Bargoing artist captures after-hours Lawrence

There's something intoxicating about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's 1890s painting "At the Moulin Rouge."

If you've wandered into the Post-Impressionist gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago, you may have felt the work's magnetism. Toulouse-Lautrec lived in Paris and frequented its most famous nightclub, the Moulin Rouge, where he spent late, rowdy nights drinking and making sketches of his friends and favorite entertainers.

Lawrence artist Jeff Ridgway has a little of the French expressionist in his blood. Like his bohemian predecessor, Ridgway likes to hang out in bars, sipping drinks a little slower than the revelers around him and scratching thumbnail sketches on cocktail napkins and matchbook covers.

"This way I don't have to pay for models," he quips. "I can go out and catch drunks interacting. People who drink are oftentimes a lot more expressive in their movements and their emotions and their communications. And then later at night they sit really still, so it's the best of both worlds."

Ridgway offers a glimpse into after-hours Lawrence in "Too Late at Night," a dark, magical work hanging in the Lawrence Arts Center faculty exhibition. The list of media on the gallery label is as motley as the trio bellied up to the table in the darkened bar, their glasses full of amber brew and a full pitcher on deck.

He explains the three had been drinking all night, and "these two guys were kind of horn-dogging on that girl. It was just good-natured knuckleheadedness. They were just really drunk and having a great time." Apparitions of a bunny, a bishop and other bizarre figures who observe the scene from behind don't seem out of place on the other-worldly evening.

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Mindie Paget/Journal-World Photo

Detail of "too late at night," mixed media, by Jeff Ridgway.

Ridgway, who's been teaching at the arts center since 1991, layered vivid pastel lines atop heavy printmaking paper and then applied smooth oils, among other media. The combinations yield rich texture and color, convincing depth, and the whimsical and very apparent mark of the artist's quick, loose hand.

Ridgway's painting is one of about 100 works in the exhibition, a broad sampling from the arts center's large faculty and staff. The show, an annual tradition, had undoubtedly grown since the institution moved into its much-larger new facility a few years ago. By its open, invitational nature, the show is never tight, unified and conceptual. It's more of a hodgepodge. But there are jewels here:

¢ An unexpected reclining nude ("Forest Repose," oil on canvas) by Louis Copt, more commonly known for his sweeping prairie landscapes. The same careful attention given to light in those works is paid here by the artist, who trades vast, open skies for a branchy treescape, and reflects filtered light off the highs and lows of the woman's outstretched body.

¢ Two installments from Kansas University printmaking professor Michael Krueger's Full Metal Journals series. The ongoing project (which also was represented early this year in "Conflicting Memories" at the Spencer Museum of Art) is a nostalgic exercise. Krueger, who was born in 1967, is revisiting a collection of his high school notebooks graffitied with the doodles and scrawls of a teenage boy: mostly heavy metal band names and occasional references to the Vietnam War through images of helicopters. Krueger scans the notebooks, prints them and then layers in imagery using drawing and printmaking techniques. "It became this kind of dialogue with my past self, kind of updating who I was at the time and who I am now," he said in a February interview with the Journal-World.

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Mindie Paget/Journal-World Photo

Teapot, reduction-fired porcelain, by Markus Skala.

¢ Margaret Morris' "Night Fall," an acrylic on Masonite that combines subtlety and judicious use of color to successfully control the viewer's eye. The content is simple: a shadowy tree line stretches across a burnished prairie horizon beneath a dusty blue and violet sky. But the sinking sun casts a brilliant orange-red glow through the spaces between tree trunks. You can't help but be transfixed.

¢ A teapot by Markus Skala, ceramic artist in residence at the arts center. The porcelain vessel bears the telltale red-brown flashing marks of clay that's been flame-licked in a wood kiln, which makes it all the more impressive that it was fired in the arts center's reduction kiln. Skala applied glazes that emulate the natural tones achieved in a wood kiln. The browns complement nearby mottled blue-greens, and a brilliant red drip adds drama. The piece has a distinct front that's far more interesting than its opposing side, but that's part of the delight of atmospheric firings -- even when the look is accomplished artificially, in Skala's case.

Overall, the show packs a lot of value and variety into a single gallery stop and is worth a visit. As a bonus, the Lawrence Photo Alliance All-Members Show is running concurrently in the adjoining small gallery. Both exhibitions remain on view through Dec. 23.

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