This little Lite of mine

The theme animating RADIANT: Works Inspired by the Lite Brite presents a dilemma; combining contemporary art and a famously retro kiddie toy could make for a tediously high-concept mélange of gimmickry and nostalgia. RADIANT, however, largely avoids these pitfalls through its diversity, humor, and investigative energy. And while color and light abound, RADIANT contains a dark undercurrent of violence.

Noah Walker Collins employs an actual Lite Brite as a stage from which a stony sculpted creature, a kind of mini Orc studded with the iconic colored pegs and rusty nails, menaces us. The title? “War is a Monster.” Marc Arevalo also displays a Lite-Brite in his multimedia installation “American Toys,” an eerie component of which is a box of bullets, which evoke the shape and size of the Lite- Brite’s pegs.

Dustin Coleman makes this association, too, with “Cold War Days,” a red gas can bristling with pegs and punctuated with holes. The artist painted this stark, politically charged sculpture a flat red, robbing the pegs of their translucence and bringing their ammunition-like form into literal bas-relief.

Katherine Brown and Matt Messinger’s multimedia sculpture “Every Lost Little Face” waxes elegiac on the perils of childhood, its diverse materials weathered and saddened, with a tiny “wheel of fortune” of Lite-Brite pegs, and a heartbreaking badge reading, “A blessing on your tender skin, even chafed or sunburned.”

Elsewhere the Lite-Brite takes on an intimate tone. Dana Montana’s “Close Quarters” is a tiny, delicate wasps’ nest embedded with organic inclusions, soft fibers of cochineal red and grey-blues, suggesting forms intertwining with the minutia of daily life. Michelle Love’s “Giving Birth to Stars” presents a plastic ready-made form of a pregnant female abdomen on which a constellation of colorful lit-up pegs celebrates maternal creation. Jason Paschall’s small untitled sculpture features a small wooden box housing a dense, celebratory architecture of lit pegs, some of which spring out at the viewer on clear filaments. And Caterina Marrone’s three small paintings, titled “Osservazione Giallo,” “Osservazione Rosso” and “Osservazione Verde” show painterly figures, rent by scratches and framed by partially legible writing; their presence is haunting out of proportion to their small size.

Some works comment directly on the Lite-Brite’s parameters. Curator Lili Pena Dyer’s witty canvas, entitled “Sumo,” presents a rapturously rendered wrestler out of Hokusai outlined in tiny holes, wryly suggesting an elementary-school “connect the dots” project, with a section of the massive wrestler’s loincloth lovingly decked out in red pegs. Sonia Garcia Paschall’s “Bloom” is a dense landcape of exploding jewels, which upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be Lite- Brite pegs meticulously sewn together, replicating exuberant floral formations. Marcy McChesney’s friendly sculpture “Sparky” is a blocky, bovine-canine form with a spiky peg pelt, a whimsical Chia Pet for the electronic age. And Kimberly Garza Campbell’s impressionistic painting “In Light,” with its chiaroscuro rendering of points of light, reminds us that sometimes the least literal interpretation evokes experience the most strongly.•



RADIANT: Works Inspired by the Lite-Brite
Curated by Lili Pena Dyer, Marcy McChesney & Noelia Santos
By appt.
Through Jul 31
Closing reception: 7-10pm Jul 31
Fred Ash Art & Stella Haus Art Space
106 Blue Star, Bldg. B
(210) 326-7155

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