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Isn't That Just Precious?

Small is underrated. In a contemporary art world where photographs keep getting larger and larger, and the '80s mantra of ever bigger Schnabelian canvases still holds sway, tiny is practically a sign of weakness, synonymous with someone who wants their reputation to stay as small as their work.

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Thank goodness for the occasional show that allows one to revel in the minute and just plain puny — an ever rarer pleasure. Small Sketches and Drawings at Swan Coach House Gallery is a biennial show that coincides with holiday gift-giving season, offering diminutive (read: affordable) works by some well-known (Kojo Griffin, Katherine Mitchell) artists and plenty of emerging ones, too.

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The 170 pieces on exhibit begin in the $50 range for a beguiling sketch by Ben Wilson. In Wilson's "1:18 PM," the artist renders an instance of ordinary social exclusion, as a group of people with their backs to us hunch together in conversation. The quick, economical pen strokes convey a fleeting moment that a larger, more involved rendering would crush. The most expensive piece is $2,800, a Todd Murphy "Hummingbird" that in its simplicity and Japanese-scroll delicacy, rendered on tracing paper as fragile as that wisp of a bird, makes Murphy's large-scale mixed-media photo paintings seem all the more grandiose. But price is no great indicator of value. One of the most pleasurable pieces is on the cheapo side: Julie Jones' Deco-esque "Black Bird," an elegant blot of black on a cream landscape.

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Things done small have a greater propensity to charm. A thistle at epic scale would be obnoxious, but the size of a postcard in Kemp Mooney's ink-on-paper work is just right.

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There are some less than thrilling works, banal landscapes and nudes that make you glad cold weather is upon us. Not everything takes on the juiciness of a short story just because it's rendered small. Sometimes, though, the artist's pen or brush stroke is a great metaphor for the comparable witchcraft of poetry or short prose, where details left unsaid say so much, as in Jason Johnson's moody little character studies or Wade Thompson's hilariously terse "Forlorn Dog." Fact is, while buying art can often feel like gaining an object, the work in Small Sketches feels like gaining a piece of the artist.

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Small Sketches and Drawings runs through Jan. 14 at Swan Coach House Gallery, 3130 Slaton Drive. Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 404-266-2636. www.swancoachhouse.com.



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