Of the three sculptors exhibiting at the School 33 Art Center, Brent Crothers is the most directly environmental in his approach. He doesn't just talk about trees and leaves, he uses them as raw sculptural material.
For his "First Sketch for 500 Yr. Old Tree Project," Crothers has bound together a number of rather tall saplings so tightly that they collectively become as thick as the trunk of a 500-year-old tree would be. So he has made an old tree out of very young trees. The metal band acting like a belt around the middle of this "trunk" is typical of how he shapes and holds together his pieces.
In "Earth Day -- Not Yet," the sculptor has sawed and stacked a pile of wood in such a way that it becomes a rough globe. Again, in presenting images of the natural world within an art gallery context, Crothers saws, stacks and rearranges nature in a manner that never gets us entirely out of the woods.
His interest in how mankind itself controls and ultimately disposes of nature can be sensed in "Suffocating the Future," in which leaf-filled plastic trash bags are piled up in a corner of the gallery.
The second sculptor, Heidi Lippman, makes all of her small exhibited pieces out of lead, but in her hands this heavy material does not seem leaden. Instead, as in "Listening #2," she works sheets of lead as if they were pieces of cloth to be twisted and extended. Her allusive sculptures may billow out like a sail, as in "Lost Memory," or coil and curve like an ear (or a seashell) in "Listening #1." That most of her pieces are wall-mounted also makes them seem relatively light in weight if not in allusive meaning.
The third sculptor, Robert Sirota, places his brightly painted metal constructions atop austerely contrasting black metal stands. Although there is cleverness in his metalwork, he tends to be direct to the point of overly obvious in a piece like "Hit and Run Lover," with its yellow thunderbolt placed below three red hearts.
If he's so direct, it's because he has polemical points to score. In "Rehash," which has a pink floral form topped by an ascending military jet, there's no missing the message about flower power vs. military power.
There is more military action in an upstairs gallery, where, following in the Christmas tradition of somber exhibits at School 33, Timothy Nohe has an anti-nuke installation titled "Clavis Pacis: the Key to Peace." He immerses us in his message by placing "restricted area"-type signs and camouflage netting over our heads, while at our feet are directional arrows painted on the institutional brown floor to guide us around the small room. The walls and centered metal cage we walk past are covered with military documents, gas masks, army surplus uniforms, and photographs of missile sites.
Thus does Nohe successfully provoke the viewer to consider how blithely we've allowed missile silos to be built near suburbia, and how obsolete missile-launching sites are sometimes preserved as "patriotic" museums.
Also upstairs is the exhibit "Oil and Dust: New Paintings and Drawings by Keith McCormack." The first painting in this show, an oil on board titled "Cigar Study," isolates that cigar against a darkly lustrous background in such a way that it almost looks like a tubular worm. Sure enough, this exhibit also has paintings like "Maggot Study" and "Ringworms" in which McCormack paints these grubby subjects as if they were surrealistic biomorphic squiggles floating over intensely dark but not quite black backgrounds.
Where the painterly process is concerned, McCormack sure knows what he is doing here. Where the art market is concerned, he doubtless knows and doesn't care that while many of us may admire these paintings, not many of us want worms hanging over the living room sofa.
New sculpture by Brent Crothers, Heidi Lippman and Robert Sirota; new paintings and drawings by Keith McCormack; and an installation by Timothy Nohe remain at the School 33 Art Center, at 1427 Light St., through Jan. 25. Call 396-4641 for details.