Recently at the Quad City International Airport art gallery, two travelers were bluntly musing about twisting sculptures cantilevered off the display wall. "Normally, this would be considered a pile of crap," one said.

Matuto, photographed by Vincent SoyezDepending on the source, the English-language equivalent of the Brazilian slang term "matuto" appears to be "country boy" or "bumpkin" or "hillbilly." What it absolutely isn't is "critically lauded ensemble selected as American Musical Ambassadors for the U.S. State Department."

Yet that is indeed a fitting description for the capitalized Matuto, the sextet of touring musicians appearing locally as Quad City Arts' latest Visiting Artists. After a week spent conducting workshops and performing for area students, these dynamic, adventurous artists and educators will present a September 21 concert at St. Ambrose University's Galvin Fine Arts Center, where they hope to excite many more listeners with the infectious thrill of Brazilian bluegrass.

That's right: Brazilian bluegrass. Don't feel embarrassed if you've never heard of it.

Leon BatesOn any given day, you can find the acclaimed classical pianist Leon Bates headlining one of the world's most renowned concert halls, or playing alongside one of America's most prestigious symphony orchestras, or performing and educating as an artist-in-residence - a position he's currently filling as Quad City Arts' latest Visiting Artist.

But your best chance of running into Bates - whose public concert for Quad City Arts will be held at Augustana College on October 27 - might actually be at the gym, as he's no doubt one of the few professional pianists who is also, as we discussed during a recent phone interview, an avid bodybuilder.

Works by Elizabeth Shriver and Diane Naylor

The phrase "the elephant in the room" is a metaphor for the obvious things we choose to ignore. In The Great White Elephant, Diane Naylor treats those words literally to explore our often contradictory, yet rarely acknowledged, relationship with the animal kingdom. Naylor's work presents our simultaneous tendency to idealize and dominate nature.

The painting is part of the current show - featuring 57 pieces by three local artists and running through April - at the Quad City Arts gallery inside the Quad City International Airport. Naylor's work is narrative and analytical, which creates a well-rounded exhibit when combined with the art of Elizabeth Shriver and Louise Rauh, who address nature with a focus on form rather than concept.

Nature Spiral. Photo by Bruce Walters.

Nature Spiral is a circular arrangement of limestone boulders situated near the Mississippi River in the Illiniwek Forest Preserve, near Hampton, Illinois (just north of East Moline). Ideally suited for a park named after the regional Native American tribes, the artwork blends in with its natural environment and is reminiscent of Native American and Neolithic earthworks. The spiral can be reached by Illinois Route 84, or the Great River Trail for hikers and bicyclists.

The site was chosen in 1995 by a community-wide partnership led by Quad City Arts and River Action. Public meetings were arranged for the community to express ideas for an artwork that improved awareness of, appreciation of, and access to the Mississippi River. In all, nearly 50 historic preservationists, river activists, and members of the community contributed to the project led by area artist Kunhild Blacklock, who designed the work and supervised its installation.

Completed in 1997, Nature Spiral is primarily made of 65 boulders, with outlined images of native birds, fish, insects, animals, and plants cut into the surface of many of the stones. Among the flora and fauna is a bald eagle, channel catfish, mayfly, deer, silver maple, cattail, and waterlily. Approximately 800 feet in circumference, the spiral also includes planted trees and wildflowers. A nearby informational sign provides a map of the spiral and a key to the iconic images on the rocks.

The carpeting of debris under a Steve Banks sculptureLittering the bottoms of the display cases at the gallery inside the Quad City International Airport is a landfill-like carpeting - a mat of apparent cultural detritus under Steve Banks' sculptures. It initially appears ancient, like scattered pottery shards, but a closer inspection reveals pizza slices, pie crusts, bullets, masks, and chunks of carvings, all out of earthenware clay.

We see this fascination with objects across this exhibit, among the work of both Banks and mixed-media artist Aaron Tinder. The Quad City Arts show - running through August - consists of three large sculptures and four mixed-media canvases by Banks, and eight mixed-media works on paper by Tinder. Their use of familiar objects makes this exhibit accessible, but their mysterious and metaphorical treatment provides depth.

Corrin Roswell, untitled

The 34th-annual Quad City Arts High School Invitational features 197 artworks, and that's a lot. But the technical ability on display is exciting, particularly if one imagines the work these high-school students might create as they mature.

As a middle-school art teacher, I'm familiar with the long process of artistic development. During high school, students who put in the practice can draw with line realistically and understand composition and visual elements. Getting students to the point where they can draw an accurate still life, or mix the correct paint hues for a portrait, however, is a milestone in itself. And young people who can not only achieve technical fluency but begin to apply a consistent visual style, and express ideas and tone, are generally in the extreme minority. Although all students in this show should take pride in their exceptional work, only about a quarter of the students have reached this even higher level.

David Johnson, 'Missing Pieces #7'David Johnson's vase is missing large chunks.

In the current Quad City Arts exhibit at the Quad City International Airport, the vase Missing Pieces #7 is symmetrical but for the voids that appear to have formed naturally through the growth and decay of its wood. Their jagged, random edges echo the blotchy rings of the wood grain, yet Johnson has varnished the entire surface, making it seem at once broken and new. The vase is not suitable for its ostensible purpose and seems to question the relationships between craft, aesthetics, and functionality. It's a striking use of the medium of wood.

The show, running through December, features two bodies of work: selections from the Quad Cities Wood Turners Club and mixed-media works by Jeff Stevenson. While the wood turners employ a relatively restrictive technique - modified wood in a functional context - Stevenson uses a massive range of media, from magazines to encaustic. The two components of the exhibit are different, but they both transcend the limitations of their methods: The best of the wood works (such as Johnson's vase) have visual and technical depth, and Stevenson's strongest pieces gel thematically and visually even as the variety of materials threatens chaos.

Todd GreenTodd Green, the latest guest in Quad City Arts' Visiting Artist series, began his professional career as a guitarist. Yet the musician knows that whenever he performs at one of his many school engagements, the guitar is perhaps the last instrument the kids will be interested in.

"I have a berimbau," says Green during a recent phone interview, "which is a very unusual, bow-and-arrow-looking thing that you play percussion on. They really like that. And then, you know, there's silly stuff. Like, I have animal toenails, I call them. It's actually goat hooves that are all hooked together and make a percussion sound.

"Usually it's the weirdest ones, you know?" says Green with a laugh. "Especially with the really young kids. You can read their faces - their mouths are open and their eyes are all big - and you can just see them going, 'Whoa. What is this?!'"

Ryan Collins"I think everyone has a complex relationship with where they're from," says Ryan Collins, the Moline native currently serving as Quad City Arts' poet-in-residence. "Especially if you've left and come back, which I've done more than once. But the prevailing opinion seems to be that there's nothing to do here. That it's kind of an in-between sort of place, you know?

"We're like a crossroads," he continues. "A place in between places. There's the state capital, the University of Iowa ... . These things are close, but, like, what's here?"

The question of "What's here?" in the Quad Cities is both directly and indirectly addressed in Collins' new chapbook, Complicated Weather. And the answer, as expressed in this thoughtful collection of poems, is as complex as the author's feelings about the area.

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