Chasing the elements 

"This is the most challenging show that I’ve put together – nothing would sit still – it was hard to pin down." Michelle Spivak, director of the Center Galleries, is referring to "Fire + Water," her space’s current pairing of works by sculptor Hugh Timlin and painter Sherry Hendrick. In an amazing stroke of symbiosis, these meditative, cosmic investigations wind up sharing much more than the same gallery.

After their initial construction, Timlin’s columns, pyramids and altars literally had to survive a trial by fire – a brush with destruction – before they could arrive at the level of cathartic feeling he wanted them to have. Though their surfaces seem mostly rough-cut, clean, intact, there are enough heat scars and soot to reveal the charred truth of their insides. Introit, an altar of wood, marble, steel and bronze, even displays its singed skin like a badge of pride, a sign of suffering overcome. The Brancusi-esque nobility of Timlin’s past works in marble, bronze and steel persists here, a memory that hasn’t quite faded. But another project is taking over, giving a new meaning to stark simplicity.

Hendrick, on the other hand, reconstructs our sense of what drawing can do with color and negative space. She has worked these waterscapes with colored pencil on rag paper, but they keep moving away from facile references toward an ambiguous playfulness, shifting from visions of the natural world and human anatomy ultimately to a sense of our part-to-whole relationship with everything around us. In Map 002 (pictured), familiar geography becomes strange, the better to set us thinking. Drawing after drawing in the series transforms what we think we know into what we’ve never suspected or imagined. Is Hendrick giving us the distant past or the impossible future? Though they seem to be of primordial forces, her images also turn an essentially private train of thought into a public demonstration.

Making such disparate pieces work together – Spivak’s problem while installing the show – also meant combining elemental archetypes that we consider to be opposites or contraries. But, since Timlin and Hendrick direct their concerns to a shared sense of impermanence and hard-won spirituality, they make solid, necessary sense together. The phrase "brilliant pairing" doesn’t come close to doing this show justice.

George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at

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