Dogwood Arts Vastly Improves Arts Show

While the show is a true departure from previous Dogwood shows, a big portion of the work is still traditional fare.

Look for an amped-up, arresting art event for this year's Dogwood Regional Fine Arts Exhibit. In an effort to move toward a more contemporary feel, the festival has made some interesting changes: The festival's Director of Development Lynda Evans has placed the event in the hands of co-chairs Denise Sanabria and Chris McAdoo. Both artists have played an integral role in promoting the arts in Knoxville, particularly Sanabria, who has championed local artists and events with her arts blog and has organized countless shows and events at Old City Java and various galleries across downtown. Her art column for the now defunct Knoxville Voice was engaging and critical, a great resource for discovering new artists.

So what to expect? Well, you won't find any pastoral watercolors or tepid high-society portraits. For the first time the exhibit has been opened up to regional artists and was jurored by Karlota Contreras Koterbay, director of East Tennessee State University's Slocumb Gallery. The result includes 75 works from 57 Tennessee and North Carolina artists spanning many different mediums and styles.

While the show is a true departure from previous Dogwood shows, a big portion of the work is still traditional fare, although a vast improvement nonetheless. Painter Jose Roberto's surrealistic takes on patriotism and commercialism are conceptually sharp, but a bit too obvious. The figurative painting "Cigar Boy" by local favorite Bobbie Crews is well-executed and playful, depicting a young boy who has taken his first puff from a cigar. Also noteworthy are two works by Allison Oaks, also a Knoxville artist who explores femininity and the ideal. In her oil paint-on-porcelain piece "Self-Portrait" she reveals her perfectly stubby toes and chapped lips with no reservations.

Nashville artists make a big impact on the show with a series of works centered around a multimedia project from Nashville alt-country band Quote. The band decided to combine multiple mediums and reached out to visual artists to help them interpret their songs. The result is a book that accompanies their album The Pace of Our Feet and features 10 artists from different mediums. For the Dogwood show, the actual pieces have been assembled into an installation, and Quote will be performing at the show on First Friday. (You can also buy the CD and book at the gallery.)

I really can't say enough about Knoxville's own Jorge Gomez Del Campo's brilliant work. "War Cries" is a massive 6 feet-by-24 feet collage on board comprised entirely from fleshy magazine pages. But rather than just juxtaposing random themes or making Pop Art pastiche, Del Campo actually uses the paper as paint, assembling the strips into a menacing scene. The crimson background and fiery scenes allude to a tortured existence for his subjects, all women, who appear to be appropriated directly from pornographic and advertising imagery, a disturbing reflection of society. When viewed from across the gallery, the piece actually looks like an oil painting and reveals a riveting mastery of scale. This is a must-see piece of art and clearly the highlight of the exhibition.

Sculpture figures prominently in the show as well. Chris Szaton's glass-and-steel work "Steam Punk Anatomy #1" blends the two materials in a playful set of ribs and a spine, while Robert Conliffe's porcelain torsos have a more classical beauty.

And there's much more sculpture to be seen throughout the Dogwood Arts Festival. The Art in Public Places exhibition puts outdoor sculptures of all sizes across Knoxville, with much of it centered around downtown.

The show opens on First Friday, with a preview the night before, and if you enjoy much of what you see at galleries like Three Flights Up or the Gallery1010, you'll love the sprawling variety that the large space here allows. Let's hope the Dogwood fine arts show keeps this new format for years to come.