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An Outsider’s Perspective: Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibition, through April 29 at Augustana College PDF Print E-mail
Art - Reviews
Wednesday, 04 April 2007 02:31

Reader issue #627 Each year, our regional artists have the opportunity to showcase their work in the premier juried art exhibit in the Quad Cities area: the annual Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibition in the Centennial Hall gallery at Augustana College. Area artists know that this is an important show not only for the regional recognition and the respect of fellow artists, but also for their résumés and possible sales.

This is a rare opportunity to open ourselves to an outside "expert" - chosen each year by Sherry Mauer (the director of the art gallery) - who looks at the artistic output of our community and passes judgment on it. This year's juror was the multimedia artist Sharon Rosenzweig, a former professor at the Chicago Art Institute. What she has chosen for the exhibit is a fine selection from the submitted art of our area.

I agreed with her assessment in the show's brochure that our area is "teeming with talent." She also said in a personal interview that our area's art is grounded in strong technical competence, deep humanity, and personal artistic vision, free of the irony of the East Coast and artistic fashions of the West. This year, 67 pieces made the final cut out of 304 submissions from 160 artists.


The Winners

Rosenzweig picked 10 prizes: the traditional top three, the Sally MacMillan Watercolor award, the Zeival Harris 3D award, the William Napier Drawing award, and several honorable mentions. Two more honors - the People's Choice and the Children's Choice awards - will be determined by voting during the length of the exhibit (which runs through April 29) in the pleasant gallery of Centennial Hall, the concert building of Augustana.

The top prize of $1,000 went to Wendy Rolfe of Monmouth, Iowa, for her hauntingly beautiful oil triptych on curved panels called Lady Bird of the Tsunami. Her work shows an experienced and smooth handling of luminous darks, waves with drowned hands and mysterious figures emerging from the overwhelming waters, and the unexpected additions of little fish and shells all over the image. Bright neon turquoise gleams between the panels. The piece glows strongly and quietly, drawing the viewer in to see a message of loss and healing through the play of images and the soothing colors. Small metal cut-out hands join together at the top across the waters, signifying help.

Second place and $500 went to Tim Olson of Dubuque, Iowa, for his etching and monoprint Self Portrait with a Toothbrush. Dark etched lines outline his dispassionate face and hands crossing over his chest. Brisk black-and-white tones, created by wiping a soft tarlatan cloth over the plate, produce moving lights, shadows, and meaning. With the same tonal gestures, the dramatic mood of the background fills his features - both worlds reflecting the other. The piece speaks of the outer world affecting and inspiriting the inner world of the artist. We can't protect ourselves from these forces, not even with a toothbrush as a weapon.

Third place and $300 went to the delightful assemblage Family Mausoleum by Kathy Mitchell of Iowa City. Made on a Plexiglas and wood structure and covered in metal, this rewarding piece - about a foot square and 10 inches tall - is a kind of Day of the Dead takeoff. Under a poled canopy tent, decorated with little skulls and stars of David, we first see four chairs, ornamented with the shoes and nameplates of each member of an unknown and invisible family. Further underneath, on a full table, are the familiar identifying objects of each person before his or her chair: a computer, art supplies, books, angels, the many particular passions and interests of each person, and lots of little surprises, such as the family dog waiting for a handout. It takes a slow read to fully appreciate the charms of this object. It can be seen as either a memorial to a deeply known and lost family or the future mausoleum of the present one.

The Sally MacMillan Watercolor prize went to Rosalie Waranius Vass, of Batavia, Illinois, for "Will They Hang Your Work in a Museum?" This zingy watercolor shows a museum wall filled top to bottom with pictures of different genres - a village scene, a nude in an interior with a cat, angels, and two snow people. To the left of the piece she writes of the fear that her work may be hung too high or too low, or in a dark corner, and questions who will see it - all the typical anxieties of an artist in any show. Her technique is loose and iridescent, but she seems to like it that way.

Bruce Walters of Davenport won the Napier Drawing Award for his mysterious black-and-white graphite called Winter. Well-known in the area for his excellent drawing skills, here in a printmakerly way of definite tonal layers he shows a tall scene of well-delineated leafless trees fading back to grays in the overcast atmosphere. In the foreground, a young woman, draped in a classical gown, holds a lily. What first appears to be a traditional cemetery statue seems to be stepping carefully toward us over the gravestones, becoming a hope for spring and rebirth in her moving.

The $500 3D award went to Tami Schmidt of East Moline for her terrific Wild Life Management, a large sculptural ceramic piece, covered in textures. A bareheaded woman in an orange dress rides a long-tailed, open-mouthed, fully-teethed alligator, who, with references to creation myths, sits on a large turtle beneath him. The concentrating woman holds a small metal chain attached to a leather hook around the snout of a large snake, who curls behind her. The woman seems barely in control of the trio, who all remain together and somehow maintain their equilibriums. The artist harnesses and directs the forces of primal nature, riding them as a rider on a horse, but to where, and to what purpose? The piece asks the question: Who is in control of creation, and where does it come from - the natural energies, the artist, or both together?

