Staff Pick: Richard Jones - Only Connect

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Richard Jones' recent show, Only Connect, is a challenging exhibit. Though this is his second show in our cooler space, the thoughtfulness in each of his pieces always impresses me. This level of care and attention to detail goes beyond what I consider reasonable in my own work, which inspires me to push myself even further.

The large structure Jones constructed in our cooler space was built specifically for the room. Small openings cut into the shell reveal the construction in limited cones, relying on multiple viewpoints to assemble a complete picture of the charred city within. In doing so, Jones has made internal conversation, or, preferably, conversation with one another a necessity to form understanding. As such, these ideas are not solely mine. Not by half.

Jones’ use of material as metaphor enchants me. While an artist working in glass might create mirrored surfaces, the use of literal mirrors is interesting, and feels especially poignant in this context. Through the inclusion of found mirrors and other such objects in his wall work, I see Jones drawing a direct connection to self reflection. Using found objects creates the impression that this is an assemblage of memories, artifacts, and remnants. His altering and augmenting of them creates a dream-like space; a location that becomes inhabited by everything you bring into it, filling the gaps with your own context and understanding. Although Jones has left ample room for the viewer to draw their own conclusions about his installation, it seems clear that he has a profound concern for the health of the environment and the earth we live on.

When I approach Only Connect, I feel a sense of loss, and of warning. I’m an optimistic person--almost to a fault. No matter the situation I encounter, I can’t help but see it for the benefits it may bring. This isn’t to say that I don’t acknowledge tragedy, but that I think that the universe has a tendency to drift from pain to absolution. Only Connect feels to me an acknowledgement of the potential for human tragedy in the situation we find ourselves in.

I take great comfort in the idea that if we manage to destroy ourselves, in some flight of idiocy, madness, or malice, the Earth does not need us. It should be entirely selfishness that we try to recover. We could potentially cause a catastrophe so large that all it leaves is the burned husk of our civilization, setting the evolutionary clock back millions of years. Still, no fire yet has burned so hot or so long that the plants, microbes, and fish haven’t found a way back.

If we really want this relationship to work, we should probably start trying a little harder. Unlike us, the earth could move on.

--
Aedric Donovan
Gallery Associate

Reflections on Knowing Kelli Hoppmann

It is said that all artists are, throughout the length of their careers, basically painting the same painting over and over again. Kelli has been painting about human strength and weakness for over thirty years.

Her themes of love, sin, politics, and redemption are repeated in paintings with titles such as “The Three Graces”, “Who Invited the Fascists”, and “The Reluctant Anarchist”. Kelli is ever curious about what makes us human, and reminds us about what makes us animal. I met Kelli while finishing an art degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Both young painters, she was a few years my senior, thus done with schooling and figuring how to manage a life in the arts.

With little money, neither of us had proper studios, but I learned from Kelli that it did not matter so much where you painted as long as you did it. She was always disciplined, painting or drawing more days than not, putting in at least four hours in her “studio” (read: closet) most days. She always made sure to find the time to get that much better, all while working a regular job to make sure she also got to eat.

Getting to know Kelli, I discovered she grew up in Madison, stayed on to receive a BFA in painting, then moved to New York City for a few years before returning to Madison, which is when I met her. For someone who has stayed so close to home, she has an endless curiosity of the world around her and is able to find inspiration in the familiar, draw drama from the ordinary, and see things that most of us overlook in our everyday lives.

Kelli brings the world to her through reading voraciously. Books are in piles around her home, and by looking at the varied titles we get some insight into her influences. The books in her home range from: history books about Nazis, true crime, Buddhist tradition, biographies, philosophy, natural science, and of course the dictionary. While staying well-read she manages to remain down to earth as ever; reading poetry after cheering on the Packers in football.

I’ve heard Kelli refer to herself as a frustrated writer or poet, and her paintings are poetic dramas played out in two dimensions, theatrical in their ability to create tension and narrative, while making the personal universal. The figures in her allegories often don elaborate costumes, surrounded by lush environments, beautiful patterns and vivid color. Sometimes we get to live vicariously through these characters, attending fantasy parties, drinking too many martinis, smoking forbidden cigarettes, and all manner of poor decision making. These parties and other such tableaus seduce us into their world, making it hard to look away even when the topics might be challenging.

Anthropomorphism is one of her favorite devices to expose our animal nature. Innocents are rabbit prey to the devious fox predators, the clever are crows while the boorish become just that.  Villains will be attired in as beautiful of costumes as the heroines and heroes of these dramas. The flatness of the panels that Kelli paints upon will often be reiterated with flat patterns and shallow depth of field that lends itself to the sense you are viewing a performance and the background is a stage set.

I’ve known Kelli for about as long as she’s been a painter, and during that time the steady stream of work coming from her studio has been both impressive, and at times hard to grasp. Even when she had two young children at home, she still managed to produce a notable amount of work. I’ve never known her to have a dry spell or creative block. Given her influence is the entire world this is not surprising. This book has been a wonderful chance to reflect on her career so far, and has made me even more excited about where she will take her art in the years to come.

-Theresa Abel
Owner, Art Director
Abel Contemporary Gallery

John S. Miller - Artist Talk

If you weren't able to join us for the artist talk with John Miller, we wanted to provide another way of hearing the excellent discussion. As many of you saw, we shot some video for the event, and have since cut it down to a really nice selection. For those of you interested in the full talk, we've included a link to the full audio below.

Enjoy, and make sure you catch John's show before its final day on June 4th!

Staff Pick – sly collaboration by Don Kauss (and Briony Morrow-Cribbs)

sly collaboration is a wonderful example of how Don Kauss makes the lost and discarded parts of our past shine with a new life. Years ago Briony Morrow-Cribbs shipped us a beautiful sculpture of a cat skeleton and opossum skull each posed within small wooded compartments and covered in intricate hand cut etching. Unfortunately the piece was damaged in shipping and was beyond repair. The work was so beautiful we couldn't bear discarding it, but it couldn't be shown, so we turned it over to Don Kauss. Don lovingly wrapped the shattered pieces of the sculpture and carried it off to his studio where he breathed new life into the piece. Contributing his own artistic touches to the work he added tubing, clock parts, gears, string, clips, springs, and a spiky sprig of mesquite. The piece metamorphosed into its new life as sly collaboration. It is a perfect example of Don’s seamless integration of disparate elements brought together in effortless complexity.

I find this piece particularly intriguing because it showcases the connection we saw curatorial between these two artists when we paired them for this exhibit. They both honor the past within their work. Briony uses the traditions of printmaking combined with stylistic references to 19th century naturalistic illustrations to discuss concepts of human nature and our animal instincts. Meanwhile, Don collects the flotsam and jetsam that has been abandoned or discarded and combines these elements in new and unexpected ways. Both artists use animals, bones, muted tones and precise line work to create an edge of unease, while simultaneously depicting the exquisiteness of the subject matter. This tension between attraction and revilement is a delicate balance to strike within a work of art, and both artists seem to flourish under such demands.

- Ann Orlowski
  Assistant Director  

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