UNCHARTED - Amanda Acker & Todd Freeman

The Surrealist painter René Magritte famously challenged the preconditioned associations of subject and image. By rendering familiar objects or human figures in a removed or unlikely context, he forces the viewer to engage the always-present gap between seeing and knowing. We may see an image and identify it, but due to its context, or lack thereof, we are left in limbo, unable to completely settle what we see with what our previous experience may have informed us about the subject. In this way, ambiguous and poetic possibilities of mystery, memory and imagination are given a greater significance than any literal depiction. No matter how realistic a subject may be painted, sculpted or drawn, the greatest essence of the subject remains in the viewer’s mind, not in the image.

In UNCHARTED, the works of Amanda Acker and Todd Freeman could be interpreted to follow a related trajectory, even if they don’t share Magritte’s burdensome quest to agitate a new movement of art theory. The drawings and paintings of Acker and Freeman suggest a journey, though without ever telling us what exactly that journey holds.

Each artist omits context in a pattern inverse to the other. Acker’s paintings offer a rich sequence of light-filled outdoor scenes. Flora, soil, water, and the slight suggestion of human presence are dynamically rendered, though for the most part in downcast, limited perspectives. It is never directly explained to be so, but the landscapes and flora feel familiar to a rural Great Lakes setting. The human figures, including shadow, are not identified, causing them to feel pleasantly mysterious, though not ominous. These believable scenes are beautifully depicted, though without sufficient context for us to fully agree on what is actually taking place, or by whom. Acker describes the paintings as both nostalgic and familiar, perhaps like a dream.

Freeman, on the other hand, produces finely detailed drawings that display every tiny element of his object-subjects, but without any context of use or location. They are drafted in a uniformly flat forced perspective so that no part is obscured. That, combined with the warm fading of the antique paper, makes it feel as if we are looking at images taken from an old textbook, a vintage instructional manual, or perhaps a traveling scientist’s notebook. Part natural history, part human history, part architecture, part utility and part invention, the rendering of these objects seems undoubtedly accurate, though their full function and origin remain unknown.

In both cases, the most powerful quality of Acker’s and Freeman’s images is not what they fully explain, but the exploration they quietly and beautifully suggest. UNCHARTED documents the tools, landscapes and specimen findings of an unknown expedition. The viewer must rely on his or her own memory and imagination to unfold the possibilities that the images provide.

- Michael DeMaagd Rodriguez, curator

Masks & Faces

2015 is officially designated as the Year of Arts + Access in Grand Rapids. Endorsed by city leadership and supported by a variety of public and private institutions, a highlight of this initiative is the DisArt Festival. The largest festival of its kind in the United States, DisArt is a multi-platform, multi-venue event the combines art, fashion, performance, film and comedy for one goal: to change perceptions about disability.

The festival’s organizers recognize that we have been conditioned to fear differences. Disabilities -- mental, emotional, and physical – are commonly met with pity or an anxious confusion. DisArt was founded to facilitate a dialogue that will change this. Among the festival’s core beliefs are that disability is a natural human experience and that art holds a uniquely transformative means to change perceptions about disability.

Have Company is excited about DisArt’s goals and inspired to participate. Running simultaneously with the dates of the festival, April 10-25, Masks & Faces is a gallery exhibition that shares a small part of the experiences of six artists who all identify as disabled persons. Three work, or worked, from Heartside Gallery in Grand Rapids, MI; three work from Visionaries + Voices in Cincinnati, OH.

The theme for the exhibition is inspired by my own brother, a man with autism. Among the distinguishing features of his experience, he is unable to “read” others’ faces. He has a remarkable sensitivity and memory for the physical characteristics of a face – shapes, textures, colors, etc. Yet, he is entirely blind to facial paralanguage that many of us rely on to efficiently communicate complex thoughts and emotions. In fact, he is often quite uncomfortable with the notion of looking directly at another’s face while speaking with them. For many years, he has expressed a somewhat obsessive association with Phantom of the Opera, a story whose secretive lead character is famously masked to hide his scarred deformities. Faces fascinate my brother, but lost by their language, he finds comfort in the thought of observing in safety behind an imagined mask of his own.

In organizing Masks & Faces, I simply ask, what does each artist’s depiction, manipulation or disguising of a face tell us about how they see themselves and others? These portraits provide a revealing look at a cross section of memory, hope, anxiety, fascination and obsession. These are their stories, their masks and faces.

