Diverse Show Explores the Human Condition Print
Art - Reviews
Written by Johanna Welzenbach-Hilliard   
Tuesday, 05 April 2005 18:00
Cedar Rapids resident Priscilla Steele had entered a pair of drawings into the 29th Annual Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibition competition. She felt that the two figures related well to one another and that, together, they strongly represented her artistic talent. Unfortunately, one of the pieces was rejected, and the other, Figure II, had to stand alone in this juried show that covers a 150-mile radius.

Despite being separated from its partner, her drawing won first prize. This picture, and all other selected entries, can be seen at the Augustana Art Gallery in Centennial Hall through May 1.

Figure II is a nude charcoal drawing of a slender young woman leaning against a wall in a pose of resigned sorrow. She looks as if she has just lost something precious to her, like a loved one, or an ideal that has sustained her until now.

The charcoal drawing is expressive, but what makes it a winning picture is the cascade of rusty brown pastel dripping down the gessoed paper, covering the figure in a curtain of pain. Steele achieved this effect by adding a chemical treatment to the pastel, causing it to run.

The second-place winner was Davenport’s own Corrine Smith for her abstract, mixed-media painting 3D Vocabulary #15. Typical to her style, Smith uses abstract shapes, a pleasingly embossed material, and unusual colors such as pea green contrasted with cool aqua and light sandy brown.

The picture shows a large, black “boulder” balanced on a seesaw. What struck me is that the boulder, seemingly large and heavy, should be on the ground. Instead it is higher than the small red ball on the other side of the seesaw. Smith has managed to defy the laws of gravity.

The juror for this year’s Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibit, Lori E. Mills of the University of New York at Brockport, writes in her juror’s statement that she selected the art based upon how it reflects the human condition. Mills had confided in George J. Schlenker, co-chair for the exhibition committee, that she saw a passion and sadness in Smith’s painting that was similar to the emotions in Steele’s drawing.

Smith was a little surprised when I passed this along to her at the opening reception. She told me that this painting is one in a series in which she explores what her art might look like if she worked in sculpture – hence the “3D” in the title.

My favorite winning picture was awarded the Sally McMillan Watercolor Award. Laundry on Line IV by Andrew P. Bennett of Peoria, Illinois, is a cheerful painting of an inviting yellow house, seen from the back, nestled amongst trees and basking in autumn sunshine. Hanging from a line on a tree are some brightly colored towels.

Lindsey Larsen, a young artist from Dubuque, Iowa, won third prize for her realistic oil painting, Just Another Day I. Here, she has captured the essence of the unremarkable. Larsen has painted a snapshot of contemporary life: three wooden seats in a brick-walled waiting area that could be a bus stop, a train station, or a parking lot. The viewer can see the area is outdoors because of sunlight streaming over a low metal gate onto the cement ground. Although no people are present, the painstaking detail and everyday aspect of this scene draw one into this little corner of humanity.

Four artists were awarded honorable mentions: Thaddeus Erdahl of Waterloo, Iowa, for his comical wood-fired ceramic sculptures I Like Mine Chunky and One Nutty Guy; John Nelson of Quincy, Illinois, for his colorful series of acrylic portraits on linen entitled Kyle; Mariam Graff of Pekin, Illinois, for her enigmatic oil on canvas, Capricorn; and Chris Singewald of Waverly, Iowa, for his three graceful porcelain Shino Jars.

There are many other notable works of art in this 55-piece, beautifully arranged exhibition. Among them is a breathtaking lithograph entitled Niche X that captured my attention straight away.

Created by Richard Finch of Bloomington, Illinois, this still-life arrangement of ceramic vessels and scholarly books opened to pages on art and architecture is set against a backdrop of a geometrically patterned South American cloth. The lithograph is bathed in diffused light with warm, soft colors such as peach, red, and buttery yellow. It’s a kind of “multicultural” depiction of valuable artifacts from ancient and contemporary civilizations.

I also enjoyed the black-and-white Iris print photo Santa Rosa, Jet Stream, by Beth Linn of Peoria, Illinois. Pictured on the right are the bare bones of a building structure (wooden beams across the top, window frames on one side) set into what appears to be a cliff face. To the left is a larger, wooden window frame sticking straight up out of the rock, reaching into the sky where a vapor trail zooms right over it. Much of the photo is in shadow, but light glows above the structure and behind the window.

Back to Basics is a somewhat disturbing monotype portrait by Jim Ochs of Iowa City. The central figure has half its face hidden in deep blue shadow, but the eye is enlarged and hypnotic. The other half of the face is washed out, with the eye veiled and peering out mysteriously. The background is beige and apricot, bringing light to this otherwise dark, but compelling, image.

Clinton, Iowa, native Debora Stewart’s Fallen Leaves might be an overdone subject, but she brings a fresh perspective to it in her pastel collage of pink-, purple-, indigo-, and gold-colored autumn leaves. I don’t know if the pastels she uses are sparkling, or if she has covered the picture with some glittery substance, but the effect is magical.

Also of note is Uncle Art & The World Bank by Yale Factor of DeKalb, Illinois. This bright oil painting has so much to look at, one can get lost in it. Factor has almost perfectly reproduced on canvas an assortment of art tools (pencils, brushes, pens, and crayons), a mouth-watering array of candies, and old model airplanes against a map of the U.S. and a crumpled drawing of our solar system.

Paul Lange of Paul Lange Illustration, Incorporated, designed the exhibition’s smart-looking catalog with excellent resolution in his digital photographs of the winning pieces. Lange’s daughter, Erin, is the youngest artist to be selected for this show. She is in high school.
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