The Tucson Museum of Art's Arizona Biennial exhibit is a study of contrasts: dark and light, funny and serious, sensitive and ironic. It showcases the range of art being produced in the state today. • This year's show features 44 of Arizona's top artists, chosen by Tim Rodgers, chief curator of the New Mexico Museum of Art. • For the viewer, the show provides a chance not only to examine the art, but also to react to it. • We feature 12 local artists who have works in the show. You can see the works at the Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. There is no admission charge on the first Sunday of each month, including today.

These artists' work is not the art they set out to do in the beginning of their careers. • Jeejung Kim is a ceramic sculptor who has discovered video. • Chase Cotter was going into law enforcement with art as a pastime. • Carrie Seid's formal training was in textiles, but for 20 years she has worked in mixed media. • The point here: Artists' work, like that of other professions — music, science, even farming — constantly changes. • We present these artists as some to follow in the coming years as their work evolves. • Then you can say with us, "We knew them when . . ."

Chase Cotter

Back story: Fell into art school by accident in his home state of New York. He was planning a career in criminal justice, but the required classes were full, so he took an art class as an elective.

His day job is in social services with La Frontera.

He never went back to Plan A.

His art: "Color Play" is about 30 inches square and features brightly colored small squares.

The squares are in a random pattern, but the colors are chosen with great care. Groups of the squares may repeat certain colors, then morph into subtle shapes defined by the colors themselves.

At least that's one person's perception. You may see something else. Which is exactly what Cotter wants.

Andrea Jensen

Back story: A second-year graduate student in the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts. She wants to teach at the secondary level or in college.

Her art: "Body Fat" jangles the senses because the title doesn't appear to have anything to do with Jensen's semi-abstract painting of a group of trees.

"I was thinking about those times in our lives when we're uncomfortable with ourselves and psychologically go to other places" to find escape.

It's nature versus culture in her mind, and "I want the viewers to come up with their own explanation about how those two things interact."

Michael Nolan

Back story: On the faculty of the Art Center Design College and has taught as an adjunct at Pima Community College and the UA.

Received a master of fine arts degree from the UA in 2006.

His art: Feel free to laugh at "Self Portrait With Subtle Yet Intoxicating Emotions." That was Nolan's intent.

He's intrigued by the way subtle changes in a person's stance or glance can project different emotions or personality.

Nolan tries to tell the story of one moment with his painting.

"Every time you make a mark, it can change" the story. "You're trying to communicate the scene to the audience."

Judy Miller

Back story: Holds a master of fine arts degree in photography and a master's degree in print making.

Until five years ago, she was doing photo illustrations for the commercial world. But when digital photography became more sophisticated, it opened new options for Miller. She became "a born-again photographer."

Her art: "Outtake No. 14: Lucy 2" is a combination of two images — one a Madame Tussauds wax figure of Lucy (Lucille Ball) mixing something in a large bowl and the other of the pantry in the Ringling Mansion in Sarasota, Fla.

Her images, diverse and seemingly unrelated, create a new reality — sometimes surreal, sometimes abstract — that present a narrative, a story, to the viewer.

"I'm creating my own diorama and my own scene," Miller explained. "That's why I call it an outtake; it's the scene that didn't get into the movie."

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Carrie Seid

Back story: Has been with the UA for the past five years. She is a professor of practice and teaches sculpture at the UA College of Fine Arts.

Her art: The sculpture she does is not confined to the traditional wood, clay, stone or bronze. She uses everything from wood to metal to fabric and natural light to create the effect she wants.

"Full Scale," her Biennial piece, was created from a wooden box form with copper structures added to it. Then the whole was covered with red silk — stretched tautly.

Next, Seid oiled the silk, turning it translucent so that light can filter through, creating a look that is luminous, ethereal and evocative.

Evocative of what? Ah, that's for the viewer to decide.

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Shannon Smith

Back story: Received a bachelor of fine arts degree from Northern Kentucky and a master's degree from the UA. She teaches photography at St. Gregory College Preparatory School.

Her art: "Drawing Session" is part of her series "Doing It Domestic."

Think of the series as a photographic version of the late Erma Bombeck's stories about her family, and you'll better understand Smith's efforts.

"Drawing Session" was taken in the family's kitchen — all in order except that the children are drawing on the cabinets.

Each photo is planned to tell a particular story, and each item in the photo — although truly part of the scene — is positioned or repositioned to achieve the compositional effect Smith wants.

Dale Zinkowski

Back story: Has been painting for 16 years. Received his B.A. from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and served an apprenticeship in portrait painting with John Murray, a former professor.

He helps sustain his love of art with a night job — tending bar at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar.

His art: This work is untitled because it is one in a series — all following the same theme — the artist is working on.

Zinkowski is playing off his love for a traditional art style, that of the Old Masters. But there's a modern twist — skulls.

His goal is to capture the attention of two groups: those who love old-master artists and those who don't.

He wants the former to see his painting from a distance and register what they think they see. He hopes the latter will be drawn to the modern element — the skulls, in this case.

