Answer Only With Your Eyes
    Terry Durst at Arts Collinwood

          “My heart may break tomorrow, but I’ll be all smiles tonight.” Strands of wiry
    music, barbed with emotional truth, seemed to unspool through the air, winding
    around Terry Durst’s weathered looking assemblage works at the opening of his
    show “The Carter Excavations.” The scratchy late 1920’s recording playing in the
    gallery reproduced highlights from the repertoire of country music’s original “first
    family,” the Carters: Alvin, Sara, and Maybelle. Songs like “The Poor Orphan Child”
    and lighter, winsome classics like “Chewing Gum” kept Durst company in the studio
    as he puzzled together layers of paint and wall paper, fabric and furring strips,
    making hybrid objects that are neither literal reminiscence nor simple abstraction,
    but a gritty mix of material and character, dancing to the background noise of
    Terry Durst has always managed to keep things real, producing psychologically
    powerful paintings and sculptures that also explore shifting formal and thematic
    concerns. Since his 1987 graduation from Kent State University Durst’s strong
    sense of personal integrity and commitment to social issues has found expression
    in materials ranging from modular plastic forms to whole, home baked cakes; even
    Fruitloops ™ (he used the cereal in one show to create colorful, crunchy portraits
    of political figures on a gallery floor) have found a place in his sometimes tongue-in-
    cheek visual/conceptual vocabulary. The current exhibit returns to what are
    probably Durst’s most recognizable, and most private preoccupations, using
    fragments pried loose from the slow erosions of domestic life, measuring ratios of
    beauty and injury. Occasionally, with “Horseshoe Man,” for instance, which uses a
    Mr. Peanut figurine dug up in his back yard, the results are downright haunted, as if
    he were building way stations for ghosts. Several others use pieces of old walls and
    floors, painstakingly rebuilt and re-painted to look as if they’re even older and more
    beat-up then they are. “Blue Sky,” which spells out the words of its title in flowing
    vintage cursive, is an unusually specific memory piece here, conjuring Durst’s
    childhood experience of the Blue Sky Drive-in Theater in Wadsworth, Ohio, where
    he grew up. Part of the piece’s blue layering is made from kitchen linoleum, saved
    from a house where he lived, much later, on Cleveland’s West Side.
    But most of Durst’s excavations dig into the allusive structures of the unconscious
    mind, where a swathe of linen or a well-placed crease or stain can evoke a lifetime
    of intimacy, or the pain of long deprivation. Some are even a bit like imaginary
    friends. The Carters are all represented: “Alvin” sports a small hole that looks like it
    could have been made by a bullet, while “Sara” has a decorative, antimacassar-like
    fussiness, and the partly obscured pattern of circles in “Maybelle” scoots along like
    a capo up the neck of a guitar.  
    Sara sings, “Are you tired of me my darling? Answer only with your eyes.” In his new
    work Durst finds silent ways to sing about life’s long, hopeful sadness.
douglas max utter