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Summer Arts Preview

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


After multiple seasons of stability and growth during a time of deep recession, Fort Wayne's art scene looks as though it is still growing over the Summer of 2010. An art scene usually tends to take off once a critical mass is created, allowing an increasing amount of competition to produce more general interest, more actors within the art scene (collectors, curators, artists, venues), and the beginnings of a true market. Even with a high unemployment level, there are a number of "Silver linings" in our current situation. More so now than in the past, Fort Wayne is on the verge of having these conditions within its arts scene. Currently, the confluence of the reopening of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, the returned interest in the downtown area, and the most recent plans to construct a Cultural District are all bolstering the growth of a diverse arts scene.

Opening up the summer season, the University of Saint Francis School of Creative Arts (SOCA) presented a two person, expansive Graduate Thesis Exhibition of two contrasting bodies of work created by Justin Johnson and Matt Stebing. This in depth look into these two promising local artists provides an example of the amount of work many Fort Wayne artists have, and which is rarely seen in such strong single viewings. Justin Johnson, the SOCA gallery director, exhibits a vast number of pieces that range from multiple series, and show a tight conceptual progression. Johnson's work, like "Cicada Altar", "Crucifixion", and "Deesis", are all mixed-media drawings using graphite and acrylic, tightly rendered, and composed in an exacting manner, but with a keen eye to the organic and less harsh of more classical work. On top of these initial mixed-media works, Johnson also uses gold overlays much like the very traditional practice of gold leafing, which complements the circuit of Platonic thought which is hinted at in his composition and content.

"Fertility Altar", another piece which has strong hints of neo-platonic and alchemical concept behind it, is an intricate arrangement of mixed media representations of, what seems to be scarab, a human pelvis, and a light bulb. The scarab, with only to arms left attached to a headless carapace, resembles the anatomical structure of a uterus with fallopian tubes ascending on either side. The light bulb's formal references to the womb make this piece especially interesting as an intro into another conversation in Johnson's work. This view of a conceptual manipulation of the meaning of everyday objects comes up in pieces like "Igniter", and the "Tools of Martydom" series. The more surprising new work which Johnson displayed, dispersed throughout his more recognizable work, was the large series of "Scholar Altars", which are digital illustrations of extremely textured sculptures which have a distinctly southeast Asian style, and closely resemble traditional Chinese scholar figurines. On top of these digital illustrations, Johnson continues his gold overlays as a signature of his work, but it seems that they are somewhat more expressive in this new body of work.

Unlike Johnson, Matt Stebing, a ceramicist and ceramic sculptor, is much more concerned with the formal functions and context in which his work inhabits. While concentrating mostly on the cylindrical form, Stebing explores the relationship between objects and uses a large variety of techniques to turn each abstracted composition into an orchestra of textures, colors, and patterns. Stebing's "Tall Cyclinder Series", including individual pieces like "A Conversation Between Men", "Just Lay With Me", and "Why Me", all treat space and form in the same way, creating an existential stage similar to Giacometti's spindly walking figures. Unlike Giacometti's compositions, Stebing's Cyclinders are much more emotive and interactive. "Why Me", for instance is a scene of four vertical cylinders position around, and seemingly mourning a fifth smaller cylinder which is laid horizontally and has an uneven, scarred finish. Other pieces, like "Lay With Me" is more sculptural and incorporates the formal issues of two adjacent objects, which also evoke an obvious figurative element.

Wunderkammer Company, Fort Wayne's newest non-profit organization devoted to contemporary art, is also very active over the this Summer with the second annual installment of the very successful "Summer Set" series at Club Soda, as well as a guest curatorial exhibition in the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's Regional gallery. The "Summer Set" series, a trio of exhibitions of contemporary art is a true collaboration between Club Soda and Wunderkammer Company, turning the fine dining establishment into a vibrant place for the arts community to network and see the art exhibited in a less formal, more accessible way. The first exhibition, during June, highlights the photography of Tim Brumbeloe, and last through the end of the month. The second and third exhibitions, in July and August respectively will not disappoint with a second solo exhibition, and the unveiling of Wunderkammer Company's first public art project, "Not Tony Smith." In addition to this, Wunderkammer Company has had the honor of exhibiting the work of 6 regional contemporary female artists in the exhibition "Self Construction" at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, which begins June 18th and lasts throughout the summer, ending on August 22nd.

And last but not least, the Lotus Gallery, downtown's newest exhibition space, will continue through the summer with "No Turning Back Now", an exhibition of contemporary figures featuring Jerrod Tobias and Brian Baker, and later, a solo exhibition of Christina Baloski. "No Turning Back Now", which opens on June 4th, is a two person exhibition contrasting the expressionistic figures of Jerrod Tobias, with the more exacting figurative paintings and sculpture of Brian Baker, both Fort Wayne artists.

"Graduate Thesis Exhibition", Justin Johnson and Matt Stebing
exhibition runs May 22nd-July 2nd.
University of Saint Francis, School of Creative Arts ,

"Summer Set: Tim Brumbeloe",
exhibition runs June 3-June 30.
Club Soda, 235 East Superior Street.

"No Turning Back Now", featuring Jerrod Tobias and Brian Baker,
The Lotus Gallery, 1301 S. Lafayette Street.
Opens Saturday, June 5th, 7-10pm. June 5th-July 14th.

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