One of the standout artists at the most recent Wisconsin Triennial, held last fall at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, was Amy Ruffo.
Ruffo, who lives and works in Sheboygan, uses pencil and ink to create abstract drawings that capture landscapes and engage the eye - at least my eye - in an irresistible way.
To some people, and seen from afar, the drawings may seem like little more than doodles.
Not to me.
I find they possess a rare elegance in both the lines and the balanced use of white space that I don't often see in other contemporary abstract work. Her work exudes the thrill of disciplined repetition and absence.
Now we get a bigger sampling of this art.
A show of Ruffo's small-scale and large-scale works opened Tuesday in the James Watrous Gallery, run by theWisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letterson the third floor of the Overture Center.
Ruffo is one-half of another side-by-side show, a popular comparative series, that features the metal sculpture of UW professor and metalsmith Kim Cridler , who examines the usefulness of everyday objects as well as the beauty they can attain through decoration.
This two-fer show is entitled "Verge," and admission is free and open to the public.
There will be a free public opening reception with gallery talks by artists on Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Watrous Gallery. The gallery talks will start at 6:30. The show runs through Feb. 24.
The show's press release notes that Ruffo's drawings echo the sprawling landscape of Nebraska's Great Plains, where she grew up.
"The artist utilizes vast areas of untouched paper, suggesting blank endless skies above the horizon," it says. "Each line Ruffo draws is a carefully considered mark, each finished piece composed of infinite details and patterns that produce a terrain of texture and depth."
I have to agree, and add: Ruffo's drawings seem to project a force field that keeps you looking and looking. Hers may well be the most appealing and original minimalist art that is local or regional that I have seen in a long time. I don't know if Ruffo has local gallery representation, but she should. And her work deserves to be seen in bigger, much bigger markets. Like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Cridler's work is also engaging and provides a terrific complement to Ruffo's insofar as it runs in the other direction, away from two-dimensional minimalism and a black-and-white monochromatic tonality.
According to the same press release, "Cridler's sculptures examine the utility of everyday objects as well as the beauty that can be imbued through decoration. The sculptures are often recognizable forms such as vases or other vessels, formed from metal like elaborate 3-D line drawings.
"Cridler incorporates grids and repeated structural elements that suggest stability and the utilitarian aspects of the objects. The artist pairs these structural components with pattern and ornamentation, hinting at emotional and sensual meanings that are an important part of our relationship to domestic objects.
"Cridler's sculptures use scale to prompt viewers to consider these objects in a different fashion: the oversized vessels indicate that they are more than simply functional vases, and instead become icons of the domestic life they represent."
Cridler also explores function and ornament.
She says in a prepared statement: "Deeply influenced by the power of things, and the memory of physical use that both destroys and completes them, I make stripped down interpretations of domestic objects that become free to speak of the emotional, cultural, and historical climates in which these objects participate."
This mesmerizing show of two- and three-dimensional art bodes well for what promises to be a spring of memorable visual art shows. It's a very good place to start your looking.