Manipulating the Commonplace: Let's get metaphysical 

Swan Coach House takes a fresh look at realism

Manipulating the Commonplace: Nine Southern Artists Reinterpret Realism is a show with two faces.

On one hand, it's a visually appealing, colorful, technically accomplished exhibition varied enough to keep viewers engaged.

For this reason, Manipulating the Commonplace is the perfect fit for the Swan Coach House Gallery, deep in ladies-who-lunch territory. Clever and idiosyncratic, the paintings and sculptures in this group show have a superficial charm you could enjoy on your way to chicken salad and sweet tea. "Wheel of Fortune!" one woman laughed as she passed by a particularly haunting painting by Silas Durant and recognized the cheese-ball game show playing on a television in the work. Another group of women chatted merrily as they moved through the gallery. One woman laughed to her friends at the plaster-and-wood ice-cream cone by Greely Myatt, "Dammit," that looked like it had fallen off the wall. There is no reason why art can't delight on this purely whimsical level, and Manipulating the Commonplace does.

The show focuses on artists who put a newfangled spin on realism, such as Joanna Catalfo's sorta-naughty still-life paintings of va-va-voom veggies, Myatt's more amusing faux-soap bar and his Wayne Thiebaud-style plaster cupcakes, entitled  "Delights.".

But those who dig something a little deeper will surely come away equally delighted at the exhibition's haunting, creepy, metaphysical dimensions. Complementing Scott Belville's and Durant's moody work are Dennis Harper's exquisitely skillful paintings that marry contemporary middle class dis-ease with the ecstatic realism of classical Renaissance and religious work in egg tempera and gold leaf.

Along with Philip Carpenter's wonderfully wise-ass drawings of pop-culture kiddie toys and cartoons juxtaposed with classical paintings, this quartet in particular shows how our banal surroundings can allow for both soul-destroying superficiality and spiritual striving. Like the elderly card-playing woman or the painter depicted in Durant's work, people are searching for some way of puncturing through the often lonely and dissatisfying membrane of ordinary life.

There is a desire to grasp at the eternal. Making art in Durant's "Convergence" or trusting in the Jesus night-light that illuminates a child's bedroom in Harper's "Terra Ombra" are two different ways of doing so. Often, Manipulating the Commonplace is the opposite of fun; it's instead deeply satisfying.

Manipulating the Commonplace. Through Sept. 22. Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Swan Coach House Gallery, 3130 Slaton Drive. 404-266-2636.


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