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The works of Ruth Pettus and roycrosse complement each other in Area 405’s Conventions

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Detail of roycrosse's "Homage to the Veterans"


A pair of artists’ works poignantly complement each other in the current two-person show at Area 405. Conventions, which pairs the installation and drawings of roycrosse with the sculpture and paintings of Ruth Pettus, maps a curious terrain where the past and world-at-large present coexist in a beguiling, sometimes disarming personal moment. Imagery of decay or violence gets reconfigured, and the results are strangely calming. The show ends this weekend, April 24. Visit area405.com for more details.

Pettus’ work is certainly familiar to local gallerygoers, but seeing two of her large-scale, empty-space-exploring paintings—“Wanderer” and “Large Plaza”—and especially installations of her long-running “Untitled Shoes” project in Area 405’s warehouse space added an intriguing ripple to her enterprise. For those untitled shoes, Pettus takes found, discarded footwear and adds layer after layer after layer of stuff, everything from natural to man-made detritus. It all comes together to give discarded shoes an even more archeological mien: These aren’t just old shoes, they could have come from a dig.

In the confines of the conventional gallery, though, they feel like historical relics. Unlike Canadian artist Brian Jungen—who so impressively repurposes athletic sneakers into First Nation-esque traditional wares—Pettus isn’t crossing cultures but time. Her treatment of shoes turns them into minor monuments to time’s passing, and seeing them in a former manufacturing space like Area 405, which use to be a window-shade factory, adds another rueful layer to taking them in. They become these almost proud survivors, functional items persisting past their intended use by creative reinvention.

Roycrosse’s pieces tackle time with a more sideways glance. He also turns to pre-existing materials, items that can be just as superficially brusque at first glance, but he works a different sort of alchemy on them. There’s a profound lyrical streak to roycrosse’s work here, a humanism that approaches the spiritual without falling off that sometimes precarious cliff. It’s too convenient to wonder if roycrosse’s current situation informs this work—for an instant exercise in humility, visit his blog at roycrosse.wordpress.com, where he talks candidly and beautifully about his ongoing battle with cancer since August—but the sculpture-qua-installations exhibited here don’t wrestle with life’s big questions. Instead, they do something far more daring: They aim for the sublime.

In “Homage to the Veterans” he has wrapped crutches in green or desert-sand strips of fabric and placed them in an orderly Vanessa Beecroft arrangement to present a powerfully but quietly pissed-off message to an American government that sends its soldiers to fight wars but doesn’t take care of them upon their return. “The wailing wall” turns braided strips of fabric into an almost abstract painting of disorderly beatitude. And in “Garden of Peace,” roycrosse has turned fabric-wrapped firearms into a colorful, ornate fountain that could restore tranquility to a bombed temple. Hauntingly beautiful.

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