Monday, October 11, 2010

Welcome Once Again To The Show That Never Ends...

Junko Yanagida - "Birch Bark Doll"
Last week your intrepid blogger packed camera and notebook and made the rounds to the major galleries in Fairbanks for the 1st Friday openings. Several fantastic exhibitions are up for the month of October, and turnout was decent given that two of the main gigs were group shows, which tends to pull in more than the average traffic, plus there still wasn't any snow on the ground and folks were out enjoying one last stretch before hibernation sets in for the season. 

First a brief mention of a particular highlight in the UAF Art Department's MFA group show (which has already come & gone but we'll be able to see each individual artist's work in their upcoming respective solo shows). Junko Yanagida is one of the talented new batch of graduate students: pictured above is a snapshot taken from underneath her life-sized figure "Birch Bark Doll" It was sculpted from birch-bark (incidentally harvested from the woods around my cabin, which is a cool connection), and by "using traditional weaving and sawing skills from indigenous culture" she combines meticulous craftsmanship with anthropomorphic environmentalism to leave the viewer with a haunting (and hanging metaphor). Call it "The Nightmare Before Clearcutting" - Junko cites an homage to Tim Burton's overshadowed character "Sally" character, and an obvious nod to Frankenstein (I would also add the alt-horror cult favorite "May"): her "inanimated" organic assemblage is inhabited by a melancholic spirit that seems dejected from being worn out and cast aside like an eco-version of the Skin Horse. There seems to be darker undertones in this piece that are masked by a naiveté of playful, lost innocence: it invites the viewer in to appreciate the finer points of detail and yet leaves us with a disquieting and literally looming sense of accumulated loss. I'd like to see this figure as the subject of a series of photographs where the doll is placed into other contexts and locations, such as in an alley, or out amidst other birch trees, or even a recently logged-off area.

Todd Sherman - "Snowy Owl" (acrylic on board)
64th Parallel: the 2010 exhibit was juried by Bella Feldman who had the unenviable task of whittling down a whopping 185 submissions into the traditional show total of 64. I showed up an hour before the official opening and was privy to the flurry of last-minute labeling and lighting that makes one appreciate all the effort that goes on behind the scenes. Humbling when one considers the comparative pole-vaulting over moose turds that goes into creating said works of art - herding cats and putting it all up on display is at times just as much of a stressful, arduous and under-appreciated task. The UAF Art Department thoroughly rocked the show with numerous representatives of both current and former instructors, along with a strong presence of both MFA and BFA student works (pictured at left are pieces by candidates sculptor Kate Schroeder and painting by Jessica Zaydak). A variety of media ranging from painting, prints, metals, photography (Ben Huff and Adam Ottavi-Schiesl) sculpture (Lacie Stiewing and Heidi Morel), digital art (Diane Hunt) and more are featured.

Pictured below is a piece by darleene masiak titled "Slightly Opposing" made from rock and steel, one of her two works included in the show. darleen is perhaps my most favorite sculptor I've had the pleasure of knowing in the Interior, and I've long been an admirer of her work. One of the things that continues to impress me is how a relatively small piece like this can impose such an elemental presence: even amongst a gallery full of objects clamoring for attention the visual weight of this object pulls gravity from the room and distorts it into a condensed, latent tension. The twin polished facets bracket the metallic sheen, and the raw rock faces cup in contrasted texture. Irresistible force meets an immovable object suspended with delicacy and power, forming a balance between icons that are at once tenuous and eternal. I'd love to see her turned loose on larger-scale pieces by a magnitude of many more tons - bet she'd do wonders with something around the size of, oh, maybe Begguya.

