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Art that's worth a Glance 

The Skies are the limit

Naughty and nice meet gifted and curious in Glance Gallery's current show Skies, featuring works by Wanda Steppe and Tisha Edwards. A Rock Hill, S.C. native, Steppe has become a hit in Raleigh since she helped open Glance in April 2003.

Since Wolf Kahn and his myriad copyists, the audience for landscapes with strong color usage has broadened. Steppes' earlier landscapes combined classic techniques, an unwavering eye for nature and subtle color play to lure viewers over the dunes and out to sea in a predictable, narrow scope of subject matter. Her new seascape panels spread out on the color wheel via bright sunsets, perhaps to gain an audience of those who love the colorists. On her smaller oils executed on panels, Steppe remains true to her fine sense of details and accurately depicts trees in happy sunsets or disturbing abysses. These were gobbled up like hot cakes on opening night at Glance.

"I don't see these new paintings as a risk, but an evolution," Steppe says. "The colorful skies happen quickly, because I paint the white clouds first in acrylic, then add a layer of blue sky, then pull off the blue where I want the thick clouds to stick out from underneath."

The result is paintings that rely less on shiny varnishing techniques and more on the difference in texture between dry acrylic and oils full of luster. Steppe first moves past straight seascapes with the addition of an underlay of torn canvasses attached to her chasm series. Fine detail and a Dutch Golden Age-knowledge of browns make these recognizable within her ouvre. Her large works on canvas, however, are a jump, with a mix of landscape, still life and birds set in "windows" allowing more than one subject to oppose other elements. "It's no fun at all painting these days," says Steppe. "Fresh subjects are hard to discover, but the process itself is still fun, once I figure out what to paint."

An ominous tornado-filled sky looms over a "Bowl of Cherries," and in "Forbidden Fruit," a beautiful, ripe pear hangs in a window that a trapped meadowlark has slim hope of reaching.

The darker side of the panels reveals deep chasms underneath standard farmhouses, hidden by tree roots.

Steppe is smart to explore new styles, but the contrasting moods presented in the large canvasses do not inspire enough thought beyond good versus bad. As a colorist, though, Steppe shines in the straight tornado painting "Untitled I, Underworld Series."

Tisha Edwards, whose naughty girls have graced Gallery C for a few years, used her recent move to Glance to stretch from titillating surrealist to jaw-dropping surrealist. She borrows Hemingway's title "Death in the Afternoon" for a painting that portrays a double-headed bull-- who, in place of genitals, has a ready-made red stirrup appendage--caught in a leggy scissors-hold by a woman content to cast her fate with the beast. Will the lady be able to tame the four-horned Siamese twin bull, or will the bull prevail? This painting is one Hemingway would understand--complete with collaged-in copies of bull-fighting posters from the 1930s.

The human/beast metamorphosis is further examined in "Rabbit Test," where a horse-boy stands as a rabbit-girl eyes his privates. Edwards' narrative abilities shines in her skill at portraying horse-boy's attempt to haul part of a bridge for no other reason than to pass rabbit-girl's test.

Lastly, "Buy the Farm" finds a supermodel version of Amelia Earhart holding a hand of tarot-type cards while another bull--surreally separated--peers over her shoulder. Their fate is a cinch: They are both floating above a "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"-type farmland spotted with planes.

"I play off ideas people give me at openings," Edwards says of her work. "I'm more experimental and playful with things I want to say. When I paint, it's automatic. I don't know what I'm going to add when I start."

Skies runs through Feb. 16 at Glance Gallery, 311 W. Martin St., Raleigh. 821-2200 or www.glancegallery.com .

  • The Skies are the limit

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