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|IT'S GOOD TO BE KING
Elvis-themed art at L Ross Gallery
August 04, 2015 / Commercial Appeal
It's easy to parody Elvis Presley and his life and career, just as it's easy to caricature any mega-famous and legendary figure. Out-size beings always attract out-size and often
complicated responses, from King Arthur to the King of Rock and Roll to Donald Trump, the Man Who Would Be King.
What's so satisfying, then, about the annual Elvis exhibition at L Ross Gallery, this year titled “It's Good to Be the King” – certainly a relative judgment considering the singer's fate –
is that as wildly diverse as the 27 pieces are, their primary theme is respect, whether dealing with Presley's clothes, his birthplace, his music or his general aura. That aspect seems
fitting, since the exhibition is displayed simultaneously with the annual “Elvis Week” that culminates in the candlelight vigil, one of the most solemn occasions in the city's calendar.
There will be an opening reception on Friday, Aug. 7, from 6 to 9; the show will be on view through August 29.
The main gallery is dominated by several large pieces that include Megan Hurdle's “Blue Suede Shoes,” which treats those iconic items as the sacred objects they deserve to be;
Matthew Hasty's “Red, Hot and Blue,” a realistic depiction of Dewey Phillips’ radio broadcasting studio, a sort of ground-zero of local rock music; and Emil Orth's shaped acrylic on
wood “Blue Do,” offering Elvis' pompadour hair style as an almost extraterrestrial wonder. If visitors to the gallery walk all the way to the back and make a sharp left turn, they'll see
another large painting, Richard Harper's “Two Tourists,” an exuberant narrative that compresses much of the history and materiality of Memphis and Downtown and the music
business onto one crowded plane.
But all the works in this exhibition are not epic in scale, and indeed many are even more gratifying for their intimate scope and message. See especially Jeni Stallings' two little
encaustic pieces, “Priscilla and Elvis Cake” and the really tiny “Tupelo II.” How tiny? Six-by-six inches, and never did a king's humble birthplace loom so large. Take a look, also, at
“Elvis – The Tupelo Years,” a tender and touching ink and watercolor tribute to the singer's boyhood by Michael Caplanis, a wizard of drawing and nuanced (and frequently
Stallings and Caplanis are longtime members of the L Ross Gallery stable, but a new artist to me in this show is Pat McRee, whose deft touch in her playful and witty mixed media on
canvas works is refreshing and exhilarating. Filled with references to 1950s and ’60s pop culture and gently surreal, these four pieces brought a lift to my day.
And while an exhibition is not a contest, my top prize would go – as it would have done in last year's edition of this exhibition – to Kurt Meer, whose 12-by-12-inch oil portrait of Elvis,
all in tones of black, white and gray, captures what was thoughtful, hesitant and shadowed about the singer's self-regard. Called “Can't Help Falling,” it transforms biography into a