Thursday, November 12, 2015

Meditations on a Crisis

Jennifer Cronin is a Chicago based artist who’s practice utilizes psychologically charged and uncanny images. Her latest series continues to laden realistic imagery with hidden potentiality with portraits of foreclosed homes on Chicago’s south side. While the post 2008 foreclosure crisis seems to have slowed and even reversed in certain parts of the city, some areas such as the far west and south sides, still maintain high foreclosure rates. For many residents this crisis still exists. The image of the decaying buildings reflect the wreckage of personal lives disrupted, as well as the degraded social and economic conditions which brought them about. Below is an interview with the artist about the work:

Many of your past works involve encounters with the surreal, how do you see that impacting this new body of work about foreclosed homes? Do you see the homes as encounters with the surreal?

In my past work, I used surreal, somewhat abstract elements to play with the idea of the unknown.  I was always interested in creating a psychological space that was some mixture of wonder and fear.  I enjoyed using the ambiguity of abstraction to draw the viewer in, bringing about a sense of wonder and encouraging people to consider multiple possibilities.  While I don’t see the homes literally as encounters with the surreal, I think I’m interested in creating a similar space of wonder.  One that is filled with untold stories, struggles, accomplishments, and disappointments. 

How did you go about picking the particular buildings that you drew? 

When traveling to areas of Chicago that have been hit the hardest by the foreclosure crisis, it seems like there is sadly no end of boarded up houses in sight.  I came from these trips with many images to choose from, each just as interesting as the last.  I think what I was most drawn to in these images was the details.  The icicle Christmas light that were still left on the porch, the peeling paint, or official documents taped to the front door—each detail told a story, so I was looking for houses with the most interesting details.  I also chose some houses that were surrounded by empty lots, since the empty lots tell just as stark and powerful a tale. 

Did you actually visit the sights? Did you do the drawings plein air?

I did visit the sites, but did not do the drawings en plein air just for practical reasons.  Particularly, the amount of time spent on each piece would make that a difficult feat.  But visiting the sites and photographing these houses was a very poignant and meaningful process for me.  On my first excursion to photograph houses in Englewood, I traveled with the help of JR Fleming, the founder of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign.  This noble, grass-roots organization helps victims of foreclosure in any way possible.  Sometimes they take back and fix up abandoned houses and move homeless families back into them.  Sometimes they stage protests at eviction sites.  They help to rebuild communities and give some power back to the people.  I felt truly humbled and awed by the greatness of JR and his movement, and it really helped me to see the larger picture.

All of these buildings are on the far south side of Chicago, correct? Is this particular location important to you or the work in any way, or do you see it as expressive of something more general?

Most of the drawings in this series are from the south side of Chicago, except for one.  When I began the series, I ventured close to where I was living at the time to Humboldt Park to take my first set of photos.  So, the first drawing in the series was from Humboldt Park.  After that, all of the other houses were from the south side, particularly Englewood and south Back of the Yards.  These neighborhoods, along with several others, have been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.  There are some blocks that are nearly empty because of all of the houses that have been torn down.  When people think about the foreclosure crisis and abandoned buildings, many times they think about other cities such as Detroit, and might not necessarily realize the scar left on neighborhoods right here in Chicago.   And I do think that is expressive larger issues relating to race and socioeconomic status.  What does it mean that we live in a society where the people who need help the most are forced out of their homes and onto the streets?  And that those who have taken advantage and trapped many of these people with ballooning mortgages and other deceitful practices are completely unpunished.  These questions are at the heart of these works, along with all of the untold stories and individual lives surrounding these houses. 

"Shuttered" features this new body of work by Jennifer Cronin and will be on exhibition at Elephant Room Gallery located at 704 S Wabash Ave. in Chicago's South Loop November 13th, 2015 through January 2nd, 2016. An opening reception will be on Friday the 13th from 6:30 to 9:00pm.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Caristia: Celebrating Family and Arts on Elston

Group Exhibition Review, February 21-22, 2015 
by Emily Alesandrini

Mixed Media
Vanessa Shaf
Caristia was an ancient Roman holiday celebrating the love of family with banqueting, gift-giving, and reconciliation. Honoring ancestors and relatives, party-goers feasted on cake and wine with loved ones. This February, the Connor family exhibited their Caristia, a group exhibition of multi-media artworks by family members and friends in the multi-roomed gallery space, Arts on Elston.

Works on canvas, wood, paper and cement provide an eclectic ambiance—a visual diversity that keeps the viewer engaged room after room.  Artist and gallery owner Arthur Connor commented on this diverse medley of artwork saying, “The hope is to show pictures perhaps people didn’t even know they wanted to see.”  In response, cousin and fellow artist Eileen Madden added, “No one walks in and says, ‘What I like isn’t here.’” Arthur, a painter, sculptor, and furniture craftsman, is joined in the space by Eileen Madden and Vanessa Shaf, whose Paper and Print studio just relocated to the building.     
Wood Assemblage Drawer
Art Connor
The gallery space itself is repurposed from a retired bakery, and comfy seating in nearly every room continues the space’s legacy of warm invitation. Sculptor and Painter Christine Connor remarks how the multiple rooms, “allow for personal intimacy with the works.”  The viewer feels more like a guest in the home of a welcoming collector than a visitor to a public gallery.

