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Arts/Lit
‹‹ V.14 No.51 | December 22 - 28, 2005

Gallery Review

Urban Art

Wall Scrawl at the Downtown Contemporary Art Center

“Grin & Bear It” by Lynn Johnson
“Grin & Bear It” by Lynn Johnson

It's often said that Albuquerque is a giant small town—and there's something to that statement. Yes, we've got a population of over half a million people, but the number of folks who actually venture into public on a regular basis seems fairly small. Most of us spend much of our time stuck in our cars, our offices, our living rooms.

That's where the illusion of small townness comes in. You see the same folks out and about over and over again, and only in a handful of pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. In that sense, Albuquerque feels like a rural village. Everybody seems to know everybody. In a way, that's one of Albuquerque's charms.

Of course, aesthetically, too, we don't have a lot of tall buildings. We don't have a subway. We don't have many tight urban spaces. Most of Albuquerque looks like a big suburb attached to the side of some larger city. Certain neighborhoods—Downtown, for example—feel somewhat cityish, but only by New Mexico standards.

"Truth or Consequences” by Petro
"Truth or Consequences” by Petro

The current exhibit at the Downtown Contemporary Art Center injects a healthy dose of urban into village life here in Albuquerque. Wall Scrawl is made up of work created by 14 Albuquerque artists and one Santa Fe artist. From top to bottom, the show is filled with art inspired by urban living, urban style and urban graphic design.

As you climb up the gallery's creaky wooden steps, you're first confronted with a broad "piece" aerosoled directly onto the white wall. Throughout the remainder of the space, spray paint is a recurring theme. One of the best of this bunch is Betty Dore's "Cliffdwellers," a small acrylic painting of a towering block wall covered with tags and other spray-painted detritus, a strand of laundry drying in the breeze at the top. With balance and precision, Dore transforms this typical portrait of urban blight into something approaching beauty.

Lynn Johnson, on the other hand, uses a talent for creating shape-shifting figures in charcoal on flatly colored backgrounds to give the viewer portraits of appealing ugliness. Her trio of large-scale works are some of the most tantalizing in the show.

Logan Demas and Alan Cordova both incorporate that enduring emblem of urban hipdom, the skateboard, into their work. Demas paints four tortoise shells with slick designs to surround a skateboard deck ornamented with a skull and wings. Cordova's piece, "Betray," is composed of several decks, some broken into pieces, mounted against a pattern of gray clouds, lines and black dots. Both these works seem designed as altars to the art and culture of skating.

Several of these artists have never exhibited before, and in some cases their inexperience shows. This can be both good and bad. I liked Water Melon 7's work, whoever he might be, with its mess of stickers, graffiti and marker markings. His mixed-media piece, "Transition," which incorporates a small fragment of the Bill of Rights, takes on the appealing look of a battered telephone pole that's had one too many show flyers stapled to it.

Other work in the exhibit has the style of commercial graphic art. One of the best pieces in this vein is Petro's "Truth or Consequences," a clean, symmetrical depiction of a guy with an exclamation point face punching another guy with a question mark face; an image that might serve well as an advertisement for some underground nihilist club.

Downtown Contemporary Art Center director Joshua Franco says they hosted 700 people at the opening last month. "I'd never experienced anything like it in Albuquerque," he said. "It was just like being in a big city." Catch this intriguing shard of big city aesthetics before it closes at the end of December.

Wall Scrawl, an exhibit featuring work by local artists, runs through Dec. 30 at the Downtown Contemporary Art Center (105 Fourth Street SW). 242-1983.