- Michael DeMaagd Rodriguez, curator

 

Emily Funk

Visionaries + Voices

Cincinnati, Ohio

Emily Funk’s expressive monoprints on paper allow us into her world, to see subjects as she subjectively sees them. Most often focusing on the depiction of celebrities, Funk takes tabloid imagery and through her process distorts them into haunting icons. Funk’s approach begins with a mass produced cultural image and ends with a one of a kind monoprint, rebelling against the postmodern tendency to produce for the masses and appeal to the masses. Funk’s process of printing in black ink and then painting over it suggests a masquerading effect of the figures, as if to say although they are part of our collective cultural consciousness we are viewing them through Funk’s personal lens and emotional interpretation. 

Bertha Zamora and Emily Funk

Bertha Zamora and Emily Funk

  

Deb Dieppa

Heartside Gallery

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Deb Dieppa paints and draws in testament to her experience of deep pain, shame, resentment and healing. A survivor of sexual abuse, Dieppa makes portraits that are each representative of just a small piece of a complex emotional identity. Though usually rendered flat and two-dimensional, the faces’ expressions are wrenching and arresting, their eyes are deep and remembering. The tense fingers and contorted limbs show a struggle for self-protection. Colors are important in Dieppa’s artworks, indicating feelings of sadness, anger and freedom. Dieppa continues to make her work with remarkable vulnerability and honesty, both for her own healing, as well as to speak to others with similar experiences.

Deb Dieppa & Mark Smith

Deb Dieppa & Mark Smith

 

Willie Jones (1955-2013)

Heartside Gallery

Grand Rapids, Michigan

A fixture of Heartside Gallery, Willie Jones became well-known as a prolific artist. He created thousands of drawings of hot rods and classic cars, often coupled with other items of secondary interest, such as musical instruments, trees or flowers. Each rapidly sketched drawing was labeled, signed and dated, though with a year that, to an observer, lacked any particular relevance. Not to be slowed down by explaining his logic, Jones claimed that the numbers just came to him. Passengers are not always present in his vehicles; in fact, they are most often omitted. It would appear that to Jones, the people in the cars were of subordinate concern to the car itself. When people are shown, they are depicted anonymously, charmingly simplified, but with somewhat unsettling rigidity. Defining characteristics, except for female hair, are absent. Their faces and postures provide us no clues as to their identities and experiences. Jones left us impressed by the shear volume of his work, but still wondering as to how he himself related to the people depicted in his drawings. 

Willie Jones & Mark Smith

Willie Jones & Mark Smith

 

Mark Smith

Visionaries + Voices

Cincinnati, Ohio

Mark Smith comes to understand his subjects of women and masks through the process of drawing or painting them. His repetitive and rhythmic drawing style focuses on the medium of drawing itself, playing with expressive line and styles such as never raising the line-making device once it has touched the paper. Smith takes inspiration from popular culture and through making these structured, centered compositions he finds the balance between this culture and his own responses to it. Smith’s ritualized process in creating his drawings of masks refers to their use in rituals throughout history, showing a rich contrast between past and present culture. 

 

Elmer

Visionaries + Voices

Cincinnati, Ohio

Elmer carries out his voyeuristic colored pencil drawings of women and landscapes in a minimal style not giving away too much information, rather believing that the whole is simply a sum of its parts.  Elmer’s preoccupation with one dimension of the entire story is distinctively reductionist and compels the viewer to wonder what is the whole story. Elmer draws very similar portraits and landscapes over and over in a ritualized manner always dividing the canvas into pleasing ratios where color takes center stage, summoning pure human emotion. The unbroken surface of the flat picture plane draws one’s attention to the smoothness in texture and the haunted gaze of the women in the portraits leads one to ask who is this woman? Is she someone distinctive, or reductionist pieces of all women compiled into a mask that can be transformative and exploitive at once? Elmer’s work tells us that one dimension of the story is all we need to know.

