Grammy Award-winning musicologist Art Rosenbaum knows a good thing when he hears it.
Yet in addition to the finely tuned ear with which he earned an award for best historical album in 2008, the University of Georgia professor has such a keen eye that much of what he's seen while making field recordings in the South has resulted in equally evocative portraits.
Several of his canvases rank among the most noteworthy works in "Temporal Distortions: Artists Working in the Contemporary South," which is on view at Williamsburg's Linda Matney Gallery as well as its Art House on City Square.
And it doesn't take long to recognize that this New York native has embraced the people and culture of his adopted homeplace with a passion that makes his paintings distinctive.
In "Stone Mountain Wobblers," strong outlines and vibrant pigments combine to create a trio of young musicians who worship old-time banjo and fiddle music with an iconic, even archetypal flourish.
Behind these animated players hang portraits of two African-American performers and an early bluegrass quartet, underscoring a Southern musical lineage that spans two races and reaches back generations.
"The thing about a lot of art being made in the South is that it has a direction. It has a perspective. It has a distinctive feeling unlike any other place in the country," gallery owner and co-curator Lee Matney says.
"Sometimes it's rooted in tradition — and sometimes it's rooted in change. And many times it has this quirky quality that's hard to think of as coming from any place else."
Made up of 50 works by 27 artists, the show was put together by Matney and co-curator Tyrus Lytton after visits to a dozen studios in search of art "both from and of the South."
What resulted was a collection that reflects the duo's strong connection to Georgia and its influential art centers at the Savannah College of Art and Design and the School of Art at the University of Georgia.
Yet despite that Peach State focus the exhibit is also unexpectedly diverse, ranging across a wide array of traditional and new media as well as both native talents and artists who have come from someplace else.
In addition to Rosenbaum — whose large portraits embrace the culture of the South as his own — the checklist includes Korean-born Hye Yeon Nam, a
In "Hooray!" she combines legions of miniature bowing figures with a puzzling video in which she herself bows over and over again in a near-inscrutable homage to her viewers.
Step up close to her small army of genuflecting drones and you can hear dozens of tiny electrical servomotors kick in as — one after another — they bow and scrape, rise and bow again — in a light-activated knee-jerk response to your every movement.
In the middle of this submissive crowd stands poor Nam, whose own irresistibly reflexive urge to kowtow plays on and on before fading to black.
"As a woman and a Korean immigrant in the United States, I have struggled to adjust to my new culture," she confesses.
Among the show's most curious and arresting attractions is a series of surreal portraits by Atlanta-based painter Kent
In the large-scale "Island," especially, he places his strange, otherworldly-looking subjects in still more eccentric and outlandish worlds that teem with tantalizing narrative symbols and clues. But exactly what his silent, big-eyed sitters are thinking — or what experiences they're going through — are mysteries left to be puzzled out by his viewers.
Ditto for the oddly familiar yet alien realms conjured up by University of Georgia artist Michael Oliveri through wildly magnified visions of creatures drawn from the microscopic world.
Part plant, part animal and part something yet to be defined, these peculiar beings bristle with evocative forms and seemingly endless detail.
Yet like the giant landscapes that also come from this nano-sized domain, they trigger more questions and wonder than answers.
Erickson can be reached at 757-247-4783. Find more stories on the visual arts in
Want to go?
"Temporal Distortions: Artists Working in the Contemporary South"
Where: Linda Matney Gallery, 5435 Richmond Road, Suite A, Williamsburg and the Art House on City Square, 412 N. Boundary St., Williamsburg.
When: Though Nov. 8 at the gallery and the Art House