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[Fine Art review ]

Center yourself

Spend some time with Allred’s sculptures—and their surroundings

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Gregory Allred’s “Portrait of Eileen” from his More Girls exhibit at Left of Center Gallery.

You might be tempted to drive by Left of Center Art Gallery & Studio, tucked away just off West Gowan Road in northwest Las Vegas—it doesn’t look quite like your typical Las Vegas gallery (whatever that is). But don’t let the exterior fool you: Hidden within the unassumingly industrial building is one of our community’s richest treasures.

Since 1984, Left of Center has worked to provide a socially conscious meeting place for making and exhibiting art that reflects the diversity of art-makers and art-lovers in Las Vegas. Over the last 25 years, the nonprofit has evolved to include galleries for both rotating and permanent exhibitions, as well as a workshop, lecture and studio space for both members and nonmembers. They have managed to take over most of the building, expanding to create and fill the needs of the maturing Las Vegas community.

The whole place is warm, welcoming and serious about the resources it provides—a perfect setting for the joyful steel sculptures of Gregory Allred’s More Girls.

Joyful. There’s a word we don’t hear often enough these days, but this show—and this space—embodies it fully. Packed with eye-popping color, Allred’s 10 steel portraits dance around the gallery. Cubist-like in their reduction of the figure, the abstract forms are simultaneously angular and elegant, animated by the jostling intersection of high-quality craftsmanship and naïve-like, visceral application of pigment.

The Details

More Girls
Four stars
Through May 29
Tuesday-Friday, 1-6 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (and by appointment)
free
Left of Center Gallery, 2207 W. Gowan Road, 647-7378.

Allred cuts each piece of steel by hand and then grinds smooth the resulting component, layering the surface with texture and color as he builds the form. No laser cutting here. While the prospect of such a labor-intensive process would be daunting for most, Allred sees “the physical challenge [as] a gratifying one.” This gratification is evident in resultant sculptures brimming with skill, care and pleasure.

The artist avoids conceptualizing the work prior to fabrication, instead allowing the form to evolve organically based upon visual relationships between the steel elements. It is hard to believe Allred doesn’t have specific individuals in mind during construction, as each “girl” has a distinct personality and familiarity all her own. The sculptures are astute character studies, capturing subtle gestures that nicely convey bits and pieces of personality.

The work is slightly bigger than human scale, a little larger than life, which gives the viewer a kind of voyeuristic sensation—these “girls” are each stars of their own show. Pieces like “Housewife,” “Woman With Fish Hat” and “Refugee Woman Killing a Cock” are standouts in their confident marriage of color, form and play.

Hang out with the work for a while, and unexpected narratives and sly comedy emerge. The lively shadow cast by “Woman With a Past” and the humorous jaunt of her geometry suggests that this woman has quite the history—one she’s more than okay with, thank you very much. The phrase “missy no kissy” circles the façade of “Missy,” giving her a teasingly puckered appearance. It is the numerous witty and funny moments like this that make the work so enjoyable.

Visit Left of Center to see Allred’s sculptures, then stay for the other gifts the space has to offer. With two other galleries, there’s lots to see: one offers an exhibition of artwork by founding members (lovely paintings by Sylvester Collier, Harold Bradford and gallery director Vicki Richardson), and the other is home to an ever-expanding collection of historical and contemporary African art. Particularly satisfying are the Guro masks, from the Guro society of the Ivory Coast. The carved masks, combining animal and human features, are rewarding on their own and in this instance a great complement to Allred’s abstracted figures. While both are handmade, the carved wood, tactile surfaces and faded pigment of the former play nicely against the hard angles, smooth edges and saturated color of the latter. A diverse collection of art and artifacts with informative supplemental materials, the African gallery demands a repeat visit.

Allred’s More Girls is fun, sincere and well-done, and Left of Center Art Gallery is one of this city’s gems. Part of the mission of the Gallery is to “promote the visual arts as an educational tool to enhance inter-cultural understanding of social issues both past and present.” It is open, receptive and positive, determined to remind us that art can provide common ground and make the world a little better. Right here, right now, I can’t imagine a more wonderful way to pass a happy afternoon.

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Danielle Kelly

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