Mark Smith, Elmer & Bertha Zamora

Mark Smith, Elmer & Bertha Zamora


Bertha Zamora

Heartside Gallery

Grand Rapids, Michigan

The ceramic works by Bertha Zamora explore body forms with both an earnest curiosity and a whimsical imagination. Her head vessels and wall masks imply a wide variety of human color, texture, shape and hairstyle. Some seem to be honest renderings of real people; others are playful and free with fantastical accessories or humorous and knowing expressions. Zamora’s hand is ever-present in each piece; never too polished or too perfect, we can clearly see the marks of her fingers molding the faces’ features. We are also witness to the difficulty of a slow, multi-step craft that is occasionally interrupted by instability. Some faces are incomplete, lacking features or glaze. Others are cracked by kiln misfires, stained by spilled glazes or broken in handling. Zamora’s objective is never perfection, however, and perhaps her heads and faces demonstrate what is true of us all: our defining essence, our unique beauty and our charm is composed of flaws.

Bertha Zamora

Bertha Zamora

Beyond Material: In The Details + Guest Curator Kate Garman

As a material, fabric is all around us. It clothes our bodies, holds our belongings, covers our floors, decorates our windows, tables, beds and walls, and furnishes our homes and vehicles. It can contain, filter, clean, conceal, protect and comfort. Textiles are marvelously versatile and universally used, though it is exactly this convenient ubiquity that can also cause us to forget their potential as a powerful means of art making.

Alyssa Roach

Alyssa Roach

BEYOND MATERIAL, curated by Kate Garman, was created as an opportunity to reconsider textiles as a mode of conceptual contemporary art. The idea was born out of a curatorial proposal Garman developed while she was a student in the Visual Studies program at Grand Valley State University. Garman proposed a traveling exhibition, each iteration of which would be built around a unique theme, showcasing select artworks created by an ever-expanding pool of contemporary textile artists. Her proposal received support from an advisory group of professional curators and Garman assembled the first show, Beyond Material: Pattern’s Presence, for exhibition at GVSU’s Padnos Art Gallery in January 2014. This show explored the possibilities of pattern making with textiles. A second exhibition exploring texture, Beyond Material: Through the Surface, was on display through January and February 2015 at Scene Metrospace in East Lansing, Michigan.

Maggie Vance and Mandi Michielsen

Maggie Vance and Mandi Michielsen

Mandy Cano Villalobos

Mandy Cano Villalobos

Now shown in its third evolution, Beyond Material: In the Details considers the tiny details in textile art that are only obtainable by hand. From the smallest threads of delicate embroideries, to the thoughtful union of handmade paper and weavings, to the asymmetrical tension of a hand stitched tea bag quilt, the hand of the maker is prominently present in each work.

- Michael DeMaagd Rodriguez, curator

Closest to Clouds + Meghan Shimek & Nicholas Szymanski

MEGHAN SHIMEK is a weaver and fiber artist based in the San Francisco Bay area. She was first introduced to weaving just two years ago through a class in her hometown of Flint, Michigan, though her expertise and recognition in the craft has grown momentously since then. She has learned to weave with a variety of techniques, including traditional Navajo weaving, and now leads her own workshops in cities throughout California and beyond. She has even designed and produced a series of unique, user-friendly looms which are available for sale through her website. Meghan participates in an enthusiastic online community of fiber artists and regularly documents her latest designs to a passionate online audience in excess of eight thousand viewers.

Fall by Meghan Shimek

Fall by Meghan Shimek

Though already accomplished in a variety of weaving styles, one of Meghan’s most distinctive and celebrated directions is her use of raw roving fibers as a primary weaving material. Roving, long drawn out bundles of carded fiber, is more commonly used by crafters who do their own felting or yarn spinning. In her weavings, however, the roving allows Meghan to produce thick, highly textured compositions with warm, complex shadow patterns. The roving is softly twisted as it threads through the warp, creating gentle, bulbous shapes that seem contained, yet relaxed and free to slowly wander. There is an impression of simultaneous lightness and heavy mass, of an ordered comfort and also unpredictability. Her roving compositions are methodical, but rarely pre-planned. 

Meghan prefers to use un-dyed or naturally dyed fibers and the colors seen in her roving weavings feel familiar to the earth, the sky and to the animal coats the fibers first came from. Humble observation of nature is a significant influence to Meghan’s work. She recounts watching the sky and the changing clouds, looking through canopies of Redwood forests, listening to streams, and remembering the cold, snowy nights of her Michigan childhood.

