'Halloween Flight'

It is with a laugh that Bruce Walters says, "There's no lightness in me."

Walters, a professor of art at Western Illinois University, was at Quad City Arts discussing Halloween Flight, an imposing collection comprising five distinct bodies of work employing autumnal motifs: a story of drawings from which the exhibit draws its name; selections from his Changelings series of drawings of masked people; a pair of lenticular prints (which create the illusion of motion based on the viewer's changing perspective); 15-foot-tall banner paintings under the title Sentries; and the Vultus projected video of 100 mask photographs.

His next project? A series based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Walters might claim that he's obsessed with the dark imagery associated with Halloween - with its origins in the change of seasons from summer to fall, the ancient belief that spirits could enter the world of the living during this transitional period, and fall celebrations of the dead.

'Changelings'

Yet one only needs to look at the variety of themes invoked in the work to see that Walters is more interested in exploring the fullness of the holiday than one particular aspect of it, and that it's not all darkness. The Halloween Flight story is simple, nostalgic, and quaint - Walters called it "idyllic" - using a child's vocabulary of motifs (a black cat, the moon, a graveyard, a ghost, trick-or-treaters) in evocative, lovingly detailed drawings. At the other end of the spectrum is Vultus, quietly sinister in its sequence of stark, high-contrast photos of masks, disturbing in both its vividness and inscrutable blankness. (In addition to being shown inside Quad City Arts for this exhibit - which runs through November 19 - Vultus will be projected outdoors at the Figge, Quad City Arts, and three other locations over the next few weeks.)

Kathleen Wall

On Wednesday, September 15, and Thursday, September 16, Augustana College will host five of the Native American artists represented in the Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection, which through October 30 is on display at the Augusta College Art Museum.

"Never before have we brought in five major visual artists at one time," promotional materials for the events state. "The convocation will be an unusual interactive experience - not a lecture you sit for - as groups tour around to see each artist in action. We haven't ever tried an event like this one, and it promises some memorable experiences, including a grand drum and dance finale."

The events are:

Panel Discussion with Artists Represented in the Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection

Wednesday, September 15, 7:30 p.m., Larson Hall, followed by reception in the Augustana College Art Museum

Participating artists will be: D. Y. Begay, Navajo weaver; Robert Tenorio, Santo Domingo potter; Kathleen Wall, Jemez figurative potter; Richard Zane Smith, Wyandot potter; and Sally Black, Navajo basket maker.

First Connections: An Arts Festival with Artists Demonstrating their Work

Thursday, September 16, 10:30 a.m. to noon, Centennial Hall Convocation

All five artists will participate, along with Navajo basket maker Agnes Gray. The Brown Otter Singers Song & Dance Group (Meskwaki) will provide a finale for this event in Centennial Hall at 11:30 a.m.

A press release for the exhibit follows.

Quinn McGrath-Fitzgerald and her Aunt BeanLocal artist Heidi M. Sallows is the director of the 7ly Design Studio in Rock Island, and when she describes her venue's forthcoming The Mermaid Show as "not so much a show as an experience," you should know that she's speaking literally: If you so desire, the artworks on display will include you.

"My niece was part of what started the idea burbling in my mind," says Sallows of the event's origins. "Because last year I face-painted at a birthday party, and I painted her up like a ... . Well, I was trying to do a really cute zombie, but it was green, and it turned out looking more like a mermaid. And I was like, 'Oh, that's an interesting idea ... !'"

Mark Schwalm-Bell at Indigo Body Art GallerySome people would never walk into a tattoo shop. Others would never walk into an art gallery.

Mark Schwalm-Bell wants to draw both groups to Indigo Body Art Gallery, located just off the Centennial Bridge at 717 West Third Street in Davenport.

Schwalm-Bell argues that most tattoo businesses scare off a lot of people, and it's evident walking in to Indigo that its atmosphere is in direct opposition to the stereotypical tattoo parlor; the studio, which opened February 15, is tastefully appointed and offers plenty of breathing room in its 1,100 square feet.

The owner/tattoo artist said he wanted to create the vibe of "a comfortable coffeehouse, a spoken-word coffeehouse. I wanted it to be a little more urban, a little more bohemian, a little more educated, a little more art-centric ... ." The narrow but deep Indigo space is an excellent starting point, with a brick eastern wall and a high ceiling in a building that's nearly 120 years old.

But it's the "art-centric" aspect that really distinguishes Indigo from other tattoo studios: Its walls showcase paintings divorced from traditional tattoo style or subject matter. Indigo currently features the work of three artists, including St. Ambrose University student Meghan Hollister and Iowa City resident Jason "Ja" Strating. Schwalm-Bell charges artists neither commission nor wall rent.

"Our vision for the studio is that we want to have two separate but complementary lines of business ... : a fully functioning art gallery as well as a traditional body-art studio ... ," Schwalm-Bell said. "We want to try to distance ourselves from the traditional body-art community ... ."

