art: Comic Relief 

Printmaker Nicholas Cossitt loosens up and makes thoughtful etchings of friends and family.

Largely accounting for the artist’s visual edginess is his drawing style. Cossitt uses dark lines as a cartoonist might, rarely shying away from lines where others artists might prefer soft shadows. He also draws with casualness similar to contemporary cartoonists. His disregard for proportion causes comical figure distortions such as oversized heads and undersized hands and feet.

Cossitt’s disregard for flattery makes for gritty portrayals but never disrespectful ones. What his likenesses lack in elegance is made up for in honesty. Even in his comic parodies produced several years ago, a bee-guzzling porch squatter is an endearing soul.

Lately, the cast of personalities in Cossitt’s etchings are represented with a tad less bite, maybe because the subjects are close friends and family members. In his recent series showing at Eric Schindler Gallery, the artist’s usual hard-edged starkness relaxes to cover a deeper and broader range of emotion. In Cossitt’s untitled portrait of Schindler Gallery founder Anne Gray he lets shades of gray rather than anxious line define his subject’s form. Gray’s figure is dramatically wrapped in black while her face emerges from under a shadow over her brow. It is not only a convincing physical likeness but a spiritual one, too. Cossitt’s smart depiction represents a seasoned, stand-alone warrior whose garment is worn like a shield.

In a less theatrical image titled “The Etcher,” Cossitt represents artist David Freed standing next to a printing press wearing a work apron, a hat and a deadpan expression. Again, Cossitt builds the likeness with a range of tones as if to underscore the depth of his relationship to Freed. As in his portrait of Gray, this image exhibits the artist’s skill at capturing both inner and outer makeup.

Cossitt’s stylistic quirks still surface in portraits of a beach bum in “Choyia of Nags Head” and a cowboy type in “Friend of Foe,” for example, but clearly the artist invests more than sarcasm in these pieces. In most, a level of detail gives away the artist’s regard for each subject’s character. Obviously, Cossitt is still enjoying a bit of the bad-boy artist role, but a little reverence has brought his imagery a long way. S

“Face Off: Recent Etchings by Nicholas Cossitt” is on display at Eric Schindler Gallery, 2305 E. Broad St., through June 20. Call 644-5005 for hours.

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