Point of view

Words and structures coexist in solo shows at Marcia Wood

Though their approaches to canvas and paper are completely different, William Steiger and Ruth Laxson share an interest in art that provokes thought.

Steiger’s focus is on post-industrial relics — towers and bridges, grain elevators and telephone poles, dirigibles and prop planes. With a clear minimalist precision, he paints in oil on linen, capturing the beauty in structure, the lyricism of archaic flying machines and midway rides, the fading significance of the telephone wire. His compositions are elegant diagrams of nostalgia, unsettled dreams of the bygone.

“Height to top of tank, 92 ft” pictures a precisely painted beige water tower in a barren landscape. As if overexposed by a camera’s flash, the sky is white. A small bare tree next to the building marks the otherwise empty curve of land that gives an idea of the building’s scale. The artificial setting and perspective make the structure look like a model for a child’s train set. In fact, all these paintings could be models for a way of life that we have lost, or perhaps never had, but now might wish for.

Two etching/aquatints, “Wonder Wheel” and “Parachute Drop,” are detailed renderings that refresh memories of childhood and giddy rides at county fairs. But they seem more about desired memory than actual lived experience.

Each image holds onto time, compressing and flattening a supposed reality that comforts in its remote geometry. Steiger’s vintage subjects remember an honest day’s work and an era when humans flew closer to the earth.

Laxson’s work intersects with Steiger’s in a philosophical space where they are both revealed as lovers of the analog. Steiger examines the place where memory meets imagination, while Laxson explores the potential of words to be aesthetically concrete and abstract forms.

Working almost entirely in black and white, Laxson is a rarity in her ability to artistically manipulate handwritten text. In her hands, tiny, spidery letters and words become texture, objects, figures and elements of nature, while retaining their power to analyze and critique. She’s been making artists’ books for years with a hand letterpress in what she describes as “an attempt to restore some of the texture and grain of life being flattened by cyberspace.”

Nets, numbers, parenthetical equivalents, maps, musical notations and sometimes squiggly tadpoles or sperm work their way through and around her stick figures. Look closer and you realize that those thin-armed, block-bodied creatures are intellectual giants. Sometimes, in their dialogue on paper, they are very like beat poets: “You cyborg/standing/there in/your tight/skin pack--/age/you’re (really) a/teeming core of chaos.”

The artist illustrates her concern over scientific tampering with genetics in “Being,” where an egg’s nucleus is manipulated by a puppeteer’s hands. But her strongest statement made its way off the paper of “Wish” into a spoken word performance a few weeks ago when Jerry Cullum loudly intoned, “sometimes i wish/art could just come right out/ like war does and/say Look You SOB/Why don’t you do right — like some/other men do ...”

Visual Poetry, featuring paintings and drawings by Ruth Laxson, and a solo exhibition of works by William Steiger will be on view through April 6 at Marcia Wood Gallery, 1831-B Peachtree Road. Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sat. 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. 404-351-3930.??