State of magic

Stremmel Gallery celebrates Nevada’s birthday with Nevada Invitational

“Figures Supporting Nature” by Peter Goin

“Figures Supporting Nature” by Peter Goin

Photograms are basically photographs without negatives: You arrange objects on a light-sensitive medium, expose them to light and develop a print. Peter Goin, a photography professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, populates his photograms with small human figures shown in profile. These little “paper dolls” run, jump, leap and cower. They laugh, gasp and frown.

They are pure magic.

I hadn’t seen a photogram until I discovered Goin’s works, three of which are now on display at Stremmel Gallery as part of its Nevada Invitational show. Rather than examining Nevada as a place, the exhibit is a glimpse into the psyches of 18 artists who “have lived in or have strong ties to Nevada.” Amid the diverse sculptures, collages and landscapes, those magical photograms just stopped me in my tracks.

Through his small figures, Goin conveys human emotion and movement more skillfully than many portraitists and sculptors.

“Figures in Chairs” has the soft, ethereal quality of an X-ray. The photogram shows three rows of white figures in chairs, sitting back to back, so that each set of chairs forms one-half of a six-pointed star. The figures look shadowy and insubstantial on the deep black background. They are fuzzy, with darkness bleeding into light at their edges. Some are hunched over and fearful; others look like they’re about to laugh themselves right off their chairs.

In “Figures Running,” dozens of these same figures are running, jumping and leaping across another deep black sheet of paper. Some seem to be recoiling in terror, their limbs thrown backward and their mouths agape, while others have their arms raised in jubilation. In its own way, “Figures Running” is as full of drama as any traditional narrative painting.

I also spent some time contemplating Mick Sheldon’s message-rich mixed media pieces. “Right Between the Eyes Jack” is a rectangular wooden box with a glass window. A comic and sloppily assembled Jack in the Box “Jack” is the central figure. A red splotch between his eyes indicates a bullet wound, and behind him the rough, unfinished wood is splattered with red. Jack is perched on a log, and five cone-shaped dollar bills stand below him, as if Jack is preaching to the bills. Below, on the box’s exterior, are these words: “The Republican Art Selection Committee members are HHORRIFFFIED to see the desecration of their latest art installation.”

While the works by Goin and Sheldon are by no means representative of the wide range of artistic styles in Nevada Invitational, they do give fascinating glimpses into the psyches of two talented Nevada artists. Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday.