Jan. 7 2009 12:00 AM

First First Sunday New year, quiet galleries offer time to reflect


It was the first Sunday of 2009 — the last of the “aught” years — and the first year of “Yes We Can!”  That meant it was the first First Sunday Gallery Walk of the year. Mingling with artists and enjoying their diverse creations seemed like a good way to kick off the year. As it turned out, one could have swung a dead cat in most of the participating galleries and hit only the work on the walls. (Such an act could have been construed as performance art, if only there had been audiences to witness it.)

There are benefits to having an exhibit to oneself. No one is standing in front of the work or tapping their toes, rushing you down the wall. You can take as much time as you want studying a piece. Additionally, your focus can be completely on the work, instead of working the room.

That was the case at the East Lansing Public Library, host to sculptor/blacksmith Douglas Thayer and mixed media artist Terry Junger’s exhibit “The Power of Two.” At 1:30 p.m., the only sign of life was a custodian mopping the floor, presumably in preparation for a reception.

Like chocolate and peanut butter, Junger and Thayer present a well-planned grouping of works that work well together. Junger’s mixed-media pieces are warm and softly abstract, featuring inorganic subjects, such as doors, cogs and rings enveloped by swirling textures in golds, greens and maroons. Junger’s work is balanced by Thayer’s hard metal sculptures. Thayer’s works are created with inorganic materials, but he finds his inspiration for design in nature. Some works are literal floral recreations, while more abstract pieces use organic curves and shapes.

Even more inspired is the layout of the exhibit. Junger’s “Schoolhouse Doors” and “Portals” are bookended by pieces from Thayer’s “Door Knockers” series. Thayer’s recreations of a hat and shoes, “Sunday Best” and “Grounded,” are accompanied by Junger’s “Rings,” offering a complete wardrobe of women’s accessories. Junger and Thayer bring their talents together in the collaborative piece “Stand of Trees,” Junger’s painting in Thayer’s forged frame.

When the clock strikes 2 p.m., the room is still empty. While it is easier to exit without having to extricate oneself from an impassioned discussion on composition or color, it also makes it all the lonelier of an experience. Yes, there can be art without debate, but it isn’t quite as fun.

Next up, Mackerel Sky Gallery in East Lansing, featuring the quilting of DeWitt artist Peggy Szasz. A perfect opportunity to debate the difference between art and craft is lost, because once again I am alone. As it turns out, the work had been up since early December, and the artist had been on hand for a reception at that time.

Szasz’s exhibit,“Simple Pleasures,” is a mix of original and licensed appliqué designs. While all of the work shows off Szasz’s quilting skill, the original designs elevate the exhibit from craft to art. Szasz toured Michigan taking reference photos of the state’s most prominent features, and she turned the images into meticulously executed fabric recreations. Most recognizable is “Red Cedar River/MSU Campus,” which includes such endearing details as a pair of those local darlings, the black squirrels.

The next destination is Old Town’s Creole Gallery, where Lansing photographers and friends Kevin Fowler and Liz Silky challenged each other to take portraits of the opposite sex to create the exhibit “Through the Other’s Eyes.” Not only is the reception absolutely hopping, but the work is electric. Alive with attitude and crackling with color, the portraits pop off the landmark gallery’s rustic walls.

It’s here that the difference between solace and social engagement becomes apparent.  While there are fewer pieces exhibited than the other galleries visited, it takes an hour to make the rounds, chatting with folks and enjoying a cup of wine from a box. Time is running out to finish the tour as planned.

The final stop on this trip is Absolute Gallery. Owner Kathy Holcomb has curated an exhibit of work from autistic artists, “Autism: Communication Through Art.” While once again the sole observer, I am relieved to learn that Holcomb will host the exhibit through February, and the artists will be on hand for that month’s First Sunday Gallery Walk.

The exhibit is small, but the diversity is striking. Fowler High School student Kyle Kieffer specializes in meticulous renderings of mechanical subjects, such as tractors and farm trucks. Greenville artist Jason Flachs’ work shows a firm grasp of abstract styles.

Perhaps visitors were waylaid by a football game, still had to take down the Christmas tree, or were put off by the weather. Whatever the reason, all is not lost. Now is the time to make a resolution, and here’s a good one: take advantage of the free arts opportunities offered in the Lansing area. Come anytime, but on First Sundays, there just might be free wine and munchies.