"Kylix (Libation)", watercolor, ink, and collage, by Susan Wood Reider

Where: The Bennett Galleries, 5308 Kingston Pike

When: Sept. 11 through Oct. 10 (with an opening reception on Friday, Sept. 11, from 5-8 p.m.)


Zippy's on vacation this week, so instead of Eye on the Scene, we bring you...

The Bennett Galleries celebrates timeless Knoxville artists

by Heather Joyner

Participants in The Bennett Galleries' new month-long exhibit would likely be floored if I wrote something about their work that they have not yet articulated one way or another. In addition to being productive and accomplished, each of the four individuals featured seems to have achieved remarkable clarity regarding his or her particular artistic direction. They've taken inventory, eliminated non-essentials, and set off on their separate expeditions with baggage that's thrilling to riffle through; a trite but apt metaphor for genuine explorers of the visual realm. Andy Saftel and Susan Wood-Reider allude quite literally to travel, whereas UT professors Marcia Goldenstein and Tom Riesing possess the wayfarer's keen eye. Whether presented with a divining rod, train cars, a rope tornado, or angels amidst urns, we become more aware of the notion of destination—be it transitory or inevitable—and of our own desires to understand the "places" we seek.

A number of Tom Riesing's pieces in the current show, such as Tornado, Blount County, were on view alongside work by Marcia Goldenstein this past spring at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church Gallery. Their seductive color, scale, and energy, however, are a pleasure to once again behold. Riesing's depictions of rural storms, straddling a line between representation and purely painterly non-reality, echo art dating as far back as Leonardo da Vinci's Great Alpine Landscape with Storm (circa 1500) and extending through J. M. W. Turner in 19th Century England. Barns and other human-made structures blurring into surrounding countryside and into weather itself speak of the eternal struggle between people and their environment: a love/hate relationship tied to an awareness that our temporal existence both impacts our surroundings and is made that much smaller within nature's context. Our maybe pointless endeavors—what Turner likened to "fallacies of hope," the name of one of his unpublished poems—are, in effect, sucked into the skies of Riesing's impassioned oils.

Seemingly contrasting in their sense of calm are Goldenstein's scenes of Sequoyah Hills locales (with titles like Nokomis Garden and Southgate Grounds), yet the artist achieves a reality-based but paint-dominated world not unlike Riesing's. For instance, what appear to be traditional landscapes leading us into illusionistic space in fact play with perspective, their trees' leaves looming large as they extend outward. Subtly surreal, they remind us of the surfaces they inhabit and thus of our roles as viewers. Other Goldenstein images go a step further, placing objects like twigs and pine cones within natural settings but enlarging them. Floating and highlighted as they are, they become icons; what René Magritte called "mental representations of what we experience on the inside." As if in response to that idea, Goldenstein incorporates wallpaper patterns reminiscent of '40s era domesticity and grandmotherly interiors that evoke the safety and sentimentality of memory. Her divining rod-like sticks possibly symbolize a link to the past via metaphysical relocation of lost items or relatives.

Susan Wood-Reider offers up a variety of small collages employing shapes of ancient Greek and Roman vessels as a kind of leitmotif. Her intricate and delicately-wrought constructions bring to mind a sentence I once read in a tourist's guide that compared exploring Italian towns to peeling an onion and discovering layer upon layer. Wood-Reider's works, like the foreign places they refer to, reflect the accumulated detritus of time. Utilizing everything from a calamata olive jar label to lines from children's poetry ("Sleep little red-tailed foxes, // morning will come again"), Wood-Reider creates intensely personal art that is surprisingly accessible, inviting us in with intriguing detail. Considering the plethora of words, phrases, and found images, it is remarkably harmonious as well.

Last but certainly not least, we have the artwork of Andy Saftel. So much has been written about Saftel (including my first review for Metro Pulse more than six years ago), it's hard to know where to begin. Illuminating collective values and perceptions through the use of elements such as carved spades embedded in wood, train cars and vehicles resembling toys, and age-old representations of fish and birds, Saftel somehow manages to imbue his pieces—both two- and three-dimensional—with a kind of universal spirit and meaning. Complex and overwhelmingly colorful, his oeuvre has perhaps been most memorably described by Atlanta art gallery owner Bill Lowe: "I have always seen Saftel's work as 'microchips of consciousness.' When first encountering his imagery, I felt an acute recognition of something sub-cellular and primordial. It was as if I was seeing a drop of creation placed under a microscope."

The above artists enliven the coming weeks with unusually varied, intelligent, and stimulating works. Get ready...it's a journey that shouldn't be missed.