Tram Davies


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Sunday December 14, 2003

Beholding the wonders of true grit
'Selected, Preferred, Chosen' looks at urban landscapes and finds a sense of beauty.


Special to the Register

Until fairly recently, artists seemed primarily intent on expressing their own rarefied vision, one to be decoded by an equally rarefied audience. Today reality is in: Artists paint, photograph or otherwise depict what happens to be around us - the good, the bad and the ugly. The mundane has become de rigueur, the detritus of daily life worthy of contemplation - Everyman rules.

Huntington Beach Art Center Curator Darlene DeAngelo has put together a small multimedia exhibition titled "Selected, Preferred, Chosen" that exemplifies the trend. True to her New York roots, DeAngelo, who professes fascination with the activities behind construction fences that are revealed only through those small tempting viewing holes, picked three artists who can be described as kindred spirits - wanderers who prefer gritty urbanism to pristine gentrification. She picked the trio from a group whose work comprised the Huntington's annual "Centered on the Center" exhibition.

Painter Ian M. Kennelly, installation artist Betsy Lohrer Hall and photographer Tram Davies found beauty on freeway construction sites, in piles of broken asphalt and concrete, in the hieroglyphic markings of deserted streets, in abandoned buildings and the serenity of barren beachfronts. Kennelly fills, for the most part, large canvasses with images of highways under construction ("Parastereoscopic"), down-at-the-heel suburban tract houses dwarfed by electricity towers ("To Get to the Other Side") oil rigs protruding from soil bereft of life ("Boom"), and a stretch of neglected land waiting to be developed ("Inbetween Phases"). He paints, and rather well at that, scenes we routinely take in and dismiss. His work suggests that most of us have become drive-by observers, seeing much but registering little.

Looking at Tram Davies' pristine, elegant photographs (selenium-toned silver gelatin prints) of outdated shopping malls, sleek office buildings abandoned for the night and quaint apartment houses awaiting their date with the wrecking ball, one gets a feeling of material obsolescence as well as of the transient and temporal nature of existence. These structures are not meant to last. But then, neither are we, and that makes those coldly perfect compositions, shot only in available light, compelling and somewhat scary.

Even though it is an installation/assemblage, Betsy Lohrer Hall's "Field and Jetty" turned out to be compelling after a negative first impression. Let's face it: The idea of putting castoff materials together in the name of art has become a bit stale by now. But, following DeAngelo's lead, I conceded a perverse sort of beauty to the jagged chunks of asphalt and concrete, and Hall's careful arrangement of the erstwhile mess on the gallery floor.

Yielding to the power of suggestion, I visualized rocks and jetties while feebly resisting a sudden urge to skip from piece to piece. Thus, Hall accomplishes a mission that is as old as art itself, namely to convert her audience to her vision.

To her credit, De Angelo tends to keep shows fairly small, concise and thus accessible to an increasingly hurried and harried populace. Whether that is what the ruling city burghers had in mind when, a few years ago, they directed the center to focus on more community-oriented art is open to conjecture. But so far, the once dreaded deluge of drag-the-easel-out-of-doors fare does not seem to have materialized.