Once again, MidCoast Fine Arts Gallery in one show marries two artists whose styles and subject matter complement one another. Paul Algueseva is a sculptor whose prime passion appears to be the figure, while Peter Tong Xiao is a painter who uses the figure in every composition in the show. Both artists seem to have complimentary emotional responses to the human form. Algueseva's style is more realistic to surrealistic, and Xiao's is more cubist to abstract. Each artist has mastered his medium, for one can detect no trace of limits being imposed by paint or bronze in their compositions.

Now living in Washington, Iowa, and working at the Max-Cast Art Foundry in Kalona, Algueseva is originally from Texas. He attended the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts in San Antonio, Texas, during high school and studied clay modeling at the Southwest Craft Center with Chilean artist Luiz Guzman.

"I hope to convey empathy, solitude in every existence, and the awareness of higher spirituality," he writes. "Sometimes I believe my work is masculine romantic to raw exhilaration of whimsical proportions."

His sculpture style reminds me of pieces from the Republic of Rome (not the Imperial era) with its exacting nature to portray every wart and zit that existed when the subject was sitting for a portrait. Algueseva has much more emotion in his posing of subjects but also feels the need to show the rolls of fat if they're present. Frankly, I like it. There is no sense hiding the truth behind a stylized image. In his Portrait of Irene, the subject's hair looks stringy, and you can see the skin stretched between her breasts. Her nose might be a bit large and pointed, but you can tell that the portrait was done with affection for the subject.

Some of the images are surreal, like Empty Nest, which shows the beak of a bird-like creature that could have come straight out of Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal. The bird's body is skeletal with highly articulated joints; it's almost as if the bird has a bad case of arthritis. Even so, I really like this work, because it shows raw emotion and a very good handling of clay, mold-making, casting, and finishing. The artist is truly the master of the medium.

Born in Beijing, Peter Tong Xiao came to the United States in 1980 and graduated from Coe College in Cedar Rapids with majors in fine arts and English literature. He went on to Tyler School of Art at Temple University for a Master of Fine Arts in painting. From 1987 to 1989, Xiao taught life drawing part-time while employed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He frequently exhibited his work in Philadelphia and was represented by Dolan/Maxwell Gallery in Philadelphia and New York. In 1989, he joined the art faculty at Augustana College.

"My work has always involved the figure," Xiao writes. "Narrative meanings were intended years ago. ... In the recent decade, narrative impulses have dwindled more, leaving in their wake human presence and situations less specific. ... I wish to integrate painting and drawing, to allow spontaneity rule over order, to be free when possible from any fixed, rational way of working."

Eleven of the works in this show use, in some way, the theme of The Painting Party. There are nine variations having the same title with only a number to distinguish them, and two works titled Beyond the Party. The original work, The Painting Party, centers a figure in an outline form rendered in a pastel-colored pointillistic style, with a fluid linear-shaped figure in maroon and blue flanked by all sorts of figures in the background and foreground. The composition meets Xiao's criteria that spontaneity rules over order. I don't know if the actual inspiration for this work was the painting of a room, but if it was, I'd hate to see the room. The party people appear to be having an excellent time; the fun and chaos of a party have been captured in this work.

The variations on the original painting all abstract the figures using a consistent theme. Painting Party, No. 5 uses a posterized shading with beige striped areas, green striped areas, and light-blue solid areas. Painting Party, No. 6 uses swirling gray forms with flashes of color highlighting body parts. Painting Party, No. 9 takes the gray swirling forms from No. 6 and combines them with the patterns used in No. 5 to come up with a synthesis.

There is no question that Xiao's work is less gridlike and structured than it was several years ago. There is more freedom and spontaneity. This is an excellent show that is well worth your time to go and see. The bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River make an excellent setting to view these emotional and distinctive art works inside the MidCoast Fine Arts Gallery.

Through November 30, the MidCoast Fine Arts Gallery at the Iowa Welcome Center by Interstate 80 and the Mississippi River near LeClaire, Iowa, presents a two-person show of sculptures by Paul Algueseva III and paintings by Peter Tong Xiao. Xiao has 13 works in this show ranging in price from $90 to $1,930, with most of them around $375. Algueseva has 24 sculptures in this show ranging in price from $450 to $3,500, with several in the $500 to $900 range.

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