art: Sign Language 

A sculptor and a painter speak volumes with self-imposed limited vocabularies

The "something" they start with is small, simple and usually inconsequential. What they end up with is quietly momentous.

Sculptor Luis Castro, who was born in Venezuela and currently lives in New York City, hews wood or stone into simple forms with soft curves scaled to match the cup of a human hand. At Reynolds Gallery this month his most appealing pieces are the less-polished wooden objects that reference primitive origins, evoking pods, fruit or simple tools.

In an installation called "Sweetbriar," Castro places a series of melon-size spheres carved from a variety of woods such as cherry, maple and sycamore on a thin bed of Osage orange particles sprinkled on the floor. Arranged arbitrarily, as if dropped from a tree (the Osage orange tree is an inspiration, perhaps), the wood balls, stress-cracks and all litter the floor like ripe pods about to burst with new life.

The range of wood smells, colors and grains against the ochre color of Osage orange particles provides "Sweetbriar" with an earthy visual and olfactory experience, but maybe the most satisfying quality of the arrangement is the spherical form itself. Here the sphere, a perfect and complete geometry, works double duty. On an intimate level, the scale and smooth surface of these objects appeal to the sense of touch. But Castro also capitalizes on the power of its primordial form. The pure and perfect roundness of his spheres is inherently rich in evocation, speaking of many forms of life, from a lowly seed to the largest planets.

In neighboring gallery rooms, painter Robert Stuart depends on the viewers' sensory memory for engagement. Once a still-life painter interested in expressing volume, Stuart now paints nebulous space in stripped-down abstractions. The artist's visual vocabulary is sparse. Floating a series of thin lines with bleeding edges, often parallel to one another and arranged symmetrically on a field of color made by scumbling one color on top of another, Stuart creates a pulsating tension between figure (the lines) and field.

Stuart further manipulates the feeling of pulsation by posing steely cold colors against brilliant neon hues. The effect is like seeing a bright object inside a dark tunnel from the window of a speeding train. In these paintings Stuart creates an optical illusion, suggesting vibration and movement. The "subject" of Stuart's paintings seems to be more about visual sensation than the formal arrangement of line and color.

These shows have to do with experience, whether personal or collective. With limited but potent vocabularies, Castro and Stuart are able to tap into a viewer's bank of knowledge without asking him or her to understand the art. S

Robert Stuart's paintings and Luis Castro's sculptures will be on display through April 5 at Reynolds Gallery, 1514 W. Main St.

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