Staff Pick

Staff Pick: Unfinished Thoughts

Dreamlike, a summer pastoral landscape emerges through a haze of atmospheric light, as if conjured by our own vision.  Brushy suggestions of clouds meander across an otherwise ambiguous and aleatory sky while we stand at the edge of a field fading into scattered optical unconscious. This oil painting by Jonathan Wilde, exhibited in his current show with Craig Clifford entitled Birds and Boundaries, as its title suggests, is in name, unfinished. However, as it hangs framed on a white gallery wall, its name is a bit of a paradox.

 Unfinished Thoughts, Jonathan Wilde, 17.5" x 28"

Unfinished Thoughts, Jonathan Wilde, 17.5" x 28"

Unfinished Thoughts belongs to a class of works that Art Historians call non finito, that is to say, intentionally left unfinished. Though the technique traditionally was used in sculpture during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, nineteenth-century artists during the Romantic era began applying the style to their paintings. Many scholars, myself included, argue that this quality signals the beginning of Modernism as we know it. 

Artists, especially painters, have historically struggled with the finishing their works. While Jacques-Louise David and Paul Cézanne embraced non finito works, deliberately leaving large areas unfinished or blank entirely, others, such as Claude Monet and Joseph Mallord William Turner, never felt their works were finished and rather continued to develop over their careers, returning again and again to paintings to make small additions here and there. These works represent the problem of infinite of possibility, finite time, and the possibility of over working (of which I am myself, a watercolor artist, acutely aware). Camille Pissarro even famously proclaimed that “[t]o finish a work, is to kill it.”

Non finito works are, at their core, experimental; we can see the artist’s process as he works out visual challenges— his thoughts leaving their mark across the canvas. I believe that works like Unfinished Thoughts hold a particular power as they insist the viewer actively participate; our inherently creative minds make sense of the “partial” image  by filling incomplete portions— we too become artists in our own right. Looking becomes making.

Staff Pick: Iceberg Jars

The death of a glacier is an ear-splitting event. A cacophonous chorus of moans, groans, shrieks and wails accompanied by rounds of shotgun cracks create a deafening atmosphere unlike anything else on earth. These death rattles are the loudest natural phenomenon—louder than volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and thunderstorms combined. However, sound cannot travel in a vacuum, like that contained in a bell jar, a vessel which became immensely popular for the display of taxidermy and other curiosities during the Victorian era. Richard Jones’s Iceberg Jars, part of the Abel Contemporary Gallery’s Water exhibition, play with the imminent reality that glacial ice, due to man’s interactions with the environment, will soon become such a curiousity.

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The Iceberg Jars are reminiscent of biological specimens in a natural history collection, preserved for study so that future generations may study these bygone relics. Their striking beauty is bittersweet and in their viewing one is confronted with a mix of emotions: awe, loss, veneration, introspection, a desire to touch something so transient, fragile, and breakable. Upon lifting their lids and reaching in to feel the glistening texture of the exposed tip of the iceberg, one discovers the surprising weight of the sculpture which invites further investigation after the realization that the inner “berg” may be lifted out to enable functional use (I envision these as fantastic ice buckets and imagine watching the ice melt down around the inner piece, dripping down along the long contours of submerged half of the iceberg, and pooling at the base of the jar). 

 

 

-Lauren Miller

Staff Pick: Scene of the Crime

Rounding the leaden door of the so-called “Cooler” gallery, we are transported, like Alice down the rabbit hole, into a world in which our existence is diminutive in the presence of an enormous severed string of pearls. Of course, the sensation of being made small by a work of art is nothing new, evoking the sublime often being the artist’s goal. However, in the case of Lisa Gralnick’s Scene of the Crime, what dwarfs the viewer is not only the colossal sculpture, but rather the act which created this spectacle and our interactions with the piece. 

Pearls are the world’s oldest gems, found among the tombs of Egyptian queens, referenced in ancient Chinese texts, and imbedded in Greek jewelry. Before the discovery of modern cultivation techniques, pearls were both financially and, at times, legally out of the reach of anyone not of royal or noble blood. Functioning as symbols of the wearer’s purity, piousness, and often femininity, strings of pearls often stand in for their iconic owners, Coco Channel, Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly and Marge Simpson to name a few. 

Curiously, from their conception, pearls are products of irritation— being formed by particles covered in layer upon layer of a crystalline substance excreted by their mollusk craftsmen. Gralnick’s work is also seeded by a similar punctum. The gesture of tearing off one’s pearls— be it by one’s own hand in a fit of hysteria, like the femme fatale staring in a film noir, or by an assailant, as in the case Bruce Wayne (Batman)’s Mother’s tragic demise— is a trope of climactic rejection of their emblematic affluence. 

