Art Review Archives:
by Ivy Sundell
No artist's work goes straight to a museum wall. It takes a working community to bring art to fruition. Gallery owners roll the dice, take the risks of exhibiting artists they find of interest, and whose work they think will sell. Some of it is good; some of it is not-so-good; all of it is necessary to the vitality of the art scene, and to the next generation of art. It also requires a community interested in the art, one in the habit of getting around to see it, and even, of making the purchases that are the supportive patronage of artists and galleries. And for the community to be interested in the art -- it needs to be aware.
Enter Living Artists, third in a series of books by Ivy Sundell of Crow Woods Publishing, and continuing the trend established by her two prior art books, The Chicago Art Scene (1998) and Art Scene, Chicago 2000 (2000) of representing the vitality of Chicago's current art scene in print. Living Artists presents fifty-nine artists exhibiting in and around Chicago and in Illinois. Informative, well-laid-out, and packed to the brim with large full-color reproductions of each artist's work, it is a book that's hard to put down, filled with an elementary fascination: art as it is being made, right in the here and now.
Artist's insights, biographical data, a thumbnail photo of the artist (good for recognizing him or her at gallery openings) and yes, art, lots of art -- Living Artists presents it in a well-balanced blend. Each artist receives a two-page spread. Each two-page spread includes two, at times three, large graphics of the artist's works, accompanied by one or two short sentences reflecting the artist's voice, usually speaking directly of the particular images in the book, at times referring to their work as a whole. The artist's bio, set off in blue print, includes detail on universities and schools, degrees held, residencies, teaching status, and a brief overview of exhibition history and current gallery representation. It's a very readable layout, easy to comprehend and navigate, the size and format setting the art off to good advantage.
The fifty-nine artists (two of them are actually two-person artist-pairs) present a sampling contained enough to be a satisfactory experience, yet filled with a diverse representation of art being made. This isn't just "art school" art, aping the trends current in academia. Living Artists presents a wide survey of current endeavors, artistic style and perspective. Over 260 applicants submitted their work to be considered for the book. The selection from this pool was the work of three jurors: Chicago-based art critic, John Brunetti; Associate Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Dominic Molon; and Marianne Richter, curator at the Union League Club of Chicago since 1995. Three varying viewpoints: the end result of their sifting is an offering balanced, and exceedingly lively, with abstraction, figurative art, and a variety of non-traditional media all represented.
From fractal mathematics to ethnic identity to concepts of time, the artists featured draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources; their expressiveness is as pleasurable as it is varied. Fifty-nine artists -- one can select only a representative few as examples of the delights to be found.
Maureen O. Bardusk's richly-colored abstractions evoke the sea, as moody shifting presence or an ecological wealth of marine life. Sea View (sheer paper, painted, multiple layers stitched free motion with machine, embroidered by hand: 21 x 40 in., 4 panels: 2002) presents four panels, an iconography of moods and weather as explored in expressive watercolor-like renderings of sea and sky. A deep ultramarine dominates, lightened by merled clouds or a red strip of sunrise. The sewing-machine stitching in the third panel gives visual hint of what seems to be a non-visible atmospheric phenomenon: biting winds, perhaps, or the sharp coldness of a winter's day. In Lagoon (sheer paper, painted, multiple layers stitched free motion with machine, embroidered by hand: 18 x 18 in.: 2002) horizontal elements offer a peaceful organic disorder. Loopy lines suggest the varicolored ruffles of kelp beds, while the shifting colors of blue, greens, and brackish yellow-brown give a sense of the sway of the sea, with a bit of Paul Klee playfulness in the shapes and colors. Overlaid on this a network of straight black lines imposes an uneven grid, with intersections emphasized by bright and un-sealike hashmarks of red -- not so much a human presence as a suggestion of general cartography.
