The timing of this capacious group show seems right — during the holiday shopping and out-with-family season you would want to spotlight a variety of artists to suit the wildly divergent tastes that might pass through this gallery at the high-end crossroads of Roswell Road and Peachtree Road. Some may be in the mood for the regal animal images offered in Greg Noblin’s manipulated photographs, which give the meerkat and rhino the grandiosity of a presidential portrait. In an entirely different tack, the more conceptually minded artist Nathan Sharratt licks his chops over snarky visual jokes like crafting the “poetry” of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s hip hop lyrics into a sensuous spinal column in keeping with the musician’s song “Baby Got Back.” Someone more entranced by formal innovation will surely appreciate the weird and sinuous, lit-from-within lacy paper sculptures created by Lucha Rodriguez, whose abstract imagery suggests something between a doily and an intestinal parasite.
For the viewer in search of a sustained theme or some visual coherence, however, the swings of moods and styles in “Illuminate” can be another matter. With so many different styles, a kind of visual indigestion ensues. It’s like a round-the-world, all-you-can-eat smorgasbord with Chinese dumplings followed by German sauerkraut and Swedish herring. You find yourself deciding the value of things based on fleeting spasms of relative preference versus a sustained engagement with individual works.
There are certainly many quirky gems in the fray. Work by the 15 artists in this group show tends to be heavy on never-grow-up cuteness, typified by the winsome sweetness of the tiny trees and forest animals featured in Katrin Wiehle’s utterly charming pencil on board woodland drawings. Wiehle’s next-door neighbor is the equally adorable Mike Lowery, whose pencil drawings — far preferable to his paintings — have the busyness and cozy detail of a Richard Scarry book. “I’m Lucky to Be Here with Someone I Like,” is a poster-size work on paper featuring seafaring imagery from a grinning octopus to a ship in a bottle.
Equally beguiling are Ashley Schick’s cut-paper collages centered on farm implements, water towers and animals, including goats, cows and chickens. Schick’s work can veer into children’s book cloying with its ongoing focus on adorable critters rendered with an endearing simplicity. But her mix of graphic and quaint technique is an interesting vantage in a contemporary art gallery, and her work fits into a strain of innocence carried through in many other works. Continuing on that theme of the adorable laced with the surreal are the pigeons and songbirds driving tiny cars in Steve Frenkel’s ultra-whimsical paintings that also conjure up an imaginative world geared more toward a child’s sensibility than an adult’s.
If there is any cohesive takeaway from “Illuminate,” it is the abiding interest of many of these artists in miniaturizing and finding something endearing in the animal kingdom and the natural world. It’s a small world, after all.