Once through the open gallery doors, an intense energy throughout the area is felt immediately. A hubub of chatter fills the vast gallery space: artists excitedly taking part in about their work. Viewers enthralled, engaged in conversation, pointing fingers, asking questions, and shifting from one piece to the next in awe. What is all of the commotion? Welcome to the opening night of Figuratively Speaking.
Figuratively Speaking, curated by University of Iowa MFA student Zachary Cleve, encompasses the wide variety of style, approach, and content that each artist brings to the table within the group of up and coming local artists. Artists exhibited within the space included Heather Anderson, Meghan Hollister, Gretchen Cleve, Zachary Cleve, Mike Mendoza, and Steve Andresen. The majority of the artists’ medium of choice was painting, save for two: Gretchen Cleve exhibiting works of photography, and Meghan Hollister exhibiting a multimedia installation.
Upon walking into the main entrance of The Phoenix Gallery, to the left can be seen Zachary Cleve’s oil paintings on canvas. Having exhibited previously throughout the River Cities Area, Zach’s current body of work has taken an exciting evolution from that of his previous work. Always distinguishable is Zach’s style of painting: brazen paint handling and fearless abstraction weave throughout his disquieted compositions, whilst being complimented and confidently crafted into elements of acute realism. This juxtaposition of styles creates a feeling of the ephemeral, the fleeting, the unreal- a grasping of thoughts.
One viewer comments that on Zach’s work:
“Effortlessly controls the media and dimensions to leave a disturbing message in all four paintings, and diptych.”
Adjacent to this space is the work of Mike Mendoza. A recent graduate of St. Ambrose University, Mike’s paintings revisit the campus that was once his beloved home. Inspired by architecture and fond memories, Mike records and reinterprets important landmarks throughout St. Ambrose’s campus. Preferring the ‘wet on wet’ technique of oil painting, a beautiful blend of colors and chemistry can be seen upon close inspection of the canvas.
To the left of Mike Mendoza’s work, lies the photographic work of Gretchen Cleve. Gretchen explores the movement and choreography of professional jugglers. A rapid flash is fired multiple times in a dark room, drawing emphasis on the patterns created by a performance artist, something that could not so easily be seen by the human eye.
The other half of Gretchen’s work can be seen in the Dragon Room, or the second gallery on the first floor. This set of photographic works is an architectural study by Gretchen, allowing her to explore the concept of ‘infinite space’. A viewer comments on this by writing down his thoughts on Gretchen’s work:
“The photographic artwork (in this gallery) plays superbly with light and shadow to create a third dimension and not only a figurative motif, but also an abstract motif”
To the left of Gretchen Cleve’s work hang four paintings by Heather Anderson. A brightly colored ‘candy store’ palette describes figures set amongst a theatrical setting created from the crevices of an intuitive mind. Don’t let the cheery palette fool you- the figures portrayed here are hiding much more behind their crafted disguise. Heather’s settings are overwhelmingly cluttered with contradicting patters, broad swatches of color, or repeating geometric elements, all surrounding the painted subject in turn creating feelings of a secret whispered, an anxious thought, or a story not completely told. A viewer writes a thought describing a character in Heather’s work in the gallery guestbook:
“If you would just listen…”
Directly across from Heather’s paintings, are the works of Steven Andresen. Steve’s work explores music and the synesthesia that can be experienced within it. Steve’s paintings approach the viewer with an unmistakable and unabashed sense of gusto. Paint is applied thickly, guided tumultuously, and carved with consideration as Steven simultaneously buries and unearths an organized and beautiful chaos that can be found within his wildly crafted compositions.
Across the way from Steven’s work lies a multimedia installation by Meg Hollister titled, ‘I Am Building A Forest’. Leslie Bell comments Meg’s work:
Meg Hollister’s installation I AM BUILDING A FOREST is a wonder of economy. Out of paper, spit and desire, she builds a simulacrum of nature at its most mythic and magical. Her trees and other plants—lit un-naturalistically in purple, magenta and blue—create a strong feeling of measured vastness—something the viewer can be in awe of and reassured by simultaneously. A smattering of carefully spaced butterflies brings the sky within reach and gives a much-needed positive (non-depressive) spin on the gauzy, crucial issues of “ecology”.
Hollister also has an intuitive grasp of the camera (still and video) and its ability to render mute materials into poetry. Her illusions are utterly credible. If it’s too late to sneak a short vacation to say “Hi” to nature, get an impressively moving alternative at this show at the Phoenix Gallery.
Figuratively Speaking will be up through November 30th at The Phoenix Art Gallery. Hours are Wednesday through Friday 11am-2pm and Saturday 11-5 by appointment. If you’d like to make an appointment, please call (309) 762-9202.
Check out previous articles on the artists mentioned above by clicking on their names.
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