Vibrantly colored fish in oil pastel, politically incited mixed media works, industrial metal sculptures, letterpress poetry on delicately handmade paper and luscious nudes in oil on linen adorn the walls and floor space of the gallery rooms.  The range of artistic representation reflects the diversity within this family of artists and friends. The vibrant, cacophonous details of life are the broad themes of Caristia.
Rebecca George
Oil on Linen

Arts on Elston frequently collaborates with Rebecca George, founder/director of the nearby art school and gallery space, The Art House. Up next for The Art House and Arts on Elston is Art By America, a national exhibition of two-dimensional artwork juried by Ginny Voedisch of the Art Instiutue of Chicago Museum and James Yood of Artforum Magazine. Participating artists will receive all sale proceeds. Application deadline: March 20, 2015. APPLY and stay tuned to the exhibitions page at The Art House  to learn more about upcoming opportunities to exhibit and attend art openings at The Art House and Arts on Elston.

Caristia’s artists include: Heather Aitken, Celene Aubrey, Arthur Connor, Christine Connor, Elizabeth Connor, Mae Connor, Karl Fresa, Gordon France, Rebecca George, Eileen Madden, Dan Mullens, Vanessa Shaf. 

Arts on Elston
3446 North Albany Ave
Chicago, IL 60618

Eileen Madden

Untitled and Auger Bit
Christine Connor

Vertebrae Study
Oil on Paper
Elizabeth Connor

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Exposed: Dual Perspectives in Paint and Pixel

The exhibition, Exposed, presents the two diverse perspectives of painter Mary Dorrell and photographer Thomas King as they venture through mountain ranges and foothills across untouched corners of the United States. The juxtaposition of these works provides the viewer with a reassuring reminder of monumental and microscopic natural wonders existing beyond twitter notifications and the concrete jungle. Curated by Rebecca George and exhibited by The Art House, a gallery and classroom for two-dimensional studio art studies, the exhibition’s opening reception included an illuminating lecture by guest art historian, Ginny Voedisch.  Art Institute of Chicago lecturer, Voedisch, discussed replication versus interpretation and concepts of timelessness regarding images of natural entities and wilderness.

Mary Dorrell’s fauvist color palette and lyrical brush strokes convey a contemporary perspective of ancient places. Her works articulate the aesthetics of falling autumn leaves and expansive valleys, but the pieces also evoke an impressionistic conveyance of the feeling of autumn, the feeling of beholding a vista. In painting, color blocks, and watercolors, Dorrell captures birch trees and beaches, bison and tree spirits. Her oil on wood piece, Tree Spirits II, reflects an ineffable, ambiguous spirituality in a Kandinsky-like conversation of color that flows with cadence and complexity.  

Tree Spirits II

In cohesive contrast, Thom King’s majestic black and white photographs on metallic paper shimmer with demanding fortitude. Stark and detailed, vast and intimate, these beautifully composed landscapes document King’s 9,000-mile journey across 15 sites of the American West.  The texture of the metallic paper lends an additional component of authenticity in the shimmer of the photographed water, snow, and sky.  Wild stallions and contemplative bison engender powerful energy into these photographs of Devil’s Tower, the Grand Tetons, Yosemite, and Yellowstone. These are monumental works for quiet rumination.
The Narrows

Up next for The Art House is Art By America, a national juried exhibition of two-dimensional artwork with awards up to $1,000. Participating artists will receive all sale proceeds. Click HERE to learn more. For additional information on exhibitions and courses offered at The Art House, please click HERE.

Artists Mary Dorrell and Thom King discuss magical places, their creative processes, and visually capturing powerful animals of the archetypal Southwest in the interview below...

A conversation with painter, Mary Dorrell

-You have described exploring wild and magical places of our natural landscape in your painting. Can you expound on this process?

Looking for the wild and magical is about being close to elements of nature and to my own internal spirit. I begin with slowing down enough to become quiet within myself. Allowing an opening into the un-manifested creativity; the resulting inspiration /idea always ties a connection between the meaning and the image. Much of my work has been about capturing the mystical elements inherent in untouched nature.  Once engaged in the process, I suspend the expectation of outcome which allows me to be purely in the moment, evaluating choices, both instinctual and conscious; decisions that maintain the conversation with the work as it progresses to resolution.

-Your highly textured oil on paper piece, Misty Verdues, is one of the most visually compelling works in the exhibition. Can you speak a little on the context of the piece? 

Misty Verdures (Wet Leaves) is a mono-type (oil painting on zinc plate, transferred to paper with a printing press) on being captivated by the randomly unique patterns of fall leaves on a wet ground. Throughout the making of this piece I was continually captivated by the texture and dynamic contrast.
Misty Verdues

-How do memory and elements of heritage affect the aesthetics of your work? Would you say they are the foundation of your painterly instinct? 

