Delta has attitude; Kendrick has heart
The 41st annual Delta Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, which opened Sept. 11 at the Arkansas Arts Center, is usually the big art event of the fall.
This year, the Delta has been upstaged. The concurrent "A Spiritual Journey: The Art of Eddie Lee Kendrick." a retrospective of a self-taught Arkansas artist, puts the Delta and its works - many technically masterful -- up against a collection of deeply passionate drawings, works straight from the soul, produced by hands untrained and unhampered by notions of good or bad art. The works of the self-taught Kendricka custodian and slaughterhouse employee by trade - are not about the artist, or today's cultural ills, or any of the usual meat of contemporary art. They are about his belief in salvation.
It's a case of passion versus intellect, and the Delta can't compete.
That's not to say the Delta is a wasteland.
The exhibit has instances of beautiful rendering, humor, fine abstraction here and there. The difference is the sneer factor, both purposeful and unintentional, that exhibits of late 20th century art just can't avoid.
Hugh C. Yorty of Missouri came away with an honorable mention for his spare, modern still life "Romanac": so did Warren Criswell for his scene of men wandering a dark, crater-pocked landscape, a red cloud threatening overhead ("Red Cloud").
David Rose of Little Rock won a Delta prize for his miniature scene of a trailer, barn and exposed cellar, "The Architectural History of Rural America since WWII': Rose's miniatures are always a delight to look at, thanks to his detail and eye for Americana. Memphian Greely Myatt submitted "A Brief History of Modern Sculpture," in which soap foam is being continuously pushed up through a round hole cut in the top of a tall wooden pedestal; the foam climbs the wall and then gives way to gravity in a graceful, physically intriguing way.
The Delta treads religious ground, too, but it is a scary region populated with references to the Golem and anti-homosexual piety. These pictures, products of educated minds and trained, talented hands, are some of the best of the Delta. David Bailin's "Cain," the Grand Award winner that depicts, in charcoal, a man in a field of viscera, is big and haunting; Jim Quinnan's stained triptych from "Homo an Installation" is dark and expertly drawn. But they affect the mind more than the heart.
The key may be the context: In an all-Bailin show, "Cain" would no doubt be even more powerful, and the same would be tie for Quinnan. That is the advantage Kendrick has over his Delta colleagues: We see a huge body of his work and are given lots of information about who Kendrick was. His is a moving story, warming viewers to him and his works. Warming them, perhaps, past objectivity.
Despite the unfortunate juxtaposition, this year's Delta (the 41st) has many works to recommend it. John Hamilton of New Orleans uses an innovative brush-stroke version of pointillism to create "Cherry Slush," in which a man, cigarette dangling from his mouth, poses with a child, straw dangling from his mouth, in front of a Titan missile. It's a tourist pose, all smiles, and unsettling,
Other conceptual pieces are standouts: Stuttgart-born Ginger Feland's "Security Blanket," knit of shredded dollar bills and thrown over a chair, offers both amazing process and a nice pun, as well. A Little Rock artist named simply "Beau" gives us two exquisite silver pieces that an accompanying phony Town and Country advertisement informs us are popcorn utensils tongs and a tiny, teardrop shaped server. Quite nutty, technically terrific.
Those who take the view that only a Philistine could love Kendrick's work more than the Delta's might take another spin through "A Spiritual Journey." Pause in front of "Rippled Landscape," tempera and acrylic and colored pencil on corrugated cardboard, and study his river of white lines over blue, the aquamarine scaffolding of his hillsides. Consider the composition of "Church with Roof and Christ Above," a picture in which a central band of lipstick red is bounced off a painterly sky from which Christ and beatific faces peer down. Behold the tall "We are Living in the Last Days!" and think about an artist driven to make pictures, a man who had to paint without consideration of how the works would be judged.
The Delta runs through Nov. I; the Kendrick, show through Nov. &