"My effort is to break down biases, to cause people to think about something in a new way."

Gwyneth Scally

Back story: Did undergraduate work at James Madison University and earned her master's degree at the UA.

A 10-year Tucsonan, she supports herself through the sale of her artwork. She has done some teaching and has received several artist residency grants.

Her art: Scally combined elements of sculpture and painting to make an environmental point with "The Museum of Dying Giants."

She fashioned a white faux fur fabric into a tent. Inside is a dense pine forest the viewer must look through to the back of the tent. There can be seen icebergs, painted on Duralar, a transparent acetate alternative.

The idea for the piece came from time she spent as an artist in residence in Newfoundland. The icebergs, seemingly mythical, were breaking up.

"If you go to a natural history museum, you see dioramas of the natural world," a staged set of the way the natural world once was.

This, then, is her diorama of the natural world that is.

Dave Sayre

Back story: Graduated in art education from the UA and has been teaching art to elementary school students at Drachman Primary Magnet School.

This school year he will teach art at Cholla Magnet High School.

His art: Don't get too caught up in the title of his Biennial piece — "Recollections of the Last Green Whale."

"It doesn't really tie in too closely (to the painting) because I think the viewer should decide what the art means."

The painting shows a spaceman lying in bed, covered up and still connected to his tether. It's isolation — he's all alone.

You could say that the painting shows how the artist stepped back in time: It is a conscious effort on his part to recapture the spontaneous creativity children have.

For children, art is a way to express on paper what's in their heads.

Kids do that all the time, he said, "but it's a little tougher for adults. You may not be able to get back to it completely, but sometimes you can recapture that."

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Jeejung Kim

Back story: Holds two master's degrees in ceramic sculpture — one from Ewha Women's University in South Korea and a second awarded her in May by the UA.

A year ago, however, she took a video class, discovered film and has been working in that ever since.

Her art: "Every Word, Is a Bullet, Is a Pearl" is a 4-minute, 20-second video that expresses the artist's belief that words can wound not only others, but also those who use them.

It shows a black tongue with saliva falling from it into water. The water is contaminated.

Meanwhile, there is the repeating sound of a gun being loaded. More saliva drops, more contamination. The sound gets louder and faster.

Then the saliva morphs into a pearl from a silver tongue. It doesn't contaminate the water, and there is no more gun-loading.

"If you only see the world through a negative lens, the things you see and hear will contaminate your inside world and color the way you see things.

"But if you change your perspective, then even the bullets can be pearls."

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David Elliott

Back story: Holds a degree in psychology from Michigan State University.

He moved to Tucson in 1981 and owned Cafe Magritte from 1987 to 1992. After that, he owned a photography shop for five years before moving to New York City.

He returned to Tucson in 2005 and works in development with the Primavera Foundation.

Elliott began photography as a child. His dad had a darkroom in the basement: "darkroom on one side, my mother's pickles on the other."

His art: With "Trix," the artist has taken an easily recognizable subject (cereal) and turned it into something befuddling.

He scanned the cereal at 3,600 dpi — about 10 times higher resolution than that used for a slick magazine image — making the little Trix balls look like planets with craters and boulders.

Just what Elliott intended.

"I like to do pictures that have a visual hook that draws the viewer into the art," he explained.

"People see it and get all excited. As they get closer and closer" and recognition hits, "they react: 'Oh, my God! Is this what I was eating?' "

Martina Shenal

Back story: Earned a degree in photography and cinema at Ohio State. She has taught full time for the past 10 years and is an assistant professor in photography at the UA. She also is the assistant director of the School of Art.

Her art: "There There" uses film, scanner and digital technology to create a tryptych, a three-paneled piece. It is a narrative constructed from three disparate images.

The far right panel of the piece is mixed media fused together with a scanner. There are cone-shaped figures sculpted from perforated paper and placed against silk-screened fabric.

The far left panel shows a reflection of a beam of light hitting a metal object, while the small center panel is a photo of the top of a mattress.

And what is the narrative?

"That's the big mystery. I'm basically asking the viewer to come to some rhyme or reason for these three things to be together."

Some Biennial works to be auctioned

Collecting art can be a good investment — aesthetically and financially.

But it also can be very expensive, unless you are fortunate enough to find the art you love before the artist becomes really famous.

Tucson Museum of Art will be auctioning some of the works now on display in its Arizona Biennial 2009 exhibit.

Arizona Biennial, considered the longest-running juried biennial in Arizona, continues through Sept. 26.

On that date, at 4:30 p.m., "It's a Wrap!" — a party celebrating the completion of the Biennial along with live and silent auctions — will be held in the TMA lobby, 140 N. Main Ave.

Eighty art pieces, including 30 selected Biennial pieces, will be auctioned. It's a chance for art collectors — or those looking to begin a collection — to acquire pieces from artists gaining in importance.

The 44 artists featured in the exhibit were chosen from 411 who submitted entries.

Tickets are $25 per person and are available by calling 624-2333, Ext. 111.

Contact reporter Rosalie Robles Crowe at or 573-4105.