Descending the short flight of steps inside the Paseo Originals gallery is currently a bit like transporting to another world, as good and evil battle in a high-stakes game of chess, a master tailor sews wings for angels and a potter places his molded figures into a fiery furnace knowing that only the strong will survive.
As fanciful and surreal as the view of the cosmos depicted in the 29 paintings can be, their origins are almost as fantastic for a fledgling Oklahoma gallery: The exhibit “From Russia with Love: A Retrospective of Fantasy” constitutes the first serious solo show in the United States for respected Russian painter/teacher Pavel Wang Yu Tsai.
“There is a common message of hope and optimism, but typically the work is dark and as far as subject matter, it's variant and really strong,” Gallery Director Tony Morton said of the exhibit.
“His work is incredibly diverse. He's done Western stuff, he's done series that focus specifically on religion, he's done series that focus specifically on iconography. ... Stylewise, they're surreal, but it's not the type of surrealism we see around here.”
While Yu Tsai has shown a few works in group shows — including the prestigious Prix de West at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum — his first U.S. solo exhibit coincides with a growing focus on showcasing international artists at Paseo Originals and neighboring gallery Visions in the Paseo. Both galleries opened in November 2010 with similar progressive ideals.
“One of the things that I want to do through this gallery is to show what art can be,” Morton said.
“The last five years has shown how progressive the arts community has become here and ... the cultural diversity in art that we're seeing here has been expanded significantly. And I want to keep demonstrating that.”
With the exception of its long-running May festival, the Paseo Arts District is known primarily for showcasing the wares of the neighborhood's numerous working artists. But Jennifer Barron, the new executive director of the Paseo Arts Association, said adding international exhibits to the mix can benefit the district's many studios and galleries.
“I think it makes a stronger art community when you have influences coming from inside and from outside. It fosters a sort of exchange of ideas and ... creativity,” Barron said. “It brings a new perspective to the artists who are down here and to visitors who come to the Paseo. It offers something that they don't get to see all the time. I think it just shows how much the district is growing.”
What: Cocktail closing reception for “From Russia with Love: A Retrospective of Fantasy.”
Featuring: Paintings and an appearance by Russian artist Pavel Wang Yu Tsai, plus live music and full bar.
When: 6:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Paseo Originals, 2920 Paseo.
Information: 604-6602 or www.