Les Bell of Davenport won an honorable mention with his dense narrative There Are No Dumb Animals, a layered painting of a vulnerable young woman turning away from a red donkey in a tropical setting of multiple coherent spaces. There are visual signs helping the viewer read the picture: stenciled turtles for us to slow down and look, a graffiti thrust of lightning energy to wake us up, six red markers to measure our way, and many overlaid images of simultaneous meaning. Bell's handling of paint is excellent, as well as his ability to describe the figure in a few strokes.

Another honorable mention went to Tom Foley of Galesburg, Illinois, for his assemblage of 16 photographs of the traditional peace sign, in smoke-splashed black and white, called Pax 4 x 4. Like a flag of repeated and insistent symbols, these multiple images float and fade in and out of focus, seemingly drawn or painted on the negative, and then photographed. The effect is both hypnotic and calming.

A lovely, tall, smiling sterling-silver container with a long-armed handle called Tilting Container 1, by Satomi Kawai of Iowa City, also won an honorable mention. Its beautiful form is contrasted perfectly with a small purple plastic squeeze toy for a head. The combination of serenity, elegance, and humor is delightful and surprising.


The Process

I have been through the jurying process for the Augustana show dozens of times. The ordeal begins in mid-December, when we all receive the call for entries in the mail and begin thinking about which works to submit - hopefully something good that has never been shown before. I often ask my friends to help choose, because they have a more objective view of my work than I. Then it's time to record the pieces on either a slide or in digital format - a good reproduction is essential - and send it off to reach Augustana by the end of the month; a day late is too late. There, the submissions are organized and shipped off to the judge, who views them without names attached.

A few agonizing weeks later, the self-addressed acceptance/rejection envelope comes in the mail. I always rip it open to find my verdict. If you make it through this very high hurdle, there is a short time to frame and deliver - you always want to deliver - for the next stage: the live judging, which occurs over a few days at the college. Then there is that second painful waiting for the card in the mail. Slide acceptance does not mean you're in the show, only that the judge wants to see your piece in person, to see how it looks beyond the slide. Your work can be rejected at this time. Mine has been.

By mid-March, when I'm wondering if I've chosen the right piece, or if my art is any good at all, I sometimes receive the little notice in the mail that my work is finally accepted, and if I'm lucky two pieces have made the cut. Any artist feels honored and relieved. And if I receive that phone call a week before the exhibit opens, saying I've won a prize - they never say which one - it's one of the greatest feelings on Earth. All the work seems worthwhile then, like getting accepted to a prestigious college or landing the perfect job.

Some artists submit what they think the juror will like. In my own experience in judging art shows, I enter into another world, where personal tastes diminish and appreciation opens to all forms and styles. My eyes rely on my knowledge of art-making techniques and the images from art history. I respond to the work that sings without technical dissonance, or shines without unknowing mistakes in perspective or color, or reaches out and grabs me with a strong personal vision of the artist. Sometimes the art chooses me.


Other Noteworthy Entries

Beyond the winners, there are dozens of pieces worth enjoying in this exhibit. Among them are:

• Mary Clausen's thickly painted and moody two-note samba collage with deep red-on-black Sgraffito lines illuminating musical notes and words;

• Another great personal abstraction by Corrine Smith of strong colors, circles, and loose geometric forms with papered textures;

• Two strong, moody, figural water photographs from his series on the Hennepin Canal by Rick Lodmell;

• A large, powerful, colorful profile face with strings of experience making knots by Kathleen Van Hyfte;

• Two elegant and beautiful botanical watercolor paintings by George Olson;

• A bicycle photograph on a bicycle frame by Jack Wilhoit;

• Joshua Crampton's photo of a man looking out his window to an ocean with the memory of snow and sky overlaid on the wall;

• A fresh autobiographical painting by Heidi Hernandez;

• Another fabulous wood vessel by Steve Sinner;

• A bright, colorful, and hopeful digital collage of a boat on shore water with flowers and floating hearts by Zaiga Thorson;

• A terrific silver gelatin print by John Deason;

• An excellent multiple-view quantum landscape by Lisa Higby Lefevre;

• A delightful stream of consciousness of patterned white lines on black acrylic by Trish DeHeer; and

• Jackie Olson's wonderful color-enhanced monoprint.

This excellent annual show at Augustana is always a delight. Few realize the amount of work that occurs behind the scenes by the Rock Island Art Guild, which organizes and produces this event, to finally arrive at the opening.

And, similarly, few of us realize the amount of work, talent, and passion that goes on quietly in homes and studios every day all over our area to create this art.


The Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibition is open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through April 29. The show is closed April 6 through 9. Centennial Hall is located at Seventh Avenue and 38th Street in Rock Island.

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