By Paulette Thenhaus
From primitive to slick
Presentation is about 10% –15% (some would say more) of the art game. If an artist does it right, then the total impact of the artwork resonates clearly with the intended message. If handled poorly the artwork’s impact may be diminished or ignored. I’m not talking ornate gilded frames or marble pedestals here. For work to look contemporary, massive gold frames are not the solution. Better understated than showy… let the artwork speak for itself.
It’s not only frames that presentation is concerned with, there’s spacing, viewing distance and of course, the quality and quantity of that shown. Filling the wall with all it can bear doesn’t guarantee more sales. It can confuse and tire a viewer who might otherwise spot a single work to make her own.
Then there are the labels. One should be able to read them at a reasonable distance but they should never overpower the art itself. Just as bad are labels without vital information. Unless there’s bold signage with the artist’s name (which I suggest for every show) then the artist’s name belongs on every label along with the basic information pertinent to the individual artwork.
I introduce this information because of strong examples of how presentation affects the current exhibits in downtown Galesburg. Some presentations make the exhibit a stronger view while others weaken the total effect and bring the value of the art into question.
319 E, Main St., Galesburg
Jane Elizabeth Hames
If one can get past the haphazard presentation of unevenly hung canvases with oversized labels floating around, the childlike (not childish) impressions in acrylic paint are refreshing and reflect a true free spirit. There’s an abandon of most formal rules of picture-making. As in primitive art, the image flows intuitively from the painter to the canvas. Usually the picture plane is completely filled with images and color. In “Harrowing Horror” the birdlike shapes resemble ancient petroglyphs.
Though the work looks untrained and a bit clumsy, the bold linear patterns and unpredictable colors are undeniably striking. I think of Abstract Expressionist master Phillip Guston saying in a film he couldn’t wait to “plop” a big pink shape somewhere on the canvas so it would become a hand or a foot or something ... It’s all about the pure love of just painting with no preconceptions about what will appear from the act of lifting a brush loaded with pure color to canvas.
It’s through Hame’s clever, inventive titles, often referring to the Middle Ages, that she reveals her maturity and playful intent. If only the presentation were a bit more organized and “edited,” the artwork could be taken a little more seriously and be less likely considered an artist’s castoffs.
124 E. Simmons St. Galesburg
Jim ‘Fletch’ Fanjoy ( Broad Horizons)
By contrast, the long panoramic and emphatically horizontal views of bucolic landscapes in Spain and tourist sites in Galesburg, in the exhibit at Kaldi’s, show total control in image-making and presentation. Photographs taken during a perfect moment in perfect light and with a color resolution which is, well, beautiful. Galesburgers should appreciate the crisp image of Seminary Street (the entire length of one block) and the close-up print of “Waiting Wings”: Stearman biplanes lined up as if for parade inspection. The romantic views of Spain also have an allure. But it is the inventive method of framing the prints in their long narrow format that give the images a special “signature.” Black plexiglas ingeniously and handsomely frames the images, some of which are 40” long and 11” narrow. The “frames” are part of the picture and have no solid edge.
All this said, the prints are so graphically sharp and, well, slick, that they seem more akin to commercial art than fine art. One can easily imagine any of the work on an upscale advertising brochure. Regardless of classification, the strong compositions and sophisticated style should find an enthusiastic audience here.
Galesburg Civic Art Center
114 E. Main St., Galesburg
Michael Ryan uses the words “pleasant experience” in his artist’s statement. The phrase fits both his display and that of co-exhibitor Marnie Eskridge. Both are competent in the mastery of their mediums, yet the exhibits offer no explorations into new territory.
Ryan has selected seven paintings representative of a larger series to exhibit. He concentrates on landscapes along the upper Mississippi River Valley. The brushwork is open and active in the medium size canvases without losing a representational quality. He often repeats the same color palette of muted ochres, umbers and violet, giving an autumnal/early winter feel to the canvases. “Copse” introduces the warmest colors of red and yellow in a sun-dappled space. “Northside,” a 36” x 36” (approx.) acrylic, is characteristic of the grouping. The color is subtle and translucent from layers of glazing. A network of barren branches moves across the foreground, while a small network of trees interweave in the distance. Shapes and colors are mimicked in the sky. There is a sense of a place where one has returned over time. The paintings are enhanced by the black frames that “float” the canvases.
Eskridge leaves nothing to the imagination. Her brand of realism is purely what the eye thinks it sees with lots of detail. Her subject matter is decidedly rural: mushrooms in the spring, duck on pond, shucked corn. Though she calls her work a “visual diary,” it is more of a scientific journal noting every vein and feather. In the meticulous illustration of things, the artist voice is never heard. We are left only with the surface of nature, not its inner workings. “Dad’s Favorite Things,” a still life with lunch box, flannel shirt hanging, John Wayne paperback and other artifacts, highlights Eskridge’s proficiency in pencil drawing (though labeled charcoal). It is as close as we get to a personalized comment that invites us to imagine the authentic life of someone else. The artworks look professionally framed, and though each is framed to suit the particular image, they are, for the most part, understated and create a harmonious grouping.
The exhibits are up through February, 2007 and a few even longer. Artview is on-line at www.thezephyr.com.