Quad City Arts Exhibit Brings Together Classic Styles Print
Art - Reviews
Tuesday, 19 October 2004 18:00
Classic figure studies and traditional pottery grace the showroom at the Quad City Arts gallery in downtown Rock Island, and John Beckelman’s pottery displayed with Priscilla Steele’s drawings represent a return to style, shapes, and techniques that existed long before bits and bytes created the digital era. The show of these two Cedar Rapids-based artists runs through November 5.

Patricia Steele makes large drawings, and her style is lifelike and sculptural. She emphasizes the planar structure of the organism that she renders using line and shading, washes, and texture. Her life drawings are all sepia-toned with areas of line and almost a watercolor-type textured layering of auburn coloration.

“I like drawing almost as big as I am,” she writes in her artist statement. “My large-scale pieces, observed directly from life, demand an absolute energy and engagement with both the subject and materials. … In every drawing, I hope to create a variety of marks that record the range of my thought and emotion as I explore the organic structure and tension that permeates any living thing … .”

She has one drawing of a flower, Lilly, in which you can feel the substance of the flower as she renders each petal’s shape undulating to an opening for the stamen and pistil. She renders the thickness of the flower’s petal as carefully as the outline of its shape, which gives one the sculptural feeling of the flower.

Her drawings show such a feel for the sculptural texture of the objects that it would be interesting to see Steele try expressing her vision using clay or another three-dimensional sculptural medium. Three-dimensional works might be closer to her internal vision.

While Steele works in figure drawing, John Beckelman uses a simple, almost primal, style. In his artist’s statement, he says of his art and craft: “The work in this show consists of clay vessels which are thrown on the potter’s wheel, then further manipulated off the wheel and finally fired in a residual salt-vapor reduction atmosphere. ... These vessels are intended to evoke a sense of timelessness, stability, and ease. Their forms and surfaces are inspired by early Neolithic storage vessels, and their scale is an effort to induce a feeling of quiet presence.”

The shapes are just as he intends – elemental, basic, and clearly what they are supposed to be. For example, a piece titled Wide Low Bowl is, in fact, a wide low bowl. The salt-reduction process brings out earth tones upon a rough surface for the pottery that underscores the “back to the earth” or “back to one’s roots” feeling.

It is clear that Beckelman loves his medium. He says, “I find that it’s the elemental character and expressive potential of clay which continues to intrigue me.” The rough unfinished forms complement the rough textures of the glazes in a piece such as Small Bottle, which is (surprisingly enough) a small bottle. The bottle has an irregular form with a crusty black glaze, giving it an artifact-from-antiquity look. Even though it is rough and irregular, it has an elemental appeal that his love of clay imparts.

This engaging show doesn’t emphasize the number of works but rather focuses on their quality. The work of both artists is complementary, as they illustrate the elemental nature of the Earth and world around us.