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Review: Leax at Slein shows vast range

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 25, 2009 - "Ronald Leax: Flatworks" at the Philip Slein Gallery gives viewers a chance to see a vast range of drawings by the redoubtable Washington University sculpture professor.

In typical Leax fashion, these "drawings" are much more than drawings, and most of them aren't very flat. They're mixed media works that carry on Leax's fascination with biological and ecological processes of growth and decay, and the institutional frameworks within which they are studied.

Leax deploys the actual tools of the trade in these works to great effect: glass specimen slides, biomedical plotting sheets, and collaged bits from medical catalogs and illustrations add an eerie authenticity to his "experiments," which mostly involve bloody looking stains and layers of suffocating shellac.

Some of his drawing suites, including "Florence Experiment" (2004), "Paris Experiment" (2006), and "St. Louis Drawings" (2007), contain embossed seals and faux medals, symbols of legitimacy from some fictitious scientific establishment.

Several of the works are resplendent in their use of burnished gold, suggesting that processes of alchemy are never too far removed from practices of modern science.

The sheer number of works on view here, and their chronological range (the works date from the late 1970s to 2008), hint at an obsessive artistic nature; the control with which Leax executes them indicates that, like any good scientist, he has the obsession in check.

Ivy Cooper is a professor of art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.