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Pocket Sized 

Art that you could carry around, if you wanted to

The Breakneck Gallery wants to put art in your wallet. Their Artist Trading Card show brings together some 280 works by 40 local artists that span ink, pencil, watercolor, and even metalwork. The infinite creativity has only one limitation imposed on it: All works are exactly 3.5" by 2.5," not including framing.  

The pocket-portable scale of the work was inspired by a growing artistic subculture of painters and illustrators who discuss and share their work by exchanging business card-sized original pieces. One M. Vänçi Stirnemann is credited with organizing the first "artist trading card" swap in 1996 in Zurich, Switzerland. Since then, the ATC model has become so popular, you can buy pre-sized cards at Pat Catan's. Breakneck's gallerists Kristen and Sean Burns hope to bring the phenom into full swing locally. The diverse participating artists certainly help, cramming weird, wonderful, and even challenging work into bite-sized pieces.

Erin Schechtman contributes two impossibly detailed portraits in what looks like acrylic paint. In "Poppy Pixy," the titular flower hangs red in a girl's hair, almost matching red cheeks that speak to youth and physical vulnerability which contrast with her knowing, ironic smile.

Darrelle Centuori is one of several featured photographers. In his "Walter and Betty," a wedding-cake topping bride figurine stands blurred in the foreground; she is facing away from her groom, who stares forward, blankly. The image is remarkable for its ability to tell a story of crushing emotional weight within tight confines of visual economy.

Anatomical illustrator Lindsay Parker wins for most impressive presentation, with her "Medical Illustrator's Alphabet," in which a single frame hosts 26 cards which use the ABC's to teach you medical jargon, from "Aortic Aneurism" to "Zygote." "D" is an electric blue "dendrite", a branching blue brain cell with a golden nucleus. A green line of peaks and valleys on an eerie black background represents the irregular heart rhythms of "T" for "tachycardia." "G" is "gastrostomy", a pile of bubblegum-colored digestive organs.

Briette Schaeffer works on the domestic platform of refrigerator magnets, but transgresses with every image. She swaps out nude model's faces for those of dogs, or superimposes bare skeletons over the torsos of swimsuit models. The deeply unsettling pictures confront the viewer with the media's dehumanization of sex symbols.

Most of the imagery in the show is figurative or representational, but a few abstractionists are in on the fun, too. Katie Oswalt's series "Following the Circle 1-5" positions a red oval within a black rectangle marked with a single white line. No abstract art resembles a person, but the inhumanity of this series is palpable. The severity of its lines and its colors is like the rigidity of a computer. It's an iPhone-sized HAL 9000.   In a more lighthearted vein, Giulia Fancinelli's "Tipsy Mondrian" re-interprets the titular Modernist's severe bold lines and primary-colored rectangles as a tangle of wobbly squiggles.

It's a fun show, and offers something more than "mere" fun if the viewer puts in time. Besides providing an opportunity to meet artists through small and inexpensive creations, the exhibit shows how an artist can thrive even under the most severe limitations.

Artist Trading Cards runs through Saturday May 11 at 17020 Madison Ave., Lakewood. For more information, call 216-767-5610 or go to breakneckgallery.com.

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