Cynthia Hellyer Heinz's two featured works focus on themes of maturity and sensuality. Her medium, colored pencil on black paper, is rendered with the richness of oil painting, and brings a deep luminosity to these closely-observed figurative works. Edible Coercion Ritual of Decorative Birth (colored pencil on black paper: 16 x 20 in.: 2003) is a metaphoric exploration of maturity's 'birth' into older age, the wrinkled feet, "held in the birthing position", metamorphosizing into winglike, animalian jawbones, bare, dry and toothy. Hot Mama II, Breathless Fruits of Living (colored pencil on black paper: 22 x 15 in.: 2003) presents a grandmotherly figure, deeply, sensually absorbed in the pleasure of a handful of ripe strawberries, a compelling image of a beauty far removed from our youth-driven society. The details of the wrinkled face and the well-worn hands with their blunt, spatulate fingernails are sensitively rendered, and the many textures so accurately evoked heighten the velvety strength of the image.
The contemporary wood sculpture of Barbara Cooper draws on scientific sources, nature, chaos, fractals, patterns -- the dynamics of plants and stones, the orderly disorder celebrated by authors such as James Gleick and Eliot Porter in their book Nature's Chaos (Little, Brown: October 2001), or Theodor Schwenk's Sensitive Chaos: The Creation of Flowing Forms in Water and Air (Rudolf Steiner Press: 1990). Cooper's sculpture Surge (wood and glue: 21h x 24w x 66d in.: 2002) spills out from, or across, a central arc. The sides uplift, restricting and guiding the flow and pushing the main force of movement from back to front, where the many colliding streams or filaments press out and forward. In an artistic process analogous to the natural forces that form the inspiration for her work, Cooper builds up her sculptures using glue and thin strips of wood laminate. The motion inherent in Surge suggests the pliability of the wood used in its construction, as well as the metapatterns of lava flow, glacial movement, running water and tree growth all alluded to in the artist's statement accompanying the image. Cooper's other featured work is a charcoal drawing, Processes of Change: Agitate (charcoal on paper: 60 x 120 in.: 2003), of which the artist notes, "Constructing a drawing parallels the process of building a sculpture, but without the complications of gravity and the specifics of sculpture." In Processes of Change the mobile forms curvet and loop with the balance of randomness and order that implies, as in nature, some overriding, governing force.
A variety of 'non-traditional' media ensure that the contemporary edge is also represented. Examples include artists working in synthetic hair or crocheted fiberglass, and several installation works. Nikkole Huss's "threaded installations" are one example, created of monofilament suspended before color-field walls -- here, deep blue or yellow-green. A third, entitled Phenomena Perceived (monofilament: 30h x 40w x 2d in.: 2003) trails across the floor like a delicately sprawled fisherman's net. Huss's statement notes the inspiration of capturing "innate imperfections", but the dominant perception is the graceful visual intrigue of the many entwined strands.
Superb color reproductions bring out the warmth, depth and detail of the various works, which open up wholeheartedly from the page, free of a welter of verbal detail. These are large pages, 10-1/4 x 12-1/4 inches, and the graphics are sized correspondingly, generous in dimension, holding attention and given weight and presence. The two-page spread focuses attention on a single artist at a time, allowing their work to be contemplated without competition from other imagery. One can fall into them, dwell on them; the large graphics fill the page with visual command.
The artists' statements discuss the illustrated works, a simple one or two sentences each. Keeping the statements to a minimum is a major departure from Sundell's prior books, and an effective one. Art is a pre-verbal experience; too much 'talking about' the art can interfere by introducing an overflow of ideas. Art Scene Chicago 2000 and its predecessor prefaced each artist with several paragraphs of artistic statement in small print; the unintentional result was to put attention on the artist's words, rather than their work. Living Artists effectively shifts that balance back to the art itself. Yet the statements are welcome. To have the artist speak in their own voice informs and connects with the reader, an intimacy enhancing appreciation of the art. Some lend surprising twists to how one perceives the work; others are straightforward explanations by the artist of the intent and pleasure of why they do the art they do; some express the simple delight of the artist's eye. By telling a little about the work they give a reference point or insight into the artist's intent -- something to 'push against' in having a response, something to agree with, or disagree with, or simply a point of reference to begin one's enjoyment.