Scene of the Crime poses the viewer in the position of witness, or perhaps investigator, of such a dramatic and pivotal episode. The larger than life evidence imbues the claustrophobic “Cooler Gallery” with echoing and inescapable lines of questioning: “What happened here?”; “Who has done this?”; and “Why?” A single matching pearl stud lays discarded near the exit, its partner no where to be found— hinting that the owner escaped the Scene of the Crime and still is at large. 

-Lauren Miller

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About the author: Lauren is the newest addition to the Abel Gallery, bringing with her a BA with Honors and two years of PhD work from the University of Wisconsin— Madison in Art History and Visual Cultures; several years of curatorial and exhibition work for the Chazen Museum of Art, the James Watrous Gallery, and the Ebling Library; and an unrelenting enthusiasm for the Arts. She engages with interdisciplinary topics running the gamut from nineteenth-century spiritualist photography and victorian sorcery, to phenomenological examinations of Cézanne and his contemporaries, to early anatomical texts.

Staff Pick - After Shiko's: Hara, A Line at the Foot of Mt. Fuji

Carol Chase Bjerke’s new work is an excellent showing of what can be done in and out of constraints. It feels almost silly even saying that, as Carol’s work has, for as long as I have seen it, existed outside of the bounds of the photography I was familiar with. She’s built a long history of using unorthodox cameras, developing techniques, subject matter, and even developed a new medium in the realm of photography with her limnographs. With these three new pieces she upheld that desire to work beyond the medium, but did so within a surprisingly narrow frame of reference.

“Hara, A Line at the Foot of Mt. Fuji”, printed in 1964 by Shikō Munakata, serves as the direct inspiration for Bjerke’s piece. I would go further to call it a translation from the media of woodblock to limnograph. Looking at the two side by side it becomes clear that Carol’s technique has something to offer the composition.

I think the most interesting distinction between the two is the presence they each give off. Shikō’s mountain is imposing, dense, and one gets the feeling, too large to even fit in the frame he has given it. We’re seeing only a cropping of Mt. Fuji’s grandeur, and yet its power is unquestionable. Carol’s mountain is powerful to be sure, but there is a softness there. The streaking where the developing fluid breaks away reveals an aging, flawed, and resoundingly beautiful peak. Unlike Shikō’s piece there’s vulnerability accompanying intensity.

 

I have not seen Mt. Fuji in person, and as a man born and raised in the midwest I spend very little time with mountains. The closest analogue I have spent any real time with are the bluffs at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin. As a kid we would go once a year to take in some scenery, swim in the lake, and climb the rocks to the top. The height of the bluffs always seemed staggering at around 500ft. From the bottom nearly impossible to take in the entirety of the scope of it. Mt. Fuji is 12,388. Always good to give yourself perspective.


Aedric Donovan
Gallery Associate

Staff Pick - Rick Hintze and Allan Servoss

 Yunomi

Yunomi

Rick Hintze represents the qualities of functional ceramic that I absolutely adore. He combines the best traits of tradition, with the push for exploration in his work.

His influence from the Japanese masters is evident both in the form and glazing of his work. There is an amount of careful variation cutting through the standardization, the tradition of which can be related back hundreds of years to the first followers of the wabi-sabi, the movement of aesthetes that pushed for an acceptance, and appreciation for the imperfection and transience of existence. Hintze has found a way to let this imperfection and variation into his work in different, almost opposite ways in his different styles. On one side we have the explosion of ash and iron and slip. The slip cracks and crawls across the surface in a hundred different directions, and is accented by a soft undulation in the clay.

 
 Here and There

Here and There

Servoss’ work hits close to home in a different way. The sprawling cornfields, lonely farm-houses, and towering trees dredge up memories of my beginning years in the Illinois countryside. In the middle of nowhere by all approximations, the only thing different about my memories and these scenes are the notable lack of hills. His paintings remind me of the tremendous beauty and mystery that can be found in the most innocuous of locations. Despite the unnerving qualities found in the work, on a whole I find them to be strangely comforting.

Looking at the two technically, I find many similarities in the handling of Allan’s colored pencil to Rick’s glazing techniques. There is so much hidden detail in the subtly shifting colors. The individual strokes and flicks of his mark making, just as with the cracking glaze, pull together into a cohesive surface. No clearer is this seen than in the bark and branches of Allan’s trees. Small splits of wood mirror the ceramic surface to an uncanny level.

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Digging into these comparisons further I keep finding little pieces of each artist’s work connecting with each other. Little things, the right tone of blue-green glaze hitting the hue of the grass in Allan’s nocturn. The ash on porcelain pooling into a glassy ocean ice, not unlike Allan’s “World’s Edge.” The iron line-work on one of Hintze’s vessels meeting the horizon line of a corn field. Having walked through the show dozens of times now I can only describe it as magical.

 Teacup

Teacup

 Along the Northern Edge

Along the Northern Edge