Memory and heritage weave the fabric that provides a foundation of who I am as an artist. I am compelled to create and have been since three years old. I like to think that my pioneer ancestors gave me the determination and connection to nature and that my distant Dutch heritage fuels the creativity and drives my instinct to represent the environment as it interacts with collective memory. 

A conversation with photographer, Thom King:

-Does the title of the exhibition, Exposed, allude to some intimate, raw quality of the rugged landscapes you photograph? 

I feel the title Exposed has many meanings for me; my love for photography began long before digital cameras, smart phones and social media. I learned photography on film, processing and printing photos in a darkroom. It was a multi-step process that really made you think about the image you were about to capture, from the composition of the image to the final print. For Exposed I wanted to return to the roots of landscape photography and the photographers whom I admire. Like in the days before digital cameras and Photoshop I tried to create the final image as much as possible with the proper exposure and composition in camera with minimal post processing in Photoshop. I thought of the process much more for this series than in much of my previous work. 
General Sherman Sequoia

-Can you describe your energy when photographing stallions and bison, powerful animals of the archetypal Southwest? 

The Bison are truly a majestic and impressive animal; they roam Yellowstone National Park and are often seen walking down roads creating traffic back-ups. (Oddly enough, they always seem to walk the roads in the correct direction with the traffic). Being within a few feet of a bison you get the sense of just how powerful they are, seemingly unaware or not caring that we are there. The real gem for me was seeing the wild horses, traveling a 14 mile unpaved road in southwest Wyoming I thought I would reach the end of the road before seeing any wild horses. Then in the distance I spotted them, a group of about 8-10 adults and one colt. I quickly began photographing them as we slowly moved closer. Much to my surprise they did not run away and only moved a little from the road as we approached. The true joy was getting out of the car and walking to within 75 feet of them, I felt like that was close enough for me (after all they are large and wild) and they seemed Ok with my proximity. After I felt like I had enough images I put down the camera and just watched, taking in the scene with all of my senses until they slowly moved away.

Read more on Mary Dorrell and her painting HERE.
Read more on Thom King and his photographs HERE

Photos courtesy of Thom King. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Donald Glover's Sober: Pinnochio's Perspective

Donald Glover, known more widely by his stage name Childish Gambino, recently released a music video for the single “Sober,” on his Kauai EP and I am ecstatic. Glover, who is also a former writer and actor for the NBC comedy Community, flexes his creative liberties in the simple yet compelling visual. What's resulted is an off-putting display of boy meets girl with an eerie and thought provoking question posed to the audience and artists alike.
I had a very personal connection to the piece initially but it wasn’t apparent to me why it had affected me so deeply. After describing the piece to my colleague however, the subconscious perspective poured out organically without much effort of my own.
In the very beginning, while the setting is being revealed to us in a slow pan you may notice that we’re back in a diner just as we had been in Gambino’s Sweatpants video back in 2014. Although, the two diners are of vastly different interiors with the Sweatpants diner being furnished with nice leather booth seats and classic countertop tables, the restaurant in Sober is simple, barren.  The leather booth style seats have been traded for plastic chairs and tables placed merely for formality's sake since this isn't a place for dining in. This specific change in setting indicates to me, a sort of breakdown or shift in direction, which may reflect the artist's state of mind at the times of production. 
The direction of this particular work is set as soon as our two protagonists, Gambino and the young woman, come into frame. We watch him arise from his seat across the diner to garner her attention any way he can. Gambino mimes the lyrics, using his hands to depict the bounce in the melody, as this very entertaining micro-drama ensues. He dances for her, awkwardly yet effortlessly. It’s as if his joints are attached to invisible strings that tug at their own will. Here he is: a puppet for a woman he doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to notice is completely uninterested in his attempts to entertain her.
Does this dynamic not sound familiar?
Don’t most artists who are seeking “success” drive themselves to entertaining a world of uninterested bodies who believe wholeheartedly that it is our purpose to entertain them? 
Don’t most artists believe they wholeheartedly want to entertain (even if they aren’t entertainers)?
After dancing, singing, and attempting something similar to magic tricks, Gambino is finally able to get a rise out of the object of his affection. She’s acknowledged his existence by smiling and stepping to his beat for just a short moment validating his creativity, before simply walking out of his space entirely. This short lived relationship exhibits some parallels to the relationship between the creator and his audience. Once you’ve had your 15 mins of fame (or 15 seconds now thanks to Instagram) the audience you've worked for disappears as if they had never been there at all, robbing you of the fulfillment you were seeking all along. An artist’s relevance could plummet at any moment that someone new enters the scene; but what are we to do?
What’s interesting to me is that Gambino handles this by placing himself back in the position from which he can always repeat this process. At the end of the piece, he returns to his original seat and slumps back into the skewed posture that he had sprung from; a stance that many of us are currently molded into, ourselves. 
How does one cope with impending career death? What if your career is the one thing that you love most? What boundaries do you think you could cross if your dream was at stake?
Perhaps Childish Gambino has figured it out. Maybe the secret is to continuously make yourself available to the world: sitting slumped in the same place where you found your audience originally. It may be abandoned most days but at some point some pretty young lady has to walk in and lend you the eyes you had so patiently waited for all along.