For Sundell, Living Artists is meant as an opening-up of the dialogue between the individual, and the artist. Speaking at her book signing at Barnes & Noble, Old Orchard, she noted, "The book is about living visual artists who can be commissioned for work -- you can be a part, you can get acquainted with them, you can follow them. It's much more interesting than being passive. The book celebrates living artists as someone you can see and talk to, as opposed to someone dead who you probably can't afford." Sundell's comment, delivered with a smile, holds truth: the things we see on museum walls -- the canonical names of the art world, published in treatises on art history and known to the public -- are like cut flowers, preserved for all time, but part of art's history, its past. The living forefront of the art world is a zone of new awareness, growth and change. Attention and participation are crucial ingredients for the maturation of new artists. The artist's directory at the back of Living Artists complements that directive, underscoring these individuals as living, accessible persons by providing contact information including email addresses, phone numbers, web sites, and details on gallery representation. Artists appreciate sincere attention, and will generally add interested parties to their mailing or e-mailing lists on request, or welcome visitors into their studio by prearranged appointment.
Living Artists works on many levels: a lasting reference, as opposed to the necessarily changing, shifting gallery scene; a guide to get individuals interested in the art going on all around them; a middle ground, mediating between artist and audience, promoting the growth of reputations, assisting in their exposure. It gives access to the art at the same time it serves as reference to the art, bringing these sincere artistic offerings to a much wider public, galleries included. Galleries are the real engines of the art world, and books such as this, free of agendas and the 'publish or perish' dictum of academic fancy and its oft-sterile trends, provide a sincere resource for their reference. The widespread presence of the Internet has, furthermore, made art more than ever a global affair. Sundell has noted that having 'Chicago' in the title of her prior art books, though accurately expressing their origin, also relegated them to the 'Local Interest' section of many booksellers, rather than placement in the more apt 'Arts'. Hence the naming of this latest work, Living Artists, expressive not only of her directive in bringing alive, aware art to the community, but that though the work itself may be being made or exhibited in the Chicago metropolitan area, the attention it deserves transcends such boundaries: there are no limitations on the interest in good art.
New in Living Artists is a "3D" section featuring ten images from the book, digitally manipulated to be viewed with a set of the familiar red-and-blue-lensed glasses (included with the book on a perforated tear-off stub at the back). The manipulated image, technically termed an 'anaglyph', is featured on the right-hand page; a regular non-3D image of the same work appears on the left for comparison. The analgyphs were rendered digitally by photographer Gerald Hoos, who specializes in graphic design using the 3D effect. The 3D imagery separates elements of the work into different planes of depth, elements floating freely in varying relation to one another. The success of this effect varies. Katherine Grossfeld's painting Chameleon (oil on panel: 18 x 19 in: 2003) is one of the more elaborate in receiving the 3D impression: the longer one looks, the more one sees details of the illusion, such as the freestanding depth of the yellow ball in the center or the gleaming, translucent shadow floating beneath the little marble at the right. Aside from being a bit of fun, though, the appeal of the 3D section seems to lie more in its novelty than in a real addition to the experience of the art -- perhaps because the 3D illusion competes with the easel artist's own traditional sleight of hand, which is to create the impression of depth and three-dimensional form using colored paints on what is, in reality, a perfectly flat surface. But the 3D section is inoffensive, and it certainly doesn't detract from Living Artist as a whole. It's a fun, harmless spark of a selling point, and if a touch of novelty gets a few more people to pick up the book and open the way for art's own appeal to stimulate a real and lasting interest, then it fulfills its function.
