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Elusive Details Help Blend Reality and Fantasy PDF Print E-mail
Art - Reviews
Written by Johanna Welzenbach-Hilliard   
Tuesday, 07 June 2005 18:00
Jon Stuckenschneider’s silver gelatin prints are tranquil, almost hypnotic to gaze upon. They show the blur between fantasy and reality. In his print entitled Cedar River the trees are indistinct and hazy, while the sky and water have a grainy texture. I became absorbed trying to pick out details in this picture in which the photographer uses a technique meant to erase them. Corn Fields gives the impression that a dust storm is whipping across the fields, disguising the house and trees in the background with a fine, gritty cloak of dirt.

Stuckenschneider’s black and white photography can be seen, along with the ceramics and sculptures of Kevin Schnell, at the MidCoast Gallery West in the District of Rock Island until June 30. This show is worth taking a look at because both artists’ prices are reasonable, and much of their work would look great on display in one’s home or office.

Stuckenschneider chooses to photograph everyday scenes and natural objects he has come across during his travels. He gives meaning to an abandoned farmhouse by framing the debris of fallen rafters and the scrubby bushes growing up around it. The viewer gets drawn into the photo (entitled Abandoned Farmhouse) seeking, yet again, more details, such as the caved-in porch and the side door, slightly ajar.

I have always preferred black-and-white photography to color because it is more dramatic. Even the most mundane subject looks important in this medium. Stuckenschneider achieves this high drama in many of his silver gelatin prints – especially when he frames the rural landscape through a window in Open Window, or focuses on a chipped and peeling door with a new shovel leaning against it in Peterson Mansion.

I particularly enjoyed his photo of a buffalo skull attached by barbed wire to a fence post. It is simply entitled Rural Iowa – a good snapshot of farming humor. In Halo, either the photographer or the farmer has added a crown of barbed wire to the skull, giving it the world-weary, resigned look of a martyr.

Stuckenschneider’s oceanside photos are a good contrast to the stark theatricality of his rural photos. In Solitaire a lone rowboat lies on the beach near an old wooden pier. A boathouse, more or less in focus, sits to the right, and the sea is softly blurred in the background. His cactus series is prettier than his other photos – showing the beauty of nature’s designs and patterns in his close-ups of agave and aloe plants.

In his artist statement, Stuckenschneider writes that he uses “mirrors or double exposures, transparencies, and layering of rice paper…drawing the viewer in, making them search.” I read the statement after I looked at his show. Based upon my reaction to his work, I’d say he achieved his goal of drawing me in.

Ceramicist and sculptor Kevin Schnell’s rakuware is deceptively good – deceptive because it looks rough and ready in his vase entitled Turmoil in Texture, when actually he has taken great pains to bring about coarseness. Schnell has pulled and pinched the steely gray clay so that it sticks out in chaotic peaks. Rather than be a vessel’s exterior, the surface could be that of a choppy black ocean, or inexpertly tilled soil.

I really liked Schnell’s rakuware lidded jars, which are more traditional-looking with sensuous curves and smooth surfaces. Pressure in Permanence and Youth Extraction each has a lovely, almost accidental tortoise-shell design in the glaze. The former is black and gray; the latter is a burnt red with brown.

Schnell uses found objects, both natural (bone, seed pods, rocks) and man-made (a bent railway tie, a small clay tablet) to decorate the lids. These raku pieces are truly functional art. They are useful but unusual-looking vessels that add a nice touch to interior décor.

An accomplished ceramicist, Schnell produces pieces with flair and originality in his duo entitled Luxury & False Identity – two stoneware urns of a ridged design, topped with women’s wigs, one blond and the other brunette. They look sort of ghastly, but funny.

I didn’t care for his sculptures, however. The Medium & the Messenger is big and boxy, constructed from a scooped out log with a chunky cast aluminum “head” perched on one end. Schnell has also incorporated plastic tubes, an iron rod, large hinges, and steel wool into the composition. Not only is it hard to describe, but I also don’t feel that the disparate objects flow or come together into a natural form. Instead of creating art, it just looks like he put several different scraps together.

The pieces Birth Extraction Rebirth and Birth & Rebirth have a better composition than The Medium & the Messenger. In the former two works, Schnell manages to combine the separate elements into one object. Yet they still didn’t thrill me. Made of cast aluminum and ash, they each resemble half a cone (split lengthwise) lying on its side with the circular top and base still intact, while the inside is laid open for us to examine – like a dissection.

I don’t judge a book by its cover, or a work of art by its title, but I assumed that because Schnell went to the trouble of naming his pieces, the objects might have some connection to their titles. Taking a cue from the artist I attempted to interpret his works in this manner, but to no avail.

Birth & Rebirth has a pleasing corrugated surface broken up, here and there, with small round plates embellished by small bones or handles – interesting but enigmatic. Birth Extraction Rebirth was even less inspirational to me. The interior has what could be a crucifix made from large bolts and a wrench. I could see how the crucifix is symbolic for rebirth, but I wasn’t sure where the “birth” and “extraction” came into the picture. Simply put, Schnell should fine-tune his sculpture before his next show.
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