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Atlanta Artists Marcia Cohen and Tom Ferguson in the Spotllight

by Catherine Fox

Marcia Cohen and Tom Ferguson are long-time Atlanta artists whose Commitment to their art has never depended on the growlight of public attention. Serendipitously, simulataneous exhibitions - she at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Geogia, he at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery - offer an opportunity to see what they've been up to.

....  Tom Ferguson's 40-year retrospective, though fascinating, is a mess from a curatorial point of view. There's too much stuff in not-enough space, sometimes arranged chronologically, sometimes not. But it's also oddly appropriate too.

For Ferguson, art-making is less a career than a yoga practice - a vehicle to get him to a state of consciousness. His willingness to go where intuition leads him, including forays into political cartooning, music, writing and, recently, iMovies, resulted in the meandering path documented here.

That said, the man has skills. He is a fine draftsman, painter and colorist. His range encompasses the feather light touch of the pen to impasto as thick and scrumptious as cake frosting, laid down in complex, mutli-directional strokes. Add an observant eye and morant wit, and you've got yourself plenty to chew on in this show.

Among the most memorable works are the fictional portraits, a series of heads created between 1984 and 2000. Kin to the caricatures of his political cartoons, his people sport exaggerated features - elongated chins, hair on end like Don King - emphasized by their poses in profile or three-quarter view. His satire of recognizable typse, such as the chic committe woman, the pompous philosophe, is amusing, but the real enchantment of these paintings is their imaginative color variations and sensuous surfaces.

This is Ferguson's 1985 solo show at the High Museum. The gridded arrangement emphasizes the abstract qualitites of paint and line. (tf note: you can see this image under the category Heads from the main page)

Ferguson applied the same approcah to everyday objects. One such piece is the graphite drawing of a pencil set in a slathery nest of tar-black paint. Sort of a cross between Jim Dine and Susan Rothenberg, it succeeds in turning something ordinary into something worth contemplating, thus sharing the consciousness he seeks for himself with the viewer.

Ferguson changed direction in 2000. He turned to multi-figured compositions often drawn from his daughter's drawings and his sketchoboks and thinned paint to an aquesous consistency, which he applied to a bevy of objects rather than stretched canvas.  Perhaps it's for wont of editing, but the display of these paintings has a desultory air, as if he went off in too many directions.

Nevertheless, Ferguson's skill and range is impressive. It's hard to believe that he's giving up painting to pursue other interests. One more reason to see the show and attend his talk and tour at 4pm Sunday.