Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mount Union Fine Art Majors "Studio: Problems and Solutions" On display April 9 - May 16, 2010

Friday night I went to the opening at Studio M which featured the work of art students from Mt. Union in Alliance. I went to support my long time friend and former college classmate. We reconnected a couple of years ago and found that our studio lives have gone in far different trajectories that oddly enough circled back around to find us as the other person 30 years later. Alliance is still in the county, though at the very far edges of it, but I have yet to see any real PR for the exhibition. Yes, it is a student show and their college is on the far fringes of the “district”, but at least one newspaper photo would have been nice in addition to the several I saw for the weekend party over the past 5 days or so. Speaking of which, where were the photos for the IlluminArts Festival that happened a few weeks ago? It was not too far outside of the “district” but not one real article or any follow up photos that I could find have yet to appear in the three papers I read every day. (Little 4 line paragraphs don’t count). Perhaps it was all in online galleries or articles but I don’t dip into that addiction. Back to the show….Oh wait, one more side note, Studio M fulfills a big cog still missing from the main machine, a venue for artists to show their work on their own terms for a period of time. Many young artists don’t want to commit to a permanent gallery space and therefore must seek out venues for their work when a new body of images is ready for exhibition. Okay, now about the show….

The gallery is beautifully hung (by a student from Walsh U.) with 30 works of art by 22 students. A posted statement at the door provides the viewer with a context by which to appreciate the selections in the show. The pieces are displayed in groupings, all photos together, all prints together and so forth which is the best way for me to hit the highlights of this hidden gem of a show. Mt. Union is a small school of about 2200 students that offers a full range of majors and a complete art department and a full scale gallery on campus that shows work of established artists. Therefore, this is no step child to the larger campus art departments that surround our area. As a matter of fact, the work in this show is in many ways superior to what I have been seeing in the halls of my alma mater over the course of this past year. I am glad to see that the college took advantage of Studio M to bring their work to our side of the county.

The 6 photographs in the show are stunning in my limited knowledge of darkroom (now computer) technology. They are colorful, crisp and professionally presented. Far too often I see dull images of places that have no real context. These are portraits or spaces that reach out to the viewer and draw us back in. “Failure” by Cong Nguyen won a Dean’s Purchase Award. I would have voted for him too.

Moving on down the wall are the paintings. The chosen pieces are studio still life material that should be the foundation of any painting program so as to build a student’s “eye” for the understanding of the basic building blocks of art. Too often this step is skipped over in favor of abstracting imagery so as to find an artist’s voice. Well if the kid can’t hum a tune in key early on; forget having a hit song later on. I too favor the method of “see that teapot? Now paint it just as it appears….” One of the students painted a great teapot, it was sold too.

On to printmaking, this must be a very good department at Mt. Union as the pieces were consistently strong yet delicate and showed sensitivity to subject matter. No hearts and daggers or weird worm shapes in this bunch thank goodness. Jenny Peteya’s print “Walking in Circles” was a favorite of mine and matted in pebble mat board, something I have not seen in years. I liked that it added to the texture of the print. Rachel Keyser’s “Flowers” also won a Dean’s Purchase award. Two titles caught my eye (I like titles!), one was “Woodblock” which was also the media and a far better solution than “untitled” and the other was “My Tree’s Garden” which I found intriguing. Often times a tree is just in or around a garden (unless one is oriental and then it becomes a whole other issue), but this tree was just a good old standard deciduous elevated to the status of being a centerpiece.

Drawings, design projects and graphics make up the remainder of the show. Basic 2-D design book-like projects have statements that explain the process of the imagery. If one has no understanding of color theory, these are a good place to get a quick lesson. Above two of these strips are a long time basic and near to my heart project I call “words”. This project can be done from elementary school on up as a way to get youth to think and then have to think again. Dirty, Solid, Scream and Confined were favorites.

My best in show goes to Douglas Laubacher and his black construction paper cut out, “Lauren Harris Tribute”. Yeah, I can hear you lament…construction paper in college?.... sure, any material used in just the right manner can make a mini masterpiece. I saw Douglas’s work right away and was drawn to its simplicity and presentation over and over. He is dead on in his tribute to the work of Lawren S. Harris (1885-1970), a Canadian painter whose landscape paintings are spectacular and one of my personal favorite artists of all time. Interesting to know that this young artist was home schooled prior to attending Mt. Union. The work of Harris is probably never mentioned in the public schools.

Time to wrap this up; I get some feedback from you readers that I am too long and wordy. Just a final reminder to all of you that Stark County is a lot bigger than one would be led to believe and worth the visit to the closer Studio M at the MassMu (love that nickname) and to the further out (a whole 25 minutes or so) Crandall Gallery at Mt. Union.

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