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A community on display

Artlink’s Members Show

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Artlink’s Annual Members Show is now in full swing, with hundreds of pieces highlighting the talent, dedication, and exploration of the arts being created in Northeast Indiana. More than ever, this exhibition brings together our diverse community of artists and can be seen as a dense interconnected web of relationships as much as a fine art exhibition. This can be seen by the large number of professors’ and art teachers’ works being presented side-by-side with their current and former students, as well as pieces produced by each member of numerous partnerships, as well as long lasting friendships which have been based on and grown through the arts community.

With any large-scale community arts exhibition, there is a wide range of style, media, and level of skill in the creation of the works. Artlink’s Annual Members Show includes work by every walk of life, literally. There are artists with over 60 years of experience exhibited next to individuals with no formal training and essentially “paint on the weekends.” The beauty of an exhibition like this is that it levels the playing field in a number of ways, and brings people together in new and exciting ways. Two artists exhibited include Terry Ratliff and Thomas Leffers, both of which have a strong gestural
style and work that relies heavily on vibrant colors and strong contrast. These artists have recently worked together outside of Artlink and it is great to see their work together in a different context as well. When you consider that both Ratliff and Leffers have been making work independently and in relatively different “spheres of influence” both socially and artistically, with Ratliff’s work taking much more from expressionism and early modernism, and Leffers’ work being heavily influenced by abstract expressionism, it is interesting to see that they compliment each other so well.

The exhibition was also bittersweet in that it includes a piece by Norman Bradley, an artist who has been a pillar of Fort Wayne’s artistic community for decades, and who, as a professor at the Fort Wayne Art Institute, has also taught generations of our cities artists. Bradley recently passed away, and this somehow brings the community quality of this exhibition into further focus, as it includes both newcomers and elders, both celebration and mourning. Bradley’s signature style of dreamy abstraction expressionism comes directly from the source, being that his education and training
was congruent with the onset and mass appeal of the style. In “Emergence,” Bradley creates a scorching image using oranges and whites to draw the viewer’s eyes across the picture plane. With subtle blues and salmon brushstrokes, he subdues areas to give rest and pause, but it simultaneously produces a significant pulse to the piece by creating a direct contrast. All in all, “Emergence” is a beautiful example of Bradley’s work, and perhaps an interesting reminder than in one’s passing, there is the creation of a new form.

Elly Tullis’ piece “Misc. Blackbirds” is another show-stopping piece worth noting. Tullis’ work is always arresting, but something about this image truly drew the viewer in. This significant oil painting is in Tullis’ signature style and depicts various birds in flight and rest on a strong color field, reminiscent of Ross Bleckner’s work in the late 80’s and early 90’s which acted as elegiac images during the AIDS crisis. Upon closing inspection, Tullis’s work is much more expressive than Bleckner’s with wide brushstrokes and “scratchy” color fields covering up colors below. Like Bradley’s piece, “Misc. Blackbirds” is an image that uses contrasting colors to its full advantage. Tullis’ work is always a treat, and it is good to see new work coming out of this Northeast Indiana artist living outside of Fort Wayne’s urban core.

Another interesting piece, “Tamara,” by John Gruse, was a strong reminder that this local artist is not playing around and has been producing consistently strong work. Gruse’s abstract figurative style is evocative of both early modernism, which has come back as a strong trend in recent years, and specifically of hard edged version of Tamara De Lempicka’s work from the 1920’s. The writer wonders if the title is a direct reference or not to her oeuvre. In any case, Gruse’s image, “Tamara,” becomes an almost ghostly image of a woman, whose hair and dress have almost a samurai construction to them.

Other interesting pieces in the Artlink Member’s Show include Jeb Campbell’s “Dirty Coffee Table”; Lauren Castleman’s “Hostile Takeover”; Rich Manalis’ “Minimalism at Millennium Park”; Lizbeth Yager’s beautiful “Dragonfly Nest”; Robert Owen Vegeler’s “Russian Contemporary”; Maurice Papier’s “Gridscape” and Cathy Blyth’s “Moonset.” All demonstrate the variety of Fort Wayne’s art scene and show a strong community that belies its lack of large university presence, and lack of a strong local arts market. Through strong community exhibition’s like the Member’s Show, Artlink plays the important role of being the neutral ground, bringing people into art world with works which challenge. As a jumping off point for careers, arts appreciation, and artistic voices, this exhibition continues to impress and find new reason.

For More Info:
2016 Artlink Members Show
Now Through August 30

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.