Exhibition celebrates stories, imagination

Local painter Nathan Durfee created the 2013 Piccolo Spoleto Festival poster. It’s titled “Piccolo Suono Bartholomeux.”

The infinite possibilities for telling stories through sculpture, painting and collage are evident throughout the Piccolo Spoleto arts exhibition “Tales Transposed: A Celebration of Imagination.” But Nathan Durfee’s work catches more than its share of attention, demonstrating why he deserves the entire first floor of the City Gallery at Waterfront Park.

Durfee is a magician of contrasts. Complementary colors as well as characters harmonize in his work as if they were made for one another. The 24 bright canvases clearly show his desire to depict an understanding between characters from different worlds.

The main character in this series, the dog Bartholomeux, plays the flute or a record player in order to speak the language of the cardinal birds. In the outstanding canvas “Bartholomeux Swallowed in the Red,” the dog is delightfully surrounded by several birds to the point where the two species seem to become one.

Durfee’s strongest tool is his ability to use his background as an illustrator to paint colorful canvases that tell a story. Seeing several of his paintings becomes a reading experience that makes you want to organize Bartholomeux’s transformation chronologically. Durfee’s imagination captivates from beginning to end. Comparing his first pencil drafts with his finished works gives a sense of how this remarkable artist develops his ideas.

The exploration of stories continues on the second floor of the exhibition, with the collages of Lillian Trettin and the sculptures of Judy Mooney.

Trettin’s work is risky. She carefully cuts handmade, hand-painted and commercial papers, then reassembles the pieces to create satirical and colorful scenes based on Flannery O’Connor novels. Some of her pieces are extremely powerful, like “Jesus Was the Jagged Shape in the Back of His Mind” (2012), inspired by O’Connor’s “Wise Blood,” while others lack some energy.

Mooney’s pieces depict the stories of Gullah-Geechee people through rustic clay sculptures that respectfully evoke an ancestral knowledge. The artist’s research into Gullah traditions is evident in the compelling architectural pieces that seem to keep a secret that one would like to find.

Lucía Camargo Rojas is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.