NICHOLAS SZYMANSKI is a West Michigan native and 2013 B.F.A. graduate of Kendall College of Art and Design. He has experimented variously with drawing, ceramics and collage, but has concentrated his focus on painting. He self-identifies as a contemporary painter, though doesn’t express allegiance to any particular style or movement. As an artist, he is enamored with his material, not a message. Nicholas is a formalist, passionately concerned with the subtle visual details of his craft: how paint layers rest on each other, how the paint is received by different textures and weights of canvas or panel, or how light reflects across the surface of the work. He works comfortably with oil, acrylic and gouache. On occasion, Nicholas will introduce a non-traditional collage element, or work reductively, usually by sanding. The paintings are often smooth, flat and washed, at times as if the paint were intending not to cover the surface, but to stain it.

Morning by Nicholas Szymanski

Morning by Nicholas Szymanski

The lack of discernable subject matter often leads viewers to describe Nicholas’s work as minimalist, as term he himself avoids. As a movement, Minimalism has aesthetic and social goals that he doesn’t necessarily share. And, in fact, his paintings are actually quite complex, even if their patterns are not pronounced loudly. Subdued abstraction might be a more appropriate description. The works contain an atmospheric quality, a soft density that obscures clarity, like a cool morning fog or a cloudy, humid horizon. We are reminded, too, of the multiforms and color fields of the great Abstract Expressionist painters. Nicholas’s paintings are also informed by his habit of looking for artistic visions in unexpected places. He describes a fascination by the tiny, usually ignored visual encounters of daily life, like a well-worm floor surface, a foggy window or subtle changes in light and shadow. It is, for him, poetry of the underappreciated; a slow, quiet and introspective digestion of image.

- Michael DeMaagd Rodriguez, curator

Each Spot, Speck and Thread + Brenda Beerhorst and Hillery Sproatt

As the wife of well-known Grand Rapids painter, Rick Beerhorst, and the mother of six artist children, Brenda has long been a familiar fixture in the West Michigan arts community. Raising a household of eight is no light task, however, and when her family was younger it was understandably difficult to find time and space to cultivate a consistent studio practice. Textile art, particularly the making of latch hook rugs, was a good creative outlet for Brenda during these years. (Two of these such rugs, well-worn from daily use at home, can be seen in the bay window vignette.) She describes the repetitive process of stitching rugs as calming and prayerful. And, as the materials required little set-up and had nothing to spill, they could be quickly put down or restarted at any moment without losing much of the process.

As her children grow older, Brenda is afforded more time to explore painting. Over several years she has developed an intuitive process of creating free form shapes in overlapping colorful layers of acrylic, gouache, and ink on wooden panels. With each successive layer, shapes and color blocks are created, rearranged or even covered completely. Between layers, delicate and timeworn textures are made through reductive sanding. She works on multiple panels simultaneously, though the colors and patterns can vary significantly from one piece to the next as the works take on distinct personalities. The paintings often feel familiar to the domestic tasks involved with raising a family, such as mending, patch making, and quilting. Elapse, for example, is literally collaged with patches of fabric from an old dress. There is rarely a premeditated plan for any particular painting. In fact, Brenda will sometimes paint over her favorite areas of a piece to avoid the self-limiting block of preserving something that has become too precious. Brenda describes her painting practice as meditative, in many ways spiritually similar to her relationship with rug making.

Hillery Sproatt is a recent transplant to Grand Rapids, having lived in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Baltimore, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Though her B.F.A. concentration was in printmaking and drawing, she has often felt more comfortable with textiles. The daughter of L.A. clothing designer and fiber artist, Debra Weiss, Hillery describes an upbringing surrounded by colorful yarns, threads and fabrics. Hillery is a skilled maker of weavings, stuffed dolls and embroideries, and recently she contributed textile designs to the linen collections of retailer Unison Home.

It wasn’t until moving to Grand Rapids a little over a year ago that Hillery earnestly returned to drawing and painting. Using acrylic, gouache, enamel, ink, pencil, and even nail polish, Hillery colorfully creates both abstracts and figurative domestic landscapes on paper. She works in detail, preferring deliberate, controlled marks and, at times, nearly invisibly small brush strokes. Her domestic scenes are a mixture of imagined places with a manipulated sense of dimension, combined with charmingly distorted renderings of real-life artworks, architecture, textiles, food and home furnishings. She draws inspiration from images in books, as well as the objects she collects and uses in her intimate home and studio. Hillery continues to practice the making of textiles and drawings side by side, moving fluidly between each craft. It is not surprising that the embroideries and drawings share a familiar texture, with each tiny spot and brush stroke mimicking the delicate weight of a stitched thread.

- Michael DeMaagd Rodriguez, curator