Culturati of a certain age, shambling from one glamorous art event to another, sometimes lament, over the hors d’oeuvres, that viewing art has become an anthropological and sociological experience, an empty ritual. Occasionally, however, we are awakened from our lower selves. Take Nature, Patterns & Portraits, curated by Kate May, at Alameda’s K Gallery. Three mid-career artists of talent and vision — painter and collagist Joy Broom, painter and assemblagist Carrie Lederer, and woodcarver and sculptor Jerry Leisure — show that thoughtful, sophisticated work that’s also extremely well made, handsome, full of feeling, and worth the long look is still possible, even in traditional media and treating traditional themes.
Broom and Lederer could be described under either the Nature or Pattern categories: each depicts her responses to the natural world with a repetition of stylized visual elements. Broom’s eco-cubism shows the interpenetration of plant, animal, and human realms, with semi-transparent butterflies, birds, insects, polyps, worms, cocoons, branches, roots, and seeds radiating auras like wave fronts, and answered by juxtaposed and superimposed human hands and faces. The works themselves appear arrested in the process of metamorphosis, half science museum and half sacred grove. “Center of the Universe,” which features sectioned seeds and fruits broadcasting their life force beneath a tracery of white tendrils, is a circular slab framed by a thick black wax rim or rind — suggesting the Magrittean idea of images found inside a toppled tree trunk. “12 Virgins” adds to an array of cloned Leonardo Madonnas, the over-painted white images of corals, plants, microorganisms, and viscera reminding us of the autonomous, inhuman-looking inner structures of the human body (another of Leonardo’s interests); it’s thrilling and spooky. Also darkly delicious are Lederer’s abstract compositions, no typical meditations on gardening, but florid floral magic realism. “Green Vortex and Burning Tapers III” fill their black backgrounds with a pyrotechnic display of flaming baroque blossoms, plant-stars, animated clusters, and creeping insectoid tendrils. Fascinated by fractals and their infinite scalelessness, Lederer makes her enchanted garden a botanic/astronomic metaphor for the firing of the brain’s neurons amid the entropic silence of space and dark matter.
The Portraits category is represented by Leisure’s painted wooden sculptures, which portray not individuals but dysfunctional psychological states. “Red Socks in Praha” mocks the authoritarian mentality; its stilt legs march angrily forward while its empty head spouts a caption bubble. “End of the Line” presents a gas-masked head on a stool-like pedestal elevated above a gluteal base; a yo-yo hangs from the head, its eyes are masklike slits, and the top of the skull has been removed, revealing a funnel and slot: a beggar’s cash cup. Pointed and satirical, these sculptures are contemporary versions of old moralizing depictions of the Seven Deadly Sins — just in time for election season. Nature, Patterns & Portraits runs through February 29 at K Gallery (2515 Blanding Ave., Alameda). Rhythmix.org or 510-865-5060.