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Artlink’s Regional University Exhibition

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Artlink has been exhibiting the work of Fort Wayne area art professors for many years now, and with the "Regional University Exhibition," Huntington University has been added to the usual roster of IPFW and University of Saint Francis professors.

This exhibition is a rare treat, being that it is one of the few group exhibitions in Fort Wayne to exhibit only the works of professional artists who have developed their studio practices in conjunction with their teaching.

This year's University exhibition is one of the best so far, with very interesting pieces from artists like Benita Brewer, Cara Wade, Justin Henry Miller, and Chris Ganz. Brewer and Ganz, both IPFW professors exhibited prints. However, beyond the medium of expression, these pieces are quite separate in style and content. Brewer's "Mandala of Maternal Spirit" is a digital print with a tightly composed collage of leaves with superimposed images of birds. Ganz, on the other hand, with "Open and Shut" created a somewhat intimidating lithograph/woodcut of two self-portrait images with a segment of each images place on the other. The final product creates an eerily happy face, and a very saddened one, and, by the image alone, evokes something close to the hyperbolic expression of Bruce Nauman's "tortured clown" pieces.

Cara Wade and Justin Miller, both University of Saint Francis professors, exhibited very different media, with somewhat similar aesthetic through abstraction. Wade's archival mordancage prints entitled "Untitled 1/12" are technically based in photographic practices, but create intriguing near abstractions through an acidic process, leaving pieces of the original images. Miller on the other hand, exhibiting "Sprungus Growth", brings the viewer into a disjointed, surreal space, which can be flat and have incredible depth at the same time. his intensely detailed style of painting and contrasting organic and mechanical structures create incredibly quizzical images which one must study for some time to understand all of its many pieces. The University of Saint Francis also had a stand out with Justin Johnson's "Cicada Altar", a collection of twelve mixed media pieces presented in a perfect grid, depicting various images of insects in a highly contrasting black and white and metallic color palette.

While all of the pieces exhibited show great technical expertise, an experienced studio practice, and firm conceptual foundation, there were a handful of standouts.
One of these clear standouts was Matthew Walsh, a new IPFW graphic design professor whose untitled ink on paper piece was very fresh, simple, and explored the growing use of words and especially an exploration of font, in art. Walsh, the visiting assistant professor at IPFW's Communication and Design program, is playful and ambiguous with his composition, forcing the viewer to understand the logic of his words for themselves, and in the process visually scanning the entire image. The fact that Walsh is able to do this with only black ink on white paper is a testament to his abilities as an artist, and eschew the myth that graphic designers are somehow different creatively than fine artists.

Next, another IPFW professor exhibiting stunning work is Audrey Ushenko with "Model with an Attitude" a rather large figure done in oil. Ushenko's technical skills are very clear with the seemingly effortless rendering of the human figure in a forward incline to the viewer, with a foreshortened leg and foot, and details in the flesh and hair. Slightly vignetted, the image gains from the sense of immediacy of its paint, as thought the artist was making a large scale sketch which became a working piece. The sketching in the cloth and the background, as well as the general treatment of the figure references painters like Alice Neel and Lucian Freud. Ushenko's artistic confidence and ability to not hide behind some of the conventions of the art world, like constructing high order conceptual mechanisms to propel a weaker image, show the amount of creative control and power an artist can have.

Like Ushenko, Tom Keesee expression this nonchalant and powerful ability to not hide his art behind conventions. "View From the North Rim", an exquisite large scale oil painting by local painter and print maker Tom Keesee is highlighted in the forefront of the gallery. Keessee's constructed paintings, made by building the image through a Hoffmanian use of color to trick our eyes into an intense depth of field, looking into one of the larger views into the Grand Canyon. Keesee's use of a palette knife, and the sheer amounts of paint which he uses gives his work a near relief feeling, as light plays off of the surface giving it both actual shadows, and ones constructed through his use of grays and blues within the context of the painting. One of the most impressive and comforting aspects of Keesee's paintings is the fact that they support themselves as representations, both credible in their imagery and in their status as art. Because of the way Keesee works, he does not need a heavy concept to propel the work farther than the image itself, and does not need to do anything more than represent an images which has already been seen. The process behind his art is enough.

With such a strong showing from the Regional University Exhibition, Fort Wayne is rare to have such an large number of active artists, both locally and nationally, while have relatively few venues for exhibition and sale of art at the local level. This is a very strong exhibition, and one well worth seeing.

Artlink's Regional University Exhibition
March 6th-April 7th, 2010
Opening Reception: March 6th, 2010, 6-9pm

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