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He found it: Dennis Herbert’s Untitled #8.

Beyond the Box
By David Brickman

Afghanistan: A Fragile Peace
Fulton Street Gallery, through April 5

Loop Sanctuary: The Art of the Dreamscape
The Chapel + Cultural Center, through May 1

In these days of post-specialization, musicians can be curators, critics display their art, and art galleries host the work of activists. All this mixing of roles can challenge those of us who like neatly defined boundaries with our entertainment dollar, but for the rest of us, it’s refreshing to go out and be surprised.

In Loop Sanctuary: The Art of the Dreamscape at the Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, ambient music composer Sara Ayers has selected an exhibition as eclectic as the curator’s résumé, featuring four Capital Region artists who also teach, write and make music.

G.C. Haymes, Dennis Herbert, Carol Luce and Marie Triller employ a variety of media to credibly fulfill some of the expectations elicited by the show’s title, which was inspired by Ayers’ musical ideas, then led to the creation of the exhibition to accompany an upcoming concert in the same venue.

Of the four, Luce is probably the best known and, in my opinion, the most accomplished. A painter who recently was awarded tenure at Siena College, Luce manipulates patterns and colors like a conductor controls an orchestra—dashingly, defiantly, brilliantly. Her painterly meditations can bristle with energy or soothe the weary spirit, depending on palette, size and complexity.

Two smallish Luce pieces titled Veiled Bower and Bringing Together make a strong pair as they form a duet of counterpoint between earthy sunset colors and tart lime green. One group of her more ambitious pieces is presented as a trio. Among the three, Lighten Up succeeds by balancing swaths of black-and-white collaged prints with spring-themed shades of yellow, pink and baby blue. In this and all of Luce’s paintings, it is sometimes difficult to tell where the printed patterns end and the paint begins—a fun eye-teaser.

Haymes and Her -bert are both musicians, and both employ assemblage to create their surrealist images. Herbert can be amusing and irreverent, as in a deep-boxed diorama featuring a velvet Elvis, some neon and a couple of adoring terracotta supplicants. He also freely mixes sanctity and sin, as in a small box construction juxtaposing crucifixes and dice (acceptable in this liberal chapel).

Among Herbert’s nine pieces (all untitled), four are lit from within, including one that requires the viewer to peer through a lens at a scene that resembles a speakeasy. As with his other conglomerations, Herbert asks the viewer to take the time to look closely, and rewards that effort with hidden delights.

Haymes presents a couple of similarly religious-themed and witty assemblages, as well as nine small newsprint-on-black-paper collages from the ’90s. Though they resemble ransom notes, each is a haiku, and appropriately Zen-like. For example:

bittersweet PHANTOM

WALTZING through THE HUMAN hills

gravity Upstaged

Haymes has framed these poems with newsprint-covered mats, each of which bears a swatch of an article carrying his byline by way of a signature. These pieces perhaps represent a transitional period for the writer-turned-artist.

His later, three-dimensional works are bolder, more engaging. Better yet, one of them—a hovering yet subtly dangerous-looking angel—provides an Ayers-penned ambient soundtrack that goes perfectly with the show and the space.

Triller’s contribution to the show consists of five digitally printed photographs taken during a summer stint on a working ranch in Laramie, Wyo. Using soft focus, color shifts and other tricks of the trade, Triller creates a photo essay more dreamy than real in which horses play a key role.

The best of the group exploits the potential of roll-fed digital printers by adopting a 12-inch by 7-foot format, laminated and held to the wall with grommets. The image is of a ghostly line of dark horses, actually shadows cast on the dusty-bushy side of an arroyo. Another Triller photo, of a reversed cutout sign embellished with bucking broncs that marks the entrance to the Albany County Fairgrounds makes local viewers do a double take—it’s in Wyoming, not New York.

Another Troy show featuring photographs drawn from a traveling adventure is on view at Fulton Street Gallery as part of their “Blink” (as in “if you blink, you might miss it”) series of short-duration exhibitions. But Connie Frisbee Houde’s Afghanistan: A Fragile Peace is hardly meant as a tourist’s view; rather, she aims to get beyond personal impressions to capture the heart and soul of Afghanistan and its people in her pictures.

To a great extent, this selection of 22 photos and a collage succeeds in that goal. Houde is adept at portraiture and her close-ups of bearded men, beggars and street kids are sensitive and affecting. She also presents a number of landscapes, in which the fragility of human structures and machines is dominated by a majestic and brutal-looking mountain range.

One of the better examples shows a graveyard on the outskirts of Kabul. In the photo, the barely adequate stones of the graves reflect a similar pathetic quality to the low buildings of the city beyond. One is reminded of the painful legacy of recent wars that have left scarcely one stone on top of another in this unfortunate country.

Perhaps the best picture in the group, however, could almost have been taken anywhere, and this is its strength: A man rides a bicycle through a park; snow-covered trees in the background frame the sunny scene. The message seems to be that, despite the worst having happened here again and again, life goes on—the human spirit has survived.

In conjunction with the Loop Sanctuary exhibition, Ambient Night at the Chapel, featuring live music by Sara Ayers, Dreamstate and Mindspawn and video by Twisted Pair, is scheduled for Friday, April 25, at 7:30 PM at the Chapel + Cultural Center. Admission is free.

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