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Araluce displays miniature ‘psychological narratives’ at Sanibel gallery

By Staff | Mar 11, 2009

Those who subscribe to the theory that “good things come in small packages” may very well become big fans of artist Rick Araluce.

The Seattle-based craftsman has spent almost two decades focusing his efforts on creating miniature three-dimensional masterpieces – tiny, self-contained environments – which evoke their own narratives.

“There’s a suggestion of something that might happen… or may have just happened, but that is subject to each individual’s interpretation,” said Araluce, who also works as a set constructor for the Seattle Opera. “It’s a little bit voyeuristic. It’s realism without reality.”

Even a casual observer of Araluce’s work would quickly discover that his art is much more than simply dollhouse miniatures placed into a mysterious, almost riddle-like setting. His hand-carved sculptures are meticulously rendered to scale, in some cases several times smaller than “traditional” miniature furnishings and scenery.

“When I was a kid and worked with plastic models, I was always very sensitive to scale,” he explained. “Everything I made had to be done to the right proportion. The realism is the most important element.”

Beginning in the early 1990’s, Araluce – who until that time was considered a burgeoning painter – started making what he calls “little environments.” His initial effort, which contained a bird skeleton, sold almost immediately to musician and film composer Danny Elfman.

“I thought, ‘This is too fun!'” he recalled. “I loved painting, but in painting it’s hard to create three-dimensions realistically. There are inherent difficulties that I grew tired of. I’d rather be manipulating my art with my own hands.”

Araluce began to build his resume with his miniatures, which pay a great amount of attention even to the smallest details, including period-accurate renderings of light fixtures and furniture. His subjects range from long, uncluttered rooms and hallways, doors and windows – sometimes weathered and worn, sometimes ajar and inviting – appliances, chairs and the sort.

Each piece is intentionally Lilliputian; the smallest piece at the current show measures a mere inch-and-a-half squared. In order to view each work of art, Araluce invites his artworks’ admirers to get as close up as possible, peering from both above and below, from the left and from the right.

“My intention is to create a mystery between what is seen and what isn’t seen,” said the artist, whose largest work is about the size of a shoebox. “That makes peering into that space more of a challenge. It’s realism without reality.”

“There’s a tension created by not revealing too much,” said Maureen Watson, who unveiled the “Little Gems” exhibit at Watson MacRae Gallery on Tuesday evening. “The viewer can decide for themselves and make their own narrative from what they see. His extreme craftsmanship of it brings us into the piece, but we have to fill in the rest of the story.”

Araluce, who like most artists doesn’t play favorites with his pieces, does enjoy replicating as much mystery into each work as possible, offering only the hint of a theme and engaging viewers to interpret what they see individually. In the future, he hopes to incorporate both sound and movement into his art, called by some as “psychological narratives.”

“I see it as a new challenge,” Araluce said of adding sound to future pieces. “Perhaps there will be this set of doors with sounds you can hear coming through the keyholes. Behind one door, you can hear and old man shuffling around. Behind the other, you can hear a couple arguing. Ten you’ll have to decide what happens next.”

The “Little Gems” exhibition will run through April 11.

Watson MacRae Gallery is located at 2340 Periwinkle Way #B3 in The Village Shops on Sanibel. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Their phone number is 472-3386.