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USF Alumni and Faculty Exhibition

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


It is rare to find an exhibition with dominant and secondary abstract and realistic paintings, caricatured bronzes, conceptual encaustics, and "living" new media robotics all three feet from one on another.

Welcome to the Annual University of Saint Francis Faculty/Alumni Exhibition, a mishmash of works in progress, pinnacle career defining images, and lifelong practices. This long standing tradition places former students with their professors, and provides a wide-ranging spectrum of media, concept, and attempt. A wonderful sideline aspect to this annual event is to see which former students are exceeding their professors, and which professors are being pushed in new directions by current students.

Many names lived up to their usual success in entertaining through images like Justin Henry Miller's comical, grotesque, candy-painted mutations, and Michelle Diller's subtle, cliche busting, near Sherrie Levine-ian images of women in various types of domesticity.

Or Nancy Malis' wonderful, whimsically grounding wire form welded steel "Figure and Fire Dog" and "Unknown Not Finished," and James D. Harp's purely formal "Raku II."

However, unlike Alumni/Faculty shows in the past, this year's version seemed to be lacking some strength in certain genres, and in the total output of arresting images. Faculty output seemed to carry the majority of the show, and alumni output was comparably spotty.

The exhibition's headlining pieces certainly included Mary Klopfer's allegorical "Dunce", a tall, lanky, flimsy welded steel skeletal figure composed mostly of a head, hands, and bones. This Sisyphean character is being tormented, not led, by a carrot strung from a javelin piercing his conical cap. The character's pose is of a nervous child, trying to sit still but too excited not to squirm forward and back, torquing its back and not knowing what to do with its feet and toes. Klopfer's figurative sculptures over the last few years have mostly taken the forms of someone tormented figures, along in an abstracted space like a Giacommetti, focused singularly on an aspect of the sculpture itself, be it the carrot in "Dunce," or its genitals/lack there of in "Jerk". These expertly welded, crafted, glazed, and composed figures tell Human tales, like pop-modern myths. The tragedy in "Dunce" is that there is a pile of ceramic carrots at the base of the chair the figure is sitting on an age old tale brought forth through a brand new, and hardly forgettable character.

Other notable Faculty pieces include Sean Hottois's "Art Bot Admires Abstract Expressionism," an installation involving a horizontal canvas, a robot with electro-umbilical life support coming down from a gallery light, wheels, and acrylic paint. Scott Ziegler's "Fight or Flight" includes imagery reminiscent of Trenton Doyle Hancock painted onto a ceramic vessel that includes a lightbulb, a skeletal hand, and pedestal, all with pared down use of color and form.

Then of course there are the three masters: Maurice Papier, Tom Keesee, and Arthur Cislo. The three artists use their vast experience and tempered ingenuity to put forth never-ending streams of imposing imagery. Keesee's "Land of Canyons" is another great sculpted landscape, layering oil like frosting to create interstitial, dimensional images. Maurice Papier's "Ornamental Landscape" is the result of hours of painting, collaging, and the never-ending struggle to compose these discrete pieces and discrete concepts. Cislo includes new images which seem to include the same Chagall-like mystical symbology of figures and color, but in distinctly less Biblical images with "I was like a beast before you," and "Incline Thine Ear," both watercolor and woodblock.

As far as notable Alumni inclusions in this year's exhibition, Bob Kiel's metal assemblage's "Horns of Plenty", and "Radar", Stephanie Carpenter's "Design/Devil" 2-color letterpress piece, and Austin Cartwright's "Untitled" oil painting struck the eye. Clearly, the strongest Alumni pieces were Audrey Riley's "Abstract/Concrete" and "Untitled (Other People's Money)", both encaustic paintings. Riley's maturity in "Abstract/Concrete" is the current capstone to years of wordplay pieces which took a multitude of forms, and the use of various materials which further expressed the words she wrote. The somewhat recent exploration of encaustic painting has led to these ghosting, overlaying, abstracted word combinations which make palpable our languages ability to fold in on itself. "Abstract/Concrete" is explaining itself both in concept and form.

"Untitled (Other People's Money)" shows Riley dipping her toes into a vast pool of encaustic possibilities by adding wax cast letters which are fused on the slick encaustic surface, blending painting, sculpture, writing, and image making. This innovation is bound to unfold another dimension of conceptual possibilities in Riley's work as well. "Other People's Money" is conceptually a continuation of Riley's teasing the viewer with conservative politics through aesthetics-something very rarely seen-and took a new turn through the use of performance. "Other People's Money" was free. To the initial consternation of the SOCA gallery, Riley explained that the piece was free for anyone to take, and so the School added it to its private collection! This act of charity as performance, concept, and activist statement unfolds new realms for Riley as well. "Other People's Money" allowed Riley to look beyond the object while making the object, and look beyond the tradition of painting through the use of wax forms.

The University of Saint Francis' School of Creative Arts (SOCA) has consistently been producing great exhibitions over the past year, with a focus on challenging art that is presented so expertly, it carries the viewer through the exhibition, without interruption, allowing an experience closer to osmosis than challenging reflection. While the Annual Alumni/Faculty Exhibition includes some incredibly notable pieces, some glue seemed to be missing in the final product, producing a jaunt from expert image to less than expert pieces. Still, this exhibition is a great view of the range of arts produced through SOCA's program and NE Indiana's art community.

"Alumni/Faculty Exhibition"
USF School of Creative Arts
present-January 15, 2012
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