It's good to see Crow Woods Publishing continuing in their coverage of Chicago art -- equally good to see the third book retain, even surpass, the vitality and interest of the previous two. This is the art of today; we are in the midst of our own 'Pollocks' and 'Picassos'; but attention to these artists is necessary for their development. Blockbuster exhibitions may receive hype and press, but it's books such as Living Artists that nurture the real next generation of art. Not simply a 'directory' of exhibiting artists, Living Artists is a pleasure, a living document of the most current offerings. This is fertile ground. Fifty-nine artists, 152 pages, over 160 full-color images. Perhaps the best summation is from Sundell's own preface: Enjoy!
Living Artists's playful cover is a composite of the many faces and personalities of the artists featured. The artists of Living Artists are Maureen Bardusk, Barlow, Curtis Bartone, Christine Basick, Geoffrey Bent, Scott Bullock, Trine Bumiller, Ben Butler, CarianaCarianne, Paul Chidester, Grace Cole, Julie Comnick, Antonia Contro, Barbara Cooper, Chris Cosnowski, Sean Culver, Rachel Davis, Sandra Dawson, Melanie Deal, Brian Dettmer, Bob Emser, Beatrice Fisher, Katherine Grossfeld, Susan Hall, Cynthia Hellyer Heinz, Mary Henderson, Nancy Hild, Nikkole Huss, Igor & Marina, Gregory Jacobsen, Beverly Kedzior, Laura Kina, Kathleen King, Niki Kriese, Roland Kulla, Rena Leinberger, Sydney Licht, Shona Macdonald, Renee McGinnis, Nancy Mladenoff, Mr. Imagination, Sandra Perlow, Deborah Pieritz, Eric Semelroth, Vanessa Smith, Yvette Kaiser Smith, Doug Smithenry, Natasha Spencer, Jozef Sumichrast, Bruno Surdo, Jill Sutton, Atsushi Tameda, Charlie Thorne, Treewhispers (Pamela Paulsrud and Marilyn Sward), Beth Weisgerber, Eric Wert, Ann Wiens, Dann Witczak, and Chad Wooters.
Editorial Note: Exhibitions related to the books The Chicago Art Scene (1998) and Art Scene, Chicago 2000 (2000) were also reviewed by ArtScope.net. The Chicago Art Scene was reviewed as part of the February 1999 exhibition at Belloc Lowndes Fine Art, http://www.artscope.net/VAREVIEWS/ChiArtSc0299.shtml, featuring 68 artists from the book. Art Scene, Chicago 2000 was reviewed in the February 2001 exhibition at the Fine Arts Building Gallery, http://www.artscope.net/VAREVIEWS/FineArtsBldg0201-I.shtml, featuring seven artists from the book.
Related Events: A variety of events and book signings have been scheduled in conjunction with the release of Living Artists. Upcoming events include The Living Artists Exhibition, featuring 30 artists published in the book Living Artists. The Living Artists Exhibition will be featured at Chicago's Fine Arts Building Gallery (http://www.fabgallery.com) June 2-30, 2005, with the exhibition opening and book signing on June 3, 2005, 5-8pm. Artists will be present at the opening. On June 23, also at the Fine Arts Building Gallery, Art Resources in Teaching (ART) will be holding their fundraising event at the Fine Arts Building Gallery; a Living Artists book signing and book-related activities will be part of the event. In November 2005, a panel discussion will be held at the Evanston Public Library featuring Living Artists juror John Brunetti as one of the panelists.
Further events and book signings are to be scheduled; ArtScope.net will announce dates and times as information becomes available. Refer to the above paragraph and/or the Announcements section on the home page, www.artscope.net, updated regularly. Crow Woods Publishing's web site, http://www.crowwoods.com, also includes events and links to web sites of artists featured in the book.
Living Artists, and other books mentioned in www.artscope.net reviews, may be purchased through this site's Amazon.com link or by clicking on the links above. The Chicago Art Scene and Art Scene, Chicago 2000 are also available. Living Artists is also available in hardcover.