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Review of Kyle Ragsdale's new show

Watching and Waiting is a new series by the well known local artist and curator.

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3.5 stars

This isn't the first time Kyle Ragsdale has used photographs of models dressed in period costumes for references in an exhibition. Indiana Dunes is a setting, though not the exclusive setting, for a number of these works. There are many depictions in this exhibition of people dressed in period garb against washed out beach shore landscapes. And in some of these settings, it seems unsure if the sun will ever want to come out again from behind the clouds. It might be hard for the color palette to be otherwise in these works, as they reflect a time of personal loss for Ragsdale.  

There's also much in the way of dilapidated industrial settings as backdrops for his costumed subjects. The juxtaposition works well in the painting "Sunday in the Park" with the four female subjects wearing evening dresses in front of a coal burning power plant. The figures in the foreground are represented in very broad strokes representationally, and there are gestural touches throughout. There are also drips and gobs of paint reminiscent of the old abexasauruses. You know, Pollock and those guys. 

But Ragsdale's playing such mood music, as it were, doesn't always hit its mark. 

Something's a little off in the painting "Waves upon Waves," to take one example. Here you see a beautifully rendered seascape with overlapping waves, grays and aquamarines. The sense of movement is palpable and the colors are just perfect. But the head of a girl bobbing out of the water is almost as featureless and indistinct as that of a buoy. 

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There's something to be said for the mood here, but the humans get lost against these palettes as washed out as a pair of denim jeans on its 1000th spin cycle.

But! Don't rag too much on Ragsdale without checking out "Cathedral," one of the most striking paintings here. It depicts a man standing in a dark factory. This time around, the indistinctness in facial features works to great advantage as there is a genuine David Lynchian/Francis Baconian — maybe we should just call it Ragsdalian — creepiness to the subject being portrayed. That is, his face is pretty much rubbed out, like the faces of those deported to Siberia in those Stalin-era family photos from Soviet Russia. 

And then there's the lovely painting "Fountain Square Magic Light" depicting three girls in evening dress with the Murphy Building and St. Patrick's Catholic Church glowing rosy red in the sunset-lit background. Anyone who loves Fountain Square must also love this painting (even those amazed or perplexed or annoyed by Ragsdale's amazing artistic productivity). 

What "Fountain Square Magic Light" and "Cathedral" have in common with each other is use of vivid color and contrast. Maybe we can think of color as a sort of lifeboat for artists, especially ones making their way through a sea of sadness, and "drawn to irresistible hoping," to quote Ragsdale's poem posted at the entrance of this exhibition.

Runs through Nov. 27 at Harrison Center for the Arts

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