Friday, June 3, 2011

A Marvelous Month for Alternative Spaces

Alpha art collector Kirk Blunck explained his presence at a coffeehouse art show recently.

“Everybody starts out as a local artist. I bought an entire box of photographs once, mostly as a favor to a friend, for $100 a piece. The photographer was Anna Gaskell,” he said, alluding to an artist whose prints start now at around 75 times the price he paid and go up to $35,000.

This month Blunck purchased three works on paper at a Mars Coffeehouse exhibition of Jeremiah Elbel which runs through April. Elbel is a monstrously talented young artist who had a painting in a Saatchi Gallery show in London last year that drew the largest crowds of the year in the UK. He works in black and white, metaphorically and literally, painting with tar and drawing with charcoal. His subjects in the new show are portraits of decapitated humans - some Mexican drug war victims, some victims of Islamic terrorists, others of Shari'a, or French law. They are rendered in charcoal, with curved vertical lines dominating and reminding one of Egon Schiele, an admitted influence. Danny Pearl is one subject that didn’t make Elbel’s cut.

“I tried but I couldn’t. I watched the video (Al-Qaeda’s “The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl,” in which Khalid Sheik Mohammad saws off the head of the Wall Street Journal reporter) but it was too disturbing,” Elbel explained.

For now, Elbel remains a local artist. The father of two young children, he works a full time day job plus several nights a week bartending at Sbrocco. He still makes time to build a repertoire that continues to impress international collectors.

Other extraordinary artists are also showing in alternative spaces this month. Lindy Smith moved back to Iowa last summer after 35 years on the road. During the 1990’s, she documented the people and horses of the American west (“Straight West: Portraits and Scenes from American Ranch Life”) in photographs she took between the Mexico and Wyoming. In the last decade her work documented the flora of the American prairie.

For that, Smith revived Kallitype, a 19th century alternative photo process that involves iron salts and silver nitrates on paper exposed to ultraviolet light. Sometimes called “sun printing,” this process allows Smith to produce life sized images of native plants in a range of tones partially created by sunlight interacting with decomposing plants.

“I rarely know what the end result will be and that in itself holds my interest,” she explained.

Smith has done quite well in galleries of Santa Fe and New York City. She has also completed commissions for Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in Iowa and similar places in Illinois and California. This Friday, she opens an exhibition at The Mansion with Madai Taylor, an original Iowa artist who paints with dirt, mixing different soils with gesso and scratching layers as they dry. Both artists work large. Each will show around twenty big works requiring a massive amount of wall space. With over 3000 square feet in several rooms, The Mansion has more than many galleries do.

In more traditional galleries this month, Chris Vance’s annual exhibition continues in, and outside, at Moberg Gallery. This year’s Senior Thesis Exhibition at Drake’s Anderson and Weeks galleries is the strongest in many years: Lucca Wang and Rachel Crown translate big personalities into paintings and Hannah Bloom demonstrates stunning mastery of several different media.

At Heritage Gallery “Lovers, Mothers & Their Dreams” features two sculptors, Annick Ibsen and Linda Lewis, who channel whimsy into profound, ironic statements about the human condition. That show opens April 25 with a reception on April 28. At Olson-Larsen Galleries, public art specialist Mike Baur shows small scale works along with clay vases and clay paintings by John Beckelman, and abstract landscapes and still lifes by Stephen Dinsmore.

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