darleen masiak - "Slightly Opposing"
The Annex: I put two pieces in the annual open exhibition - "The Dammed" (which both the framed version and some additional posters sold) and "T-Bag." As this is the last gallery to close for the evening it's quite often the final stop for the herds of culture-seekers before migrating to the Golden Eagle Saloon in beautiful downtown Ester. As such it's a great opportunity to gab with fellow aficionados on the relative merits of the community's aesthetic offerings (in other words, gossip) along with catching up with folks that you haven't seen for, well, at least a month. One positive observation was on the number of college-age and younger groups on tour, which is a marked contrast with the stereotypical Q-Tip crowd. 
The visual smörgåsbord of images at the Annex are an extension of the diversity on display at the 64th: quite often the collection is culled from the cast-offs from the latter juried exhibition and recycled by the creators into this always rewarding counterpoint show. It's the "punctuated equilibrium" theory of evolution as enacted by art - both shows taken together will show the good with the bad with the ugly, or as gallery owner Nancy Burnham diplomatically puts it: "experienced versus inexperienced." Personally I dig the random juxtaposition of varying calibers of art and artists... to paraphrase it as it was explained to me by a professor years ago: "The only difference between your work and mine is that I'm just standing on a bigger pile of mistakes, and so can simply see farther than you." 

Above is local creator Craig Buchanan with his transcendent, sole-searching piece "Lotus Heel" that uses fifteen years worth of his own shoes. The inspiration struck him while stacking the footwear to donate to the Salvation Army, and somewhere along the way, as often happens in Life, it turned into art. Craig's installations and assemblages are one of the more prominently visible and immediately recognizable in the Interior, and I appreciate his skill in dumpster-diving everyday objects and recasting them with a wry eye. One of the panels in a recent vignette of mine incorporates imagery sketched from the guts of one of his pieces in "Ominous Artifact."  

Kes Woodward at Well Street: I arrived at this particular show a couple hours early, and my hunch paid off after being treated to a near-private experience of viewing this series of paintings without anybody in the way, which is the best possible way to walk around the woods, let alone this show. This was also a rare opportunity to see both levels of the gallery occupied by one artist, and thus there was twice as much acreage to explore. The exhibition "Lost In The Woods" is seeing the forest for the trees, and the reverse in turn, through the eyes of a scholar in the arts: rather than a long-haired, bearded druid, as a ward of the woods if you will, Kes has a quiet, respective and introspective personality that is as at first about as unassuming as his trees. 
Aside from pensive beaver and woodpeckers, dendrologists and philosophical loggers, I doubt anybody else really looks at, appreciates and understands what most folks walk past everyday without a second (or even first) glance, even as they fill the living space around all our homes here in the Interior. Rather than erecting heroic or abstracted, irrelevant misinterpretations, Woodward and creates and calls attention to intimate portraits of individual trees, solo and paired trunks against blank white backgrounds in stark, graphic compositions. These focal pieces are interspersed with half a dozen full-sized landscapes that showcase a subtle and complex interplay between cast shadows over snow. Dovetailing with those works in turn are a few canvases featuring spatters of snowfall, which create a trance-inducing wall of texture, where each flake assumes a collective presence on equal visual footing with the land, light and air.
The paintings shift from a photographic realism when viewed from across the room, to an impressionistic ripple and flow that cascades down the canvas when seen up-close and personal. On this micro-level the subjects continue to un-coalesce into objects comprised of separate and discreet spots of color, breaking down into the basic, underlying visual units normally undetected to the untrained eye. It's not often that I am motivated to waltz with work of art by walking up to, then away, then back again to see what these pieces will reveal. I seem to recall earlier paintings in this branch of Kes' work which were comparatively much more textured: but while these acrylics are physically flatter they are paradoxically deeper and richer than ever.
Case in point for artwork affecting a personal, perceptual shift in focus that a viewer rarely takes away from any show: there's one particular birch tree that, for mundane, pedestrians reasons which I needn't go into any detail about here, is directly in my face several times a day, right off the cabin porch. Needless to say I had reason to pause in newfound reflection for a few moments more. Short of actually buying a painting, that's about as profound of an compliment that can be paid for being influenced by a piece: look... now look again...

Kes Woodward - detail, "Proud Birch" (acrylic on canvas)

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