Readers of criticism learn that an artist's "maturity" is something good, whatever this obscure quality may be. If it is anything, it is command of powers, and especially the ability to make newness. At the start of their careers, artists copy lessons, repeat without adding, and stumble on clever "discoveries" that have been new a thousand times before. The "mature" creator's influences can still be recognized, but their implementation of a theme or style creates something distinctly new, not simply callbacks or aping.
In this sense, there is mature work to be found even among remarkable youngsters, like some in the Galleries at Cleveland State University's two exhibits of students' work, the juried 42nd Annual Student Art Show and the Merit Scholar Exhibition.
Omid Tavakoli, winner of the student show's photography category, creates a world both elegant and strange with the "Dresses" series. Models sit or lie on invisible furniture suspended in a black void, while yards and yards of their eveningwear flow into inky nothingness. In "Dress Series #1 (yellow)," the model's black hair bleeds into the shadow-world around her. From her crossed lap, golden folds tumble down like a waterfall, or streaks of wax off a lit candle.
Faith Wiker won best drawing for an untitled, evocative image of a woman seated on a bench, looking wistfully off, as collage-style images obscure the audience's view of her. A church steeple leans at a tilt, a pyramidal tear opens to a tower of light obscured by fog.
Ryan Upp displays photography and sculpture. Most of the pictures are in sepia, but the only color photograph, "You've Washed Your Hands Clean of Me" depicts a field of grays and browns. In a poorly lit public bathroom, a sink has been filled to the brim with dirt. A pair of hands clutch the basin by the fingertips, as if grasping to drag their body up. The piece speaks to the desperation of one clinging to something which cannot be touched anymore, and nagging feelings of bodily and moral dirtiness.
Katie Maurer explores hallucinatory or otherwise mistaken sensory experiences by combining psychedelic swirls of abstraction with girlie magazine photos, using screen prints on paper. The combination of anarchy of color and form with stylized and distorted depictions of sexuality make for a commendably unnerving experience. "See Colors II" gives viewers only the suggestion of the model's pose; all that is visible are her limbs, and a few inches of neck, shoulder, torso and hip. The rest of her, including her face, is blocked by a river-shaped smear, made of patches of primary colors.
For all the show's outstanding accomplishments, there is immature work as well. However, given the rawness of the talent, this is to be expected, and inexperience can't fairly be held against the contributors.
Many drawings contain the bright doe-eyes of anime characters, or bold black lines and flat colors seemingly inspired by tattoo art. Such effects have not found their way into mainstream studio art, and seem out-of-place in the gallery. But their uncanniness is accompanied by the knowledge that in the near future they will cease to be strange, as the next generation of Pop-oriented students become professionals who refine and deepen their examination of adolescent obsessions.
Less defensible are wiseass artist statements and "dark" choices of subject matter that speak not so much to an overflowing of compassion for human tragedy, so much as young minds still blown by Fight Club, campus panhandlers, and the freedom to drink on weeknights.
But none of this is sufficient reason to dismiss young artists. CSU displays much work suggestive of potential, and of potential realized.
The exhibits run through May 4 at 1307 Euclid Ave. For more information, call 216-687-2103 or go to csuohio.edu/artgallery/.