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USF Alumni/Faculty Exhibition

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Over the last four years, the University of Saint Francis, School of Creative Arts (SOCA) has been successively outdoing itself when it comes its annual Alumni/Faculty Exhibition, a Fall must see in Fort Wayne's art calendar. In this rare glimpse, viewers can see former students' and professors' art next to each other, competing for the eye, eluding to and referencing each other's work, and portraying a general visual vocabulary for the school itself. This vocabulary can be mostly described as commodity based works (distinct image based works, versus installation or performance based works), highly figurative, and concentrated around photography, painting, and drawing. While there were certainly exceptions, and the options are always open to other work, this was the clear trajectory of the work being made.

Within this framework, there were a few stunning examples from each of these categories. Nicole Croy's "Translucent Beauty" digital images explore the interior form and aesthetic beauty of the doll, using it as a central psychological symbol of both the psyche of a child and the core identity of adults. By using the x-ray as both a physical and metaphorical exploration of these entrenched objects, Croy turns the doll into an incredibly strong, totemic template to work from. In her artist statement, Croy notes that upon viewing into these artificially perfect dolls, her interest is always in, "The hidden mechanics inside of the doll that keep it together, the nails, pins, wires, computers, tubes, magnets, and sometimes even stray eyeballs that fell inside of the doll during manufacturing…". Croy's images find this space between clinical composition and heart-wrenching empathy as they include the image of a child laid in front of the viewer as if dissected, with both insides and exterior visible, but also emphasizing the life-like quality of the head, particularly the facial features. Other notable photographers include Cara Wade's new Holga shot travel photographs, Jason Swisher's always interesting space-sculpting images of street culture, and Paul McCormick's calm, conceptual, environmental photographs.

When it comes to painters and craftspeople, the Alumni/Faculty exhibition truly excels. Tom Keesee and Arthur Cislo alone provide enough beauty and inspiring in their respective three pieces to write volumes about. Keesee's two pieces, "Early Afternoon, May 26 Grand Canyon", and "Afternoon, June 23, Eagle Marsh" are two small works of oil on paper which show his mastery of oils as well as his love of the natural environment, not to mention his innate ability to make a landscape evoke so much more. Arthur Cislo and his piece, "The Foundational Myth," which takes a much more Chagall styled feeling than some of his past work, and describes a both dark and vibrant scene of Adam and Eve in the garden, just as, and immediately after the eating of the fruit of knowledge and the fall of man.

Other great paintings and works on paper include Rebecca Stockert, Steven Labadessa, Justin Johnson, the collaborative works of Brandon Peat and Aaron Minier, Audrey Riley, and Brian Milcinovic. Stockert's ghostly contour figures are in stark contrast to her painterly rendered still lifes and portraits over the last two years. While these new images do lack some of the gravity of her older work, they hold their own. Steven Labadessa, SOCA's newest faculty member, presents two images, a painting "Fairy Tail 5", and a drawing "Porcupine D1, Vers. 2", each of which present the body in a distinctly unapologetic and hyperbolically unflattering way. "Porcupine D1, Vers. 2" includes the somewhat surreal inclusion of an abstracted figure do to the include of multiple hands along the spine, making a row of quills extending from next to rear. Brian Milcinovic's work, although in one way somewhat bare, contains an uncanny early American modernist feeling, like Charles Sheeler's architectural landscapes. In Milcinovic's "Steel Mills", the viewer sees a very soft edged, subtle hued industrial landmark punctuated by artificial lights and pillars of flame in the background set against a hazy night sky. This naive throwback to early modernism finds its place almost in spite of itself, perhaps due to our current social systems harkening back to similar times in manner ways.

Outside of these majority genres represented in "Alumni/Faculty Exhibition," the viewer finds two distinct three dimensional treats in surprising places with the works of Kim Schwartzhoff and Nancy Malis. Kim Schwartzhoff's small, contained, mixed media piece "Swarm" is as beautiful as it is puzzling, and represents something close to an installation in that it is composed of a small jewelry box as the focal point, as well as a bed of sand and a good deal of what seem to be tiny enamel honey bees! Inside the jewelry case the bees begin to coalescence into concentric circles around an image of a woman, seeming to be leisurely walking through her environment which we are only seeing a glimpse of through the bees. While "Swarm" is engrossing and impressive, it does seem to be more an exercise in formal issues than having much of concept to carry it. Still, to its credit, the piece allows the viewer to hang in and examine and re-examine before departing.

Nancy Malis's work, on the otherhand, is more traditional sculptural pieces that represent very distinct figures. "Stag II" and "Human Figure" are both welded steel objects, and because of their simplicity and small size, could easily be dismissed. However, Malis's Giacommeti-esque rendering of the figures, giving them a texture like something formed from modeling clay, and the impeccable economy which she displays in representing them is truly remarkable. Neither ornamented nor truly minimal, Malis' creations hover in-between.

While any annual exhibition takes the risk of being a let down eventually, SOCA's Alumni/Faculty Exhibition continues to impress and grow with each year. Through the ever expanding stock of talented artists, both graduated and currently employed, SOCA provides our community with a great way jump into the Fall inspired by magnificent works of art.

"2012 Alumni/Faculty Exhibition"
USF School of Creative Arts, John P. Weatherhead Gallery
October 27-December 16, 2012
(closed Thursday Nov. 22-Friday Nov. 23)

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