Schwalm-Bell speaks too broadly and absolutely in denigrating tattoo-studio culture, and he can occasionally come off as boastful. (He claims that hospitals and dentists' offices "are less stringent about things [sterilization] than I am.") But there's no denying that Indigo is a departure from the norm.

Schwalm-Bell doesn't expect much crossover business; he doubts many tattoo customers will buy art, or that many art patrons will get inked. But he said he hopes that as "a rather unique crossing point between art and body art," Indigo will be a comfortable place for people leery of body-art studios or art galleries. He also called his business "a completely different spin on the second-oldest profession in the world." ("Any time they find a mummy with skin on it, it has tattoos," Schwalm-Bell noted. Tattoos have been found on a mummy more than 5,000 years old.)

Indigo features a bookcase with movies, including the expected zombie flicks but also movies appropriate for children, and most curious readers will find some book that piques their interest. (How many other tattoo studios have a copy of Little Women?)

Indigo also has a vintage card catalog from the University of Iowa. Schwalm-Bell anticipates that the piece will one day sit in his wife's office. "In the meantime," he said, "it's where I hide candy for my wife and for kids." Yes, Schwalm-Bell sees Indigo as a place where a parent can bring the kids while getting tattooed or pierced.

Works by Jesse Golfis

He has been tattooing for seven years, but it was not a career choice approved by his family, particularly his mother. He said he first wanted tattoos because of his Great Uncle Bob - a 20-year Navy man with three tattoos on each arm. "I just always thought they were the coolest things in the world," Schwalm-Bell said. "I knew I wanted to get a tattoo when I was four or five years old; I used to talk about it all the time."

That was no different from kids wanting to be a firefighter or a professional football player, but Schwalm-Bell said that his dream stuck with him: "I knew I wanted to be heavily tattooed from the time I was in high school."

But there was community pressure against it to go with the family opposition. He recalled that in 1991, the captain of his school's cheer squad got a tattoo, which spurred a discussion in his English class. "It was this whole scandalous thing," he said. Each student was asked what tattoo he or she would get, and Schwalm-Bell said he wanted sleeves. The school guidance counselor called his parents.

"Needless to say, when I turned 18, I didn't run out and get a tattoo," Schwalm-Bell said. But when he was a 22-year-old senior at Luther College, he got the tattoo he'd wanted since age six: the Incredible Hulk on his shoulder. "That went over really, really, really poorly at my house," he said.

It's taken a long time for his mother to come around, but Schwalm-Bell said she's now proud of him. And he argued that tattoos aren't much different from haircuts: "These are all ways that we change ourselves ... . Tattoos are a slightly more colorful and more permanent means to that end."

For more information on Indigo Body Art Gallery (including a tattoo portfolio), visit IndigoBodyArtGallery.com.

Work by Jason Strating

Corrine Smith

The tree jumps out. And the buildings. And the still life.

In the new show of 26 works by mixed-media artist Corrine Smith, these mundane objects are nearly shocking. Smith, who teaches design at Augustana College, said she encourages her students to think of shape for shape's sake, color for color's sake, and texture for texture's sake. "I'm very much a formalist in that way," she said last week. "Composition is a stickler for me."

Her painting for the past three decades has followed those rules with abstract, sophisticated treatments of the most basic rectangular and round forms. ("I don't think that I have exhausted those shapes yet," she said. "I'm not the least bit tired of them at all.")

So even though much of the work in the new show (which runs through April at MidCoast Gallery West in downtown Rock Island) fits comfortably in her pure-design aesthetic, something approaching representative painting -- in her Shelter series and in the tabletop still life The Blue Olive -- appears to represent a radical shift. Shelter #9 is clearly meant as a pair of buildings and a tree.

"That's all really new to me," she said of this transition.

'Shelter #9'

Shelter Series #14 is not as easily identifiable, and Smith said the "buildings" can also be seen as two people. The tree is missing its crown. "I suppose I didn't put the little green top on there because it kind of freaked me out that I made a tree," she said.

Peter Xiao, 'Guardians of State.' Click for a larger version.The centerpiece of the current two-person exhibit at Quad City Arts is a collection of four paintings recalling Peter Xiao's childhood in China.

From an artistic perspective, Xiao is rendering people more conventionally in terms of both figure and color, said Les Bell, the other artist in the show. In the past, he said, Xiao worked in a "cubistic" space, bending figures and objects and colors to meet the formal needs of the piece.

Bell called Xiao's use of color in these new works "smoldering," and said: "It's a much more complex level of narrative than I've ever seen in his work. ... I'm completely charmed by the drama of these scenes."

Bell also said that "you'd swear he was working from models to get these individual personalities."

But these works come from memory, and Xiao -- a professor at Augustana College -- said that "I sort of turned [auto]biographical for the first time. I always worked with the figure but was usually shy about putting myself there, because you want to be objective about things."

