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Taking the Side Street 

A Pittsboro gallery breaks tradition, but doesn't break the bank

In June 2004, Pittsboro welcomed Side Street Gallery to its quaint circle, famous for antiques, town regulars and jazz at the General Store. Michele Mosca, who co-owns the gallery with her brother, artist Michael Mosca, moved back to the area after finishing a B.F.A. from the Boston Museum School of Fine Art. She is aiming for the general population by offering art that is strong enough to hang in your home without costing a mortgage payment to buy.

"Few galleries offer reasonably priced artists on the rise because that's not where the money is," she says. "Our goal is to reach the audience that is often shy about art galleries."

The combination of works by P. Forrest Steel, recent colorist musings by Lisa Bartell, and abstract oil and air explorations by Chris Teasley all have the gallery headed in the right direction. Steel, who is self-taught but well-educated in the art movements of the 20th century, makes humorous paintings that pile subject matter like mythic female harvesters on top of expressionist backgrounds that at first fool you into believing they are collages.

A product of Enfield, N.Y., Steel started drawing in high school and only this past summer began committing himself full time to his art. "I didn't start painting again seriously until I got a show at Bleecker Street," says Steel. "My girlfriend convinced me to apply after I saw a sign asking for submissions for art shows. When I'm on a deadline, I get serious."

Steel's "Harvest" draws your eye through subject and figurative lines. A nude pulls the tails of hidden sea creatures, while the lines of her body, hair and face are remarkably uniform. Steel draws images on the computer, then projects transparencies of the images onto the canvas. Note the purple hair and light-colored background in "Harvest." The depth of colors keeps the painting from appearing too much like its flat mannerist brethren. A variety of techniques is used to make his backgrounds, mostly expressionist pilings with the ability to look like collage work.

The bright colors of Lisa Bartell's new works light up a room scattered with fairly average pottery displays. In "Healing the Earth," Bartell melds yellow and acra violet to make a sunflower that radiates not just due to the contrast of colors, but also the contrast of minute details and fuzzy edges.

"The looser brushstrokes allow the expressions to come out of the flowers, so I'm moving away from expressive eyes to show how the earth expresses God's disapproval of what is going on," Bartell says. "The earth has suffered the same types of traumas my girls and women have felt, so I hope the brushstrokes can show a flower that is beautiful and tormented at the same time."

Bartell, who received a B.F.A. in illustration from Kent State University and an M.F.A. from Memphis University, is herself haunted by a traumatic youth. "I spent 15 years unable to produce art because I was trying to get over personal trauma," she says. "Only in the last three years have I been able to paint. It feels good to move past the personal groan to be able to examine the external groan of the earth."

This process repeats itself in "Earth on Fire," where the familiar Bartell theme--wide-eyed women, young women and girls--employs sharp-edged, faux blonde hair to blast forward from a murky background of green, blue and red.

Bartell has improved both her use of color and lighting technique in the past year. Her style has the potential to gain fans that already enjoy mannerist works, much like we see coming out of Russia ad nauseum, as well as the lovers of the colorist traditions initiated by Mark Rothko or Wolf Kahn. Even if she has a way to go before reaching the heights of the colorist movement, her work has an allure that is part "wide-eyed girl of the '60s" and part contemporary-color dazzling.

Chris Teasley has fine-tuned his abstractions by inventing a machine that applies air to oil paint in a way that ends up producing a watercolor effect. A former studio mate of Mosca's in Boston, she calls him "one of the most sought-after graduates last year." Mosca demonstrates Teasley's technique by affixing a long tube to a gas-mask setup, which helps force air at just the right speed and width to create a crystalline effect in oils. The effect is mini orbs floating above extremely flat backgrounds with unexpected edges that alternately grow follicles and implode, creating a mix of donuts and amoebae.

The subtle minimalist abstractions Teasley paints are enough to pique your interest, but it takes a real appreciation of the simple things in life to stay focused on the two selections in the group show at Side Street. In "For My Friend," Teasley's pastel green, yellow and light blue presses out from a very light brownish-gray background. Because the orbs are mostly translucent, the larger shapes created by the connected orbs remain fully abstract. By announcing itself as art rather than fitting into any proscribed norms, Teasley's work takes a risk that seems to have caught on elsewhere.

Art that plays well in Boston, Kansas City or Minneapolis, however, might have to stick around Pittsboro for some time before catching on with the locals. And, for those willing to take advantage of the slightly lower gas prices, a trip to Pittsboro, at least for now, offers more than the traditional pottery and antiques.

Side Street Gallery's Winter Group Show continues through Jan. 29. 18 E. Salisbury St., Pittsboro. 545-3033 or www.sidestreet-gallery.com for more information.

  • A Pittsboro gallery breaks tradition, but doesn't break the bank

More by Doug Stuber

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