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A collective art show at Sol Cooper Gallery in Petersburg is a lot like a game of telephone, but with a palette.

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Stars burn clear

all night till dawn

Do that yourself, and a spring

Will rise in the dark with water

Your deepest thirst is for.

— Rumi



These words, written nearly 800 years ago, form the catalyst for "Lineage," an exhibition at the Sol Cooper Gallery in Petersburg.

The exhibit, opening July 13, features the work of 13 artists — painters, photographers, sculptors, a printmaker and a filmmaker — who created their pieces sequentially, basing their work on the work that came before it.

The idea originated while contemplating the evolution of a rumor, says gallery owner and painter Bobby Lynch. The concept moved into the "visual" realm, and the impetus for the exhibit took root: an artistic version of the game telephone.

For the first piece, Lynch derived inspiration from the Rumi poem. A thought-provoking, figurative work, the painting draws the viewer into the introspective posture of a woman seated in the morning light. This he passed on to prompt the next artist, continuing the conversation.

The exhibit took 14 weeks to complete. Lynch delivered each finished piece to the subsequent artist, and artists were then given one week to develop their own piece. Outside of the artwork that came directly before, no artist was told of the other pieces or of the original poetry.

The result is quite extraordinary: a string of images that stretches from figurative, to landscape to abstract to textural and back again.

"If I had to describe the relationship and what surprised me the most is that there are two shows," Lynch says. "There are the images — the things one sees hanging on the wall — and then there are the pieces between the pieces, the places where they intersect. To me, that's the real show."

This added dimension makes the exhibit particularly compelling. It draws viewers into the visual dialogue, like a conversation, and offers an opportunity to participate in its progression. "Your emotional narrative is threading itself throughout," he says, "moving it along." The momentum captures images of bodies, bridges, rivers, arches, blood, hills, light, dark, trains, trestles, solitude and self.

The recurrence of certain elements often is inexplicable. The color palette used in the initial painting, a blend of ochre, sienna, olive, orange and rust, re-emerges throughout the series — even though there are stretches of black and white in between. This occurs, too, with certain shapes, the human form, light and water.

Given that the first painting offers no concrete connection to water, but the poem has this imagery at its core, Lynch asks, "Are we just passing on images?" The sound of his words travel along the 50-foot-long pine floors and floating toward the exposed ceiling trusses. "Or are we passing on an aura?" he continues. "How much is being carried within the piece that we don't see?"

Another unintended benefit has arisen for the artists themselves. Rather than working within the framework of their own particular collection, they've been asked to step outside their comfort zone and play in different media. According to Lynch, nearly all of the artists have remarked on the liberating nature of this experiment.

"The fact that there is no historical intention from piece to piece to piece is really a beautiful thing," says Lynch. "How many times in life do you get to do that?" S

"Lineage" opens at the Sol Cooper Gallery in Petersburg Friday, July 13, with a reception, 7-9 p.m. The show runs through Sept. 7. 306 N. Sycamore St. 240-6859.

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