The company of men

Frogs once flooded the space where Space now sits.

And even today, a similar air of chaotic abundance fills the downtown-Waynesville gallery.

Operated by 20-somethings Stephen and Tanya Savage, Space dwells on Depot Street in historic Frog Level — named for the Richland Creek-dwellers prone to infesting the area following heavy rains.

The Savages’ Space is actually parceled into three: The first-encountered retail area boasts items that wouldn’t be out of place on the trendy E! TV decorating show Shabby Chic — coat racks mounted on ornate, tin, ceiling-tile pieces, for instance, plus some good painted furniture. There’s also a selection of ceramics, jewelry and fiber designs.

Meanwhile, a curtained-off backspace provides storage and a studio for the shop’s owners, both artists.

But Space’s center section is reserved exclusively for gallery showings. And that small room is currently inundated with the company of men.

Raleigh-based artist James McDonough, his work based on photographs from the early 20th century, is particularly intrigued by the interactions of male groups. Several large paintings in his New Works exhibit present men in both formal and less-structured surroundings.

The athletic bunch in “Basketball Team 1906” stand in a line, identically posed, hands folded across their chests, heads tilted toward the camera. The painting succeeds through its repetition of the lines, shapes and colors of the men’s bodies and uniforms, a pattern abruptly broken by the red basketball in one player’s hands.

At the end of the line is a distinctly separate man. Presumably the coach, he wears a slightly rumpled, double-breasted, navy-colored suit. His white shirt is stark, and his red tie echoes in its loudness the bright ball.

McDonough likes to paint with an eye toward faith, history and sexuality, he’s said. And indeed, a touch of erotic tension rises from “Basketball Team 1906,” where some of its men stand so close their bodies touch.

Several of New Works’ small collages directly address issues of religion — the oil-on-board “Green Sleeper,” for one, has a decidedly spiritual feel.

Here, the man of the moment lies on a lavender-sheeted bed. He’s fully dressed in old-fashioned attire — pleated trousers, big suspenders, a white shirt with sleeves cuffed at the wrist. His face is seen only in profile, his features sharp in the manner of 1920s movie actors, while a slightly bilious-yellow color informs the background of the piece.

But “Green Sleeper” is not sweetly asleep, he’s exhausted — the painting exudes a depression much larger than its own physical size.

McDonough’s show, despite its obvious vintage appeal, is more than mere documentation — its elements of intrigue and mystery allude to all people, and all times.

One other small work draws particular attention to itself, painted on a dressmaker’s instruction sheet.

McDonough gives us, this time, a woman — she’s sporting short, curly, red hair, and a red shorts-set. The young subject lies on her back, her legs waving in the air. She offers a big, drawn-from-a-photograph smile.

The painting’s background, though, is dominated by the “natural” world — where a diagonal line of bright-yellow birds rises over a lavender volcano.

James McDonough’s New Works shows through Thursday, Dec. 4 at Space (254 Depot St., in Waynesville; 828/456-4652). Gallery hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

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