"Soldier" scratchboard, 10" x 8" 2004.

"Small Provocations" by Robert Pincus for The San Diego Union Tribune 3/10/05.

Thinking small: There seems to be a lot of that going on in contemporary drawing and painting. Perhaps it's a reaction against the large-scale tendencies of a lot of art in the 1980s and 1990s. Maybe it's a desire to connect one-on-one with a viewer in an era drenched in visual spectacles aimed at crowds. Or it could be the desire to look offhanded, halfway casual about one's ambitions in a world governed by hype and spin.

Whatever the explanation, small is prolifically present - and represented eclectically - in "Pencil on Glass," an exhibition jointly organized by Sushi: Take Out, so named because the organization doesn't have a standing venue just now, and the Voz Alta Project, which does.

The tiniest pictures on view in Voz Alta Project are by the Brooklyn-based Mark Stockton. These handsome portraits in pencil (an inch wide and less than 2 inches tall) are surrounded by proportionately large frames and mats (11 by 14 inches), which makes the images appear even smaller. Each title carries a first name: "Timothy," "David," et cetera. This makes us assume the artist knows all of them personally. This can't be the case. But most viewers will feel as if some of the faces are familiar.

That's because Timothy is Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, David is the Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and Nick is veteran movie star Nick Nolte. The series is fittingly titled "Mini-Mug-Shot Series." O.J. Simpson is represented too, as is Martin Luther King's assassin, James Earl Ray, and sportscaster Marv Albert. It's a curious sort of rogue's gallery, since it includes criminals who became celebrities by virtue of horrific acts, and celebrities who committed or were suspected of committing crimes.

The approach is deadpan. Still, you have to wonder: Does Stockton mean simply to repulse us? Fascinate us? Offer some implied commentary about the varieties of celebrity experience? Decide for yourself, his pictures suggest.

Stockton is one of five New York-area artists on view; there are seven from San Diego (most are MFA candidates at the University of California San Diego). The show, which has three parts, isn't thematic but it does suggest shared concerns between artists in disparate locales.

The little celebrity portraits represent a collective cultural experience, promulgated by mass media and made strangely personal here. Other artists play on notions of familiar imagery, though less overtly than Stockton.

Edward J. Luce's pictures, a cross between drawings and paintings, create well-honed echoes of sci-fi movies - and zombie films most of all. The pasty figures, with skin in blue or green, stalk scenic overlooks and rest stops. They haven't located victims, but they look awfully earnest about their search.

Because they are so stereotypical, Luce's zombies are semi-comic. So is Davina Semo's miniature tableau, "where i come from, we do whatever we please. " It's like a bedroom on a stage - measuring 18 inches tall, 24 inches wide and 12 inches deep - with figures wearing bag-shaped masks caught up in a cryptic erotic ritual. There is mocking text on the wall, along with borrowed photographs of hip-hop icons. There's a bit of the fantastic here too, with a toy tiger in the room and curious pattern for wallpaper on a back wall. Like its title, the work is a mix of self-indulgence and an exuberant sort of let's-try-anything experimentation. Semo uses cut-rate materials with flair.

The scenes in New Yorker Cindy Moore's color drawings aren't exactly funny. But there is something absurd about a pair of women in one-piece bathing suits and white bathing caps looking as if they're performing life-saving drills in one scene and having a violent tussle in another. Their style is handsome, the subject seemingly too narrow to sustain more than one modest series of pictures.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that in the current American climate of persistent terror alerts, pre-emptive war and running news coverage of trials such as Scott Peterson's that art can be steeped in violence, both real and implied.

Roughly rendered drawings by Sharon Levy, part of the San Diego contingency, cull from media sources and dwell on death. A couple of kids come upon a corpse in "Tunnel," shining a flashlight on the dead man who has a bird perched on his chest. A dog laps water from a dangerously polluted waterway in "Stream." The understated style of the pictures adds an eerie touch to the dark events.

Darkest of all are Aaron Zimmerman's diminutive drawings done on scratch board in a kind of baroque cartoon style. (He's from Jersey City.) They are literally dark, the pictures (the biggest is 8 inches tall) defined by pale lines on a black surface. But they are also symbolically so. "Soldier" contains one wide figure, his head resembling a flaming tree and his chest supporting a tableau of angels engaged in combat. The image is mournful and sardonic all at once.

This exhibition has two other components, separate from these wall-mounted works. There is a single work in the street-facing window by Shannon Spanhake, a sort of petri dish as abstract picture. She has sealed microbial organisms within sheets of glass. It's meant to evolve in the course of the show. It didn't look like much a week ago, but by now this description probably will be obsolete.

The third element is by Joe Winter, also local. He'll present a work, "interference music," at the show's reception tomorrow night from 7 to 10 p.m. There is no description of what he'll do, though his previous work combines electronic music and performance art. His contribution will likely add a fleeting aural companion to the disquieting array of sights in "Pencil on Glass." And it will probably add some temporary sights of its own.

Article as it originally appeared.

To see more work from this group go here.