEN: Through Oct. 27

WHERE: Carnegie Art Center, 240 Goundry St., N.Tonawanda

ADMISSION: Free

INFO: 694-4400

Wouldn't it be nice if all those neat categories of art dreamed up by art writers actually fit? Then you could sort artists as you might Easter eggs, one type to a basket.

That artists (like the rest of us) are crazily mixed beings is vividly demonstrated by the work of the four artists in the Carnegie Art Center's "Convergence 2001: On Canvas." Representation and its varieties was curator Elizabeth Licata's basic hook for bringing these four diverse artists together.

The apparent categories are obvious. Bruce Adams is a kind of photo-realist. Michael Herbold is a romantic realist with a 19th century Barbizon school tinge. A.J. Fries is a "billboard" realist in the pop vein. And Polly Little, in her paintings and prints of symbolic figures and violent or benevolent animals, pursues a figurative expressionism.

But then Little's work, with its almost painfully earnest overpainting, is no revival of heart-on-the-sleeve expressionism. She suppresses painterly finesse and denies big-scale, Max Beckmann-like anguish, replacing it with a touching humility and sincerity. It is as though the artist hoped to find the ground base of storytelling that only a child could fully grasp.

Significantly, there is also a struggle apparent here. Everything that emerges from the murky atmosphere of the paintings - the carrion-eating hyena, the teenager suited up as an angel - seems to have gone through a fierce painting process. The survivors - the slightly aghast characters of the paintings - seem stunned by the overwhelming emotion involved.

Adams work is obviously photo-based. He takes photographs - some quite satiric - of people looking at paintings in galleries around the world, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. He is faithful to the photographic depiction of his subjects, right down to teasingly skinnied-down renditions of depicted paintings that are shown from radically oblique angles. The anecdotal part of these paintings is relatively unproblematic: Art viewers come in all shapes and sizes and, as contemplating human beings can sometimes appear, look odd, serious or silly.

But each group of photo-real characters, along with their accurately rendered painting, is cut out against a dense white field that denies both tangible background and illusionistic space. Suddenly, we are cast into formal conflict by the introduction of hard-edge abstraction into the diffuse world of photorealism. Adams ingeniously reconciles these two contrary modes of art, but the solution is unvaried from painting to painting.

Herbold's paintings are intelligent and beautifully executed. But I wonder if they do embody anything like romanticism, transcendentalism or anything of the sort. He pushes so hard on the effects - overdetailed bark on a fallen tree, the stagey rippling of orange light behind a pink cloud - that the paintings seem more rigged than an expression of kinship with nature. Their insistent seriousness, so trumpeted in every stroke, seems false in some way.

Fries is also guilty of a kind of staginess that is only salvaged by an absurdist's sense of humor. Painted blow-ups of junk food is hardly new, nor is tongue-in-cheek reveling in comsumerism. What keeps these painting afloat is not old-fashioned pop cheekiness, but the appealing combination of the serious, workmanlike painting and the glib attitude behind it.

e-mail: rhuntington@buffnews.com

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