Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Artists' show spotlights suburbia | | The Indianapolis Star

Artists' show spotlights suburbia

By Julie Cope Saetre / Star correspondent
Posted: September 18, 2009

From "Father Knows Best" to "Mad Men," pop culture and those who follow it have been fascinated with well-groomed suburbia and its residents.

Now, the local art scene offers its own exploration in "Memoirs from Suburbia," premiering Saturday at the Evan Lurie Gallery in Carmel. The five-week-long exhibit features works from four contemporary artists: Americans Peter Drake, Michael Fitts and Tom Haney and Canadian Drew Simpson.

More than 30 works will be showcased -- including paintings big and small (from towering images by Drake to miniatures by Simpson), and intricate hand-crafted mechanical sculptures by Haney. Everything is available for purchase, including a never-before-offered Drake painting, "The Siege of Syosset," which arrived at the Lurie Gallery directly from a show at Islip Art Museum in New York.

Cultural depictions of suburbia have ranged from the white-picket-fence perfection of "Leave it to Beaver" to the dark oppression of modern films such as "American Beauty" and "Revolutionary Road." But the reality of the burbs lies somewhere in between, says Drake, who grew up in the seemingly idyllic suburban setting of Garden City, N.Y., and remains a resident of the Empire State.

"For most people, I think it's a complex place. . . . Now it seems like people are . . . trying to be honest about its strengths and its weaknesses," he says. "There's a certain degree of nostalgia and positive family-oriented imagery, but, at the same time, it's just human nature for it to be more complex and loaded with, in my mind, uncanny imagery."

That's why Drake's work sometimes juxtaposes military icons against sleepy neighborhood settings (the artist's 2005/06 series) or subtle but significant gestures that seem somehow out of place within their otherwise benign backgrounds (the Fifties series).

Drake's latest body of work focuses on lead toy soldiers collected by his father. He used macro photos of the petite playthings to inspire larger-than-life paintings in which the nicks and scratches of time morph into something far beyond child's play.

"If you tell someone that you're working with toy imagery, they have a tendency to assume that it's going to be light and frothy," Drake says. "But what I really love about these toys (is that) when you blow (the images) up . . . you see this beautiful scarring -- strangely, it feels like wounds -- shrapnel wounds or bullet holes."

Among his favorites from the series are "Fleur-de-Lis" and "Drumbeat," both of which are included at the Lurie Gallery show.

"Memoirs from Suburbia" represents the first time Drake's work has been exhibited in Indiana, and one of the few times the artist has shown in the Midwest.

"Peter Drake's an artist I have been a fan of for probably 10 years," says gallery owner Evan Lurie, "and I've not been able to get his work. . . . It's very exciting for me that he is open to expanding and looking into another area . . . I think once you check it out (his work), you just get hooked on it."

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