June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:22 PM
"Think inside the box.The rubric prescribing creativity is turned inside out as viewers peer into Mysteries Contained: Box Constructions, opening Dec. 9 at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts.Box means container; store a box in the attic, and it becomes a repository of memory. A box is a frame that distinguishes inside from outside. Pull the lid off a box, and one even has a small theater.These and other metaphors - neatly boxed - are presented by artists Jocelyn Curry, Michael Gibson, Barbara Kowlaski, Frank Samuelson, Kenny Smith and Hidde Van Duym. Enlarging upon sculptor Joseph Cornell's assemblage technique of juxtaposing found objects to make a new context, they offer six plausible answers to the question posed by fellow-exhibitor Hidde Van Duym: In the world of all this material, how does anything reverberate for us and become meaningful? Van Duym's boxes are layered in real and imaginary time. The artist builds up each surface, often filling whole notebooks with paint and glue formulae in preparation. The techniques are precise and time-consuming. There are metaphorical footnotes to time as well. Watercolor ivy frames an antique window. A title, How Difficult Life Is without You, is borrowed from an old German gravestone. Boxed pieces with fissures called Fault Box and Volcano Box freeze geologic moments. Artist Ken Smith's found objects are tiny motors. When Smith bought 200 of them at a garage sale he asked himself the universal artist's question, What can I do with them?It's the question that kicks an artist's subconscious into gear to make the mental juxtapositions and associations that lead to new work. I was a painter, but my painting fell off the wall and turned into kinetic sculpture, Smith said, And since I was a rock and roll guy all my life, movement just naturally led to sound.. At 73, Barbara Kowalski can look back on a long life as an artist, but she is the youngest of the group, when it comes to box art. Kowalski tackled the box format only after receiving the invitation to exhibit. I thought, Well, this is a challenge, both aesthetically and technically, Kowalski said, I will relish it.An artist since the 1960s, included in many collections, Kowalski had the artistic depth that makes a curator willing to risk throwing something new at an artist. All of Kowlaski's boxes are whimsical except one. For that piece, she combined a xerox of a small rodent skull she had kept for decades with birch twigs to invoke a Native American burial ground. Frank Samuelson had the small branch inserted in Out on a Limb, a work in the current exhibit, lying around his studio for 10 years. A paint brush he still uses to dust his sculpture is the first one he ever painted with, Samuleson claims. When he claims his studio is buried in found objects and plain junk, one believes him. It's tromp l'oeil, off to the junkyard, visual incongrueties, Samuelson said, elliptically. The sculpture he refered to features a small and apprehensive-looking doggy balanced on the tip of a branch, while behind him a menacing cormorant head of ambiguous scale snakes into the box - and choppy waves break, below. Samuelson looks to the natural world for inspiration, not to other artists. My waves are breaking in the wake of the ferry, not on some Japanese print.The other Mysteries Contained; Box Construction artists, Michael Gibson and Jocelyn Curry, approach the box in compelling and individual ways. Gibson twines Michaelangelesque nudes around a globe and makes his box a literal stage with architectural backdrop and proscenium. Curry employs calligraphy with assemblage to build clocks. All the works are small in scale, so the intimate Bainbridge Arts & Crafts space can accommodate several pieces from each artist. The viewer is the beneficiary, given enough material to be able to place the pieces in the context of the artists' body of work - not always the case with a group show. Critic Barbara Rose once called Joseph Cornell's boxes star maps of a private universe. The box art show at BAC takes the viewer deep into six artists' private world, that mysterious terrain. Mysteries Contained: Box Construction can be seen at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Dec.9-Jan 28. Gallery talk: Sat., Dec 9, 2 p.m. Workshop with Jocelyn Curry Sat., Jan. 27, 10-3. Fun and Games: New Work by Sally Prongley Rooney is also on view. Call 842-3132. "