I've been thinking more than usual lately about the local art-gallery scene, for three reasons: a citywide open studio I attended earlier this summer in St. Louis with 151 venues; David Burke's September 13 column in the Quad-City Times in which he asked what's missing in the Quad Cities and suggested a gallery or two for the College Hill area currently under development; and a recent Quad Cities conference on networking among local art and cultural agencies.

I've called Davenport home since I moved from Washington, DC, 45 years ago, and as happy as I've been here, I've always missed a gallery scene.

The gallery I'm speaking of is a business that "represents" its artists, which is to say that the artists are chosen for the high quality of their work and according to a principled and focused policy - "young, emerging Midwest abstract painters," "modern and contemporary Expressionism," "21st Century works on paper," "the best in the two-state region," etc.

Furthermore, that's all they do. They don't sell frames. They don't sell supplies. They specialize. This is the sort of galleries that one finds in Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Tampa, but not here. I mention these cities because they're the same size as the Quad Cities.

 

The Figge Art Museum exhibit Paper Trail: A Decade of Acquisitions from the Walker Art Center (running through January 3) is "a very significant show" from "one of the premier contemporary-art museums in the United States," said Figge Executive Director Sean O'Harrow.

But it's clear that O'Harrow's interest in bringing the show here is not limited to its importance. After accessible exhibits featuring duck decoys and the work of John Bloom, O'Harrow is not shy about provoking people with Paper Trail: "This show is really meant to push people further to the other extreme. ... This show is really meant to push our audience. ... We as an institution have to do this."

Some content is politically aggressive, while other works will baffle audiences. One piece, for example, instructs its audience to put a provided sweater on in a certain way. And Laylah Ali's two untitled drawings will certainly prompt plenty to claim that their children could do that. Many people will love the show, O'Harrow said, and many will hate it.

A retrospective featuring the work of roughly 20 artists, Paper Trail was not meant as a traveling exhibition, but O'Harrow convinced the Minneapolis museum to let a scaled-down version come to the Quad Cities - at this point, its only destination.

Students, he said, "can see every big name [in the art world] in the last 20 years." For a lay audience, the biggest name is Raymond Pettibon, who provided the cover art for Sonic Youth's 1990 album Goo.

For more information about the Figge exhibit, click here.

Click on any image for a larger version.

Laylah Ali, 'Untitled'

Paul Chan, 'Worldwide Trash (thanks for nothing Hegel)'

Chuck Close, 'Self-Portrait/Woodcut'

Santiago Cucullu, 'Architectonic vs. H.R.'

Amy Cutler, 'Hen House'

Thomas Hirschhorn, 'Body Mass Index B.M.I.'

Glenn Ligon, 'Self Portrait at Eleven Years Old'

Rivane Neuenschwander, 'Carta Faminta (Starving Letter)'

Raymond Pettibon, 'No title (He allowed her)'

Sigmar Polke, 'Experimente I-IV (Experiment I-IV)'

Edward Ruscha, 'Country Cityscape'

Piotr Uklanski, 'Summer Love Saddle Bag'

The fifth-annual Venus Envy Quad Cities female-arts festival will be held on Saturday, May 2, from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Bucktown Center for the Arts (225 East Second Street in Davenport).

Below is the performance schedule, as well as a sampling of works from the more than 50 visual artists included in the event. The exhibit will be up through May 22.

For more information, visit VenusEnvyQC.org.

Pamela J. White speaks about the painting like it's a pet.

"It doesn't like to travel," she said.

She's talking about Ad Reinhardt's Abstract Painting, which is the work most likely to get blank stares in the Figge Art Museum exhibit A Legacy for Iowa: Pollock's Mural & Modern Masterworks from the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Sam Gilliam - 'Red April'Abstract Painting doesn't like to travel because it's the most fragile work in the University of Iowa Museum of Art's collection, said White, the museum's interim director. When you get close to the piece, you can see that the paint in the corners is cracked. And because of the nature of the work, there's no obvious way to restore or conserve it.

It initially looks like a black square. On closer inspection, it reveals itself as nine black-ish squares.

Figge Executive Director Sean O'Harrow explained the painting this way: "It's about the nature of color, the nature of squares. It's about texture. It's about a general feeling that you get from the work."

But just as important for this exhibit, Abstract Painting represents the challenges of modern art; this is the sort of theoretical work that baffles and frustrates many people -- in a My kid could do that way. "Whether or not you understand it, for people it's modern art," O'Harrow said. "And people recognize that this is what modern art looks like."

Max Beckmann - 'Karneval'Don't run away. Even if you dislike modern art (or think you dislike modern art), A Legacy for Iowa -- which technically opens April 19 even though the paintings can be viewed by the public now -- is a great opportunity to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with the Figge: It's an ideal match of modern work and modern venue, facilitated by last year's flood in Iowa City.

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