Hampton painter Christi Harris is nothing if not an artist who knows how to get the most out of unpromising subject matter.
Driven by her interest in domestic artifacts and her diabetic family's inexplicable appetite for seductively decorated pastry, the Christopher Newport University professor began painting cake like no one else a decade ago, creating images so convincing they not only sparked double-takes but sometimes made your mouth water.
Now she's back with a new series of deliciously painted works, three of which are attracting a lot of admiration in this year's edition of "Artists Who Teach," a juried show that runs through April 7 at Hampton's Charles H. Taylor Arts Center.
Harris' canvases — one of which earned an Honorable Mention — are far from the only attractions in this dependably rewarding annual exhibit, which features numerous photographs of note, some stand-out prints and an eye-catching paper kimono among the more than 100 works selected by retired Old Dominion University photography professor David E. Johnson.
But they still rank among the most conspicuous images in a strong group of paintings that — like the first-place full-length portrait created by Blue Skies Gallery instructor Tisha Rose — pursue relatively traditional artistic approaches with such resourcefulness that the results seem anything but stale or worn-out.
Monumental in size and ambitious in design, Harris' original multi-media likenesses from a few years back borrowed from the disciplines of still-life, landscape, sculpture and upholstery to create larger-than-life 3-dimensional facsimiles of the baker's art.
With such titles as "Dots and Swirls," "Purple Swirls" and "Festooned Hearts," these frosted boxes were marvelously mischievous performers, imitating the ribbons of real icing on which they were based with such eye-fooling persuasiveness that you could be forgiven for licking your lips. They also mixed the painterly art of gesture with robust color and near-abstract geometric form, resulting in vividly re-imagined passages of pigment that looked as much like geological formations or 3-D calligraphy as lusciously applied icing.
Harris' newest works are still more tempting and direct, focusing intently on larger-than-life expanses of sculpted frosting as if they were the subjects of landscape or still-life paintings.
Laid down on rich, sugary-colored backgrounds, her interwoven streams of round piping and fluted or flat ribbon twist and scroll through space as if they were capable of movement, giving these "baker's doodles" a remarkable inner life of their own.
As demanding, disciplined and time-consuming as the making of such artful garlands and squiggles might appear, however, a few determined bites could obliterate all that deliciousness in a second.
You wouldn't be alone, in fact, if you thought you smelled an illusory whiff of butter and sugar while contemplating these unexpected emblems of a sweet but short life.
Norfolk artist Janice Gay Maker conjures up some strong sensory magic, too, in a simple but compelling winter scene titled "More Snow on the Way."
The talented arts center instructor combines choppy broken brushwork with a keen feel for color in her study of an irregular path beaten down through the snow, suggesting the uneven and unsure footing encountered by unseen travelers as they made their way across a wintry field.
That makes her painting much more than another eye-catching exercise in the management of color. It has a definite physical as well as existential edge — and it uses both to enrich and deepen the meaning behind all that beautiful yet also forbidding snow.
Don't miss College of William and Mary Assistant Professor Brian Kelley's richly painted if strangely compressed and enigmatic self-portrait, either. Though one of the most traditional subjects in the show, it's also one of the most compelling.
Ditto for "Near Grandview," a landscape by center manager and instructor James Warwick Jones.
Even if you've visited this coastal nature preserve a thousand times, you haven't seen the rhythms of its wild salt-marsh shrubs until you've studied his evocative picture.
Erickson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 757-247-4783. Find him at dailypress.com/entertainment/arts and Facebook.com/dpentertainment.
Want to go?
"Artists Who Teach Juried Exhibition 2013"
Where: Charles H. Taylor Arts Center, 4205 Victoria Blvd., Hampton
When: Through April 7
Info: 757-727-1490; http://www.hamptonarts.net
Online: Go to dailypress.com/artistswhoteach to see a gallery of images from the show.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times