Washington's John Dickson makes suggestive painted sculptures of paint and glue and sticks. Ed Mayo (who once lived here, but has since moved to Houston) makes sequences of pictures that tell amusing stories. Why has local curator Clair List selected these two artists for her second exhibition -- "John Dickson, Ed Mayo" -- now at the Corcoran Gallery of Art? Because she does not tell us, we are left to guess.
Ed Mayo moved to Washington in 1973, and took a job at the Phillips Collection. Dickson came to town in 1974, and joined the Johnson Avenue Workshop of Sam Gilliam and Rockne Krebs. Both Dickson and Mayo exhibited last year at the WPA; they share a P Street Gallery -- Diane Brown -- and both have been granted artist's fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts. List, who lives in Baltimore, has worked with both their wives. There were nine artists in "Images of the '70s," List's first local exhibition. Genna Watson, one of them, is married to John Dickson. Marti Mayo, Ed's wife then the Corcoran's coordinator of exhibitions, helped List with that show.
The job of Corcoran curator of local art is, at least in part, a political position. How are artists chosen for exhibitions there? There is an aura of the chummy about the present show.
Dickson's sculptures are "created," List writes, "out of a need to express his emotional reality, to vent or release his innermost fellings . . . Dickson addresses himself to discovering and uncovering his most authentic emotions and beliefs." Mayo, she tells us, makes art "to explore his past and his innermost feelings."
Artists do have feelings, both innermost and outermost, but when List puts down such gush, she does not tell us much.
The sculptures of John Dickson, with their rib cages, their swellings, stand on spindly legs -- and look down on the viewer. They are ominous and delicate as giant fish or insects.Some of them have mouths; some seem to wave antennae. They shiver when you touch them. They all suggest one species of fragile living things.
Ed Mayohs work is slighter. And funnier. The pictures that he paints on Plexiglas are postcard-sized. Mayo uses many -- 16, say, or 22, or more than 100 -- and arranges them in sequences to narrate wordless stories about falling rocks or birds or drunks.
There are 22 small panels in the sequence he calls "Geese." Cloud-like blobs of white are floating in each one of them over grassy landscapes that are sometimes fringed by sea. Just as flying skeins of geese arrange themselves in V shapes, Mayo's pictures here assume that formation. Mayo paints no geese, but his series suggests what flying birds might see were they to look down. His "Feeling So Fine" calls to mind a lush with a bad case of the whirlies. In this set of paintings, street lights, red and green, and ceiling fixtures, too, seem to dominate the air.
The artists known as minimalists showed us simple images, primary structures, cubes or grids or pyramids whose ghosts seemed somehow present no matter where one turned. By exhibiting the one, they were summoning the many. mDickson calls the sculptures here "Variations of an Enigma." The five that he is showing at the Corcoran suggest one idea. Each of Mayo's pictures is one scene from a series, one frame from a cartoon. Both artists, while showing us the many, conjure the one. They share at least that. Their show closes July 6.