Spruill Gallery's focus on emerging artists refreshing

The Spruill Gallery in Dunwoody has always been a great resource when suburban art fans are looking for contemporary art closer to home. The gallery's annual survey of under-recognized artists "EA2: Emerging Artists 2012" is a case in point, a collection of challenging, fresh work that offers viewers a taste of what Atlanta's art scene has to offer. The focus is on emerging artists, but that "emerging" comes with some caveats. Several of the artists, for instance, are over 40, so maybe "evolving" is a better word.

In any case, such shows are going to be a rarity with the recent dismissal of the Spruill Gallery's curator since 2007 Hope Cohn, in the gallery's effort to save money. It's too bad. Shows like "EA2" show Cohn's willingness to dig a little deeper into the local art scene, and unearth some real treasures that haven't necessarily popped up on the Atlanta gallery circuit yet.

A true standout is Lauren Cunningham whose adroit, elegant work shows an artist adept at working in different media — sculpture, painting, installation — with equal finesse. Cunningham crafts a bird from bits of willow and glue and creates a dangling curtain hung from the gallery ceiling that, upon closer inspection, is made from cheap black plastic combs. Her work is reminiscent of another local artist Gretchen Hupfel, who was also ambidextrous when it came to materials and concepts. Comparably refined and technically gifted, Ernesto R. Gomez's "Rogus" of a Jinga-like tower of alabaster wooden branches suggests some strange message left by a hiker in the woods.

Though far more uneven, painter John Beadles offers some visually engaging paintings of people-packed cityscapes that often work best when the artist chocks his canvases full of bodies and action. In addition to his busy, colorful paintings mixed with collage, Beadles has created several large works painted on wood both inside and outside the gallery featuring his cartoon-like animal and human figures. Beadles' sense of humor abuts nicely with one of his gallery mates, Adam Bodine whose equally winking sculptural works take a Claes Oldenburg tack, re-envisioning ordinary objects in new ways by altering their scale. Outside, on the gallery grounds Bodine has created a whimsical, oversized gramophone on wheels cast in steel and iron, "What You Say," that suggests action and noise while remaining utterly static.

Curator Cohn is a rarity when it comes to this sort of group show in often bringing video work — a frequently overlooked medium — into the mix. Working in collaboration with the Atlanta grassroots group Wonderroot, Cohn has included works by three filmmakers whose work ranges from the challengingly abstract and experimental to whimsical animation.

Not every artist knocks it out of the park. In many cases "emerging" truly is the operative word, with good work struggling to emerge from tentative, unconvincing pieces. But even the lesser works seem somehow illuminating: showing the incredible range of creatives working in and around Atlanta.

The Bottom Line: A mix of highly accomplished and tentative work from lesser-known local artists.

Art Review

"EA2: Emerging Artists 2012"

Through Aug. 11. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. Free. Spruill Gallery, 4681 Ashford Dunwoody Road, Atlanta. 770-394-4019, www.spruillarts.org.