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Germs and Skulls

University of Saint Francis Gala exhibition/Dusty Neal

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-09-08


The University of Saint Francis' annual gala exhibition is always a key event on Fort Wayne's art calendar. Starting off the Fall semester and gallery schedule, the gala is usually a solo exhibition of a regionally or nationally known artist, accompanied by a smaller exhibition in the Betty Fischmann Goldfish gallery or throughout the winding hallway of the Ian and Mimi Rolland art center in the Artist Spotlight Gallery. This year's gala was of Chris Kahler's work, and entitled "Interconnectivity." Kahler's work is primarily large scale organic abstraction. The hallway show was the first solo exhibition for local artist Dusty Neal, whose powerful debut was highly stylized figurative work with a nod to contemporary urban and underground art.

Chris Kahler's work is scalable and constructive. His monumental works on paper unroll like scrolls on the gallery walls, with his viral dots and curves creating the body of words for the viewer to read across from right to left, up and down, and in spirals. The density of his compositions throughout the dozen and a half pieces represented in "Interconnectivity" tend to focus on pockets of super complexity and rather vast expanses of nothing much more than color fields. Currently represented by Saint Louis based Bruno David Gallery, and previously educated with a BFA at Ohio Weslyan University, an MA at Eastern Illinois University, and an MFA from Northwestern University, Kahler's experience and technical skill is apparent from the first large piece of the exhibition.

"System A-1" is the first large piece (5ft by 16ft) the viewer encounters when walking into the Weatherhead Gallery, and its messy, pulsing, organic feeling sets the ambiance for the rest of Kahler's show. This piece instantly sets the framework for Kahler's work by establishing his visual vocabulary, primarily being tumescent strands which extend most often vertically/diagonally setting a perspective as well, jagged, veiny line work, swirling collections of dots and interconnected orbs, black colonies or organic forms, and dark black, blue, and vibrant green and red hazes. All of these syllables are repeated, patterned, and color-coded to make up the presented body of work in "Interconnectivity".

Kahler's experienced color sense and the impressive amount of layering carry his pieces, and make this a very enjoyable exhibition. Burdened by space and the number of pieces in the exhibition, his work quickly becomes knowable and the viewer begins to anticipate the next composition as a corner is turned. Still his abstract works on panel and paper are quite impressive and could easily be compared with Terry Winter's older 80's organic work and some of Matthew Richie's early 2000's work on chaos, bacterial patterning, and quantum mechanics.

Although slightly smaller in scope, "Dusty Neal" in the artist spotlight gallery was an extreme pleasure to view. Neal, a former SOCA student of the University of Saint Francis, studied and excelled at graphic design and illustration. Recently, Neal has begun exhibiting his paintings at Artlink's member's show and the short exhibition curated by Metavari, "Hear No Noise." This large debut of his paintings is a breath of fresh air for painting in Fort Wayne. The varied format and size created a excellent flow to Neal's work and the consistent exploration of portraiture, color effects on the face, and expressive brushstroke throughout his body of work really keeps the viewers heart pumping.

"Whisper" and "Split", 2 by 4 acrylic on wood panels are great examples of Dusty Neal's work being humble and complex portrait studies, both of which play with brushstroke and structural painting issues a la Jenny Saville, Lucian Freud, and Francis Bacon (all very fine British painters who can sculpt a brushstroke into anything they would like). "Split" takes on a distinctly horror feeling, with its grayish and purple pallor to the one side of the face, and the stark, smearing, high tone red of the opposite side. The portrait becomes something of a zombie, mouth slightly open and eyes piercing through space. The economy of Neal's portraits are especially appreciated. By simplifying the brush stroke into structural bands of color, forming the face instead of relying so heavily on the illusions of competing colors. This allows the color itself to stand out more boldly and take on separate weight in the overall pieces.

"Drone" the title of both a large and a small (6x7) painting of a somewhat animated skull, and "Pure" an extremely beautifully painted puppy are two other impressive pieces by Neal, incorporating a bit of contemporary urban painting into his work, using hard edged geometric bursts of color coming from the skull's eyes, and the puppy's mouth. These bursts contrast correctly to the silkiness of Neal's painting, and their use and placement give a great focus to the characters present in Neal's paintings, similar to the visual function of halos in Byzantine and Orthodox iconography. "Pure" in particular was an amazing lifelike quality to the brushwork and purity of each layer of paint used to create it. Although a smaller piece and one of less importance to the overall flow of Neal's body of work, it is impressively captivating.

Neal's largest piece, and somewhat more impressive painting will be kept by this writer as a surprise, and something to coax the reader to visit this exhibition, it is something not to be missed. With the excellent combination of Chris Kahler's manic abstraction and Dusty Neal's manipulated figures, the University of Saint Francis' 2009-10 gala exhibition was extremely pleasing and is a testament to the strength that Fort Wayne's art scene has been building over the past few years.

Please visit the "Interconnectivity" and "Dusty Neal" exhibitions at the Ian and Mimi Rolland Center for Art and Visual Communication off Leesburg Road. The exhibition will run until October 11th. For more information visit www.sf.edu/art.

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