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West Bloomfield's Janice Charach Gallery, a large space within the Jewish Community Center, continues its strong track record for punchy shows with "Natural/Automatic," a nine-person exhibition running through Feb. 13. 

Curated by painter Mike Ross, this is a show on two floors with both unfamiliar and well-known names that provides a steady parade of surprises, both amusing and on occasion -- as with Betty Brownlee's charmingly macabre portraits of women -- rather disturbing. 

The gallery will host an artists' talk at 1 p.m. Sun., Feb. 9.

In a curator's statement on Facebook, Ross argues all nine artists create intimate worlds that beckon for us to enter. 

"We’re invited directly into the [spaces] these works occupy," Ross wrote, "and interacting with these materials and subjects to a degree that we feel we can live inside these canvases, in this clay, concrete and metal."

Take Peter Bernal's painting "Both Immigrant And Not," a portrait of a young woman with braids in a small raft, accompanied by her Teddy Bear and a totem-like little green guy. Indeed, this study in desperation pulls you right in as its subject looks up at a helicopter -- presumably unfriendly -- hovering overhead. 

Juan Martinez, a sculptor with mischievous talent, created one of the show's standout surprises, his "Bison Pedicab," a contraption about nine feet long with a bison made from hammered aluminum hung on tricycle frame. 

Also well worth a look is Anthony Maughan's portrait of "Juan Martinez" himself, a psychological study of a tousle-haired young man with goatee. And tucked in among the black curls, do we spy two horns sticking out?

Other compelling portraits include one with an interestingly muted color palette, Bowen Kline's "Head in the Clouds," as well as Brownlee's amusingly creepy black-and-white portrait of a girl who's apparently had very bad luck descending a staircase, "Sliding." 

In other sculptures, Lindsay McCosh's "Love" -- a cement likeness of a very pregnant, nude woman -- communicates quiet determination and strength. 

Also trafficking in nudes is curator Ross' "You Can't Step into the Same River Twice," an ethereal, surrealistic study of a young woman surrounded by waves, fish, one lonely eye and pair of large, lush pink lips. 

Like much of this intriguing show, the portrait is kind of a trip -- and as Ross' curatorial notes indicate, one that effortlessly pulls you into its alternate reality. 

mhodges@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

'Natural / Automatic'

Through Feb. 13

Janice Charach Gallery, Jewish Community Center, 6600 W. Maple, W. Bloomfield

Artists' talk: 1 p.m. - Feb. 9

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Thurs; noon-4 p.m. Sun. 

(248) 432-5579

charachgallery.org 

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