Drop me in the water

<i>Fallen</i> by P.A. Jones
Fallen by P.A. Jones

With a summer as brutally bone-dry as this one, we have to get our liquid sustenance wherever we can, right? That may be why gallerist Wally Workman has set up the artistic equivalent of a dam at the entrance to her fine West Sixth establishment, diverting through its showrooms a refreshing and restorative waterway – or rather waterways plural, for in the group exhibition "Rivers," opening Saturday, July 9, more than two dozen "streams" will flow across the walls, if you will, each as different from the others as the Rio Grande is from the mighty Mississip.

Some represent rivers as we encounter them in nature: Gordon Fowler's plein air oils set us in the midst of meandering waters banked by ocherish shrubs and pale trees with flame-kissed leaves, while Brian Lee's Bull Creek captures the cool rush of that stream over rocks so convincingly that you want to dip your hand in it and take a drink, and P.A. Jones' Fallen offers a tree-sheltered creek bed that you ache to wade in.

Others suggest rivers in abstraction: The sumptuous sapphire blues through which oddly shaped objects float in Helmut Barnett's Flood Stage and which gradually darken and converge in the lines of Sarah Ferguson's B Five 1 plunge us deep below the surface of icy waters; elsewhere, the deep-crimson and light-turquoise veins threading the light-gray and pale-mustard arteries of Karen Neyland's Kim River Diptych and the vertical blue channel flanked by earth-toned blocks in Priscilla Robinson's Aerial Alluvials lift us high above some rivers of the mind.

Some call to mind rivers through the flora and fauna found around and in them: the mesmerizing translucent blooms of Jan Heaton's watercolor River Dance; the stringy stalks and brightly hued rings drifting through Ryan Coover's two River Blooms watercolor and pastels; the shadowy, forlorn reeds tipped with orange in Angie Renfro's Alone, together; the succulent-looking wild berries embroidered by Diana Atchetee in her fruit series; and in Margie Crisp's Siren Song, the great blue heron holding in its beak its next meal, a salamander, whose curvy body echoes the serpentine neck that it's soon to be sliding down.

Others capture human interaction with rivers, as Janel Jefferson does with her evocation of an African-American river baptism in Mother Oba and America Martin does with Life Guard, her thickly outlined rescuer at the ready with sunglasses on and life preserver ring clutched firmly in hand, and as Richard Ewen does still more fancifully with La Seine, depicting the Parisian waterway clogged with cars floating on its surface, like it was just another rue.

And then there are some that reach rivers by diving through metaphor: In Sara Scribner's Her Currents Brought Destruction From Which Sprang Flowers, a woman whose head of long, dark-brown hair is wreathed with flowers looks impassively toward the viewer, a stream of water flowing from somewhere above into her raised right hand and streaming down out of her lowered left hand. The equally expressionless young woman in Ali Cavanaugh's The water surrounds a space I keep to myself stands in profile, cupping her hands, which are covered in long, star-spangled blue socks that stretch up her arms, to form a kind of "O."

But whether these artworks take us directly into the currents of rivers with explicit depictions or carry us along less-traveled tributaries fed by freshets of allegory, they offer us a liquid respite from the brain-frying heat. If you can't make it to the Guadalupe or the Comal or the Frio, take a dip in Wally Workman's "Rivers" and see if you don't come out feeling cooler and washed clean.

"Rivers" runs July 9-30 at Wally Workman Gallery, 1202 W. Sixth. For more information, call 472-7428 or visit www.wallyworkmangallery.com.

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Rivers, Wally Workman Gallery, Helmut Barnett, Gordon Fowler, Jan Heaton, Angie Renfro, Sarah Ferguson, Janel Jefferson, Margie Crisp

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