Thursday, May 31, 2012

Curatorial Panalist Tamatha Perlman Dives In to Sea Change

Abounding in blues and whites and warm reds, Samantha French’s paintings immerse the viewer into a world that is free of gravity, sound, and worry. Blue and white paint splashes against each other like water on skin, exacting a cool promise on a hot, sticky day. 
Her figures reside in a quiet world, a momentary respite from the day-to-day.
A Minnesota native and MCAD graduate, French’s series of swimmers and waders began as a nostalgic flashback to youthful summers spent in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Those lakes are an integral part of growing up in Minnesota, where swimming, fishing, boating or fighting crowds of joggers are the prime signatory of summer. Using family photos for inspiration, she began a series of lounging bathing beauties in modestly cut striped suits and bathing caps. Set against a background of slate blue skies the rough brown sand of the shore they evoke a glamour that only old family photos can hold. Their identities obscured through a nostalgic filter these (mostly) women are grandmas and aunts before she knew them. They pose languidly, held in place by a memory captured by someone else long ago.
“Sea Change” however offers views of the present. French moved to New York City in 2007, where swimming pools trump swimming holes. Missing the cool waters of the North Shore, French began snapping her own photos with an underwater camera in the crisp water of hotels and public pools.  These portraits capture swimmers as their bodies freely twist and turn without the self-consciousness of the beachside pose. Infused with light and action, French’s paintings of the present hit all the senses. Three Feet Below depicts a figure just emerging from the water. As seen from below, the water ripples and picks up the colors of bathing suit and skin. The world above is reduced to swirls and distorted shapes. Her arms reflect the light and color that cuts through the surface. In Twist; let go, the swimmer gracefully turns underwater, generously sharing her moment of freedom with the viewer.
The water holds a holy place for French. The scenes above water, like Colony Palms have a tension the underwater scenes don’t. On the shore, bodies are restricted in their movements, unprotected by the water. The figures seem to lose their identity once again on the surface, their interactions rather than playing off of each other appear separate, reinforcing the concept that the summer’s water offers the ultimate freedom and escape.
The paintings in “Sea Change” are also abstract studies of light, water and form. Reflections and refractions bounce off skin. Bodies collide with the surface of the water creating swirls and ripples that capture the colors of sky and pool and suit. Bodies gracefully twist and turn through the water. French carefully lingers on the water’s surface from below, capturing bubbles and waves as they break the body down into planes of reflected and refracted light. “These paintings are still about how I want to feel and escapes and less about nostalgia,” says French. 
French graduated from MCAD with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2005. In 2006 she received an individual artist grant from the Five Wings Arts Council. Last year she won 1st place in the Saatchi Online Showdown and her work will be exhibited at Saatchi Gallery in London. Samantha has shown in several solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and her work is included in numerous private collections.
Tamatha Perlman is a writer and museum professional . She has written about Minnesota artists for ARP! And the Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota. Tamatha was the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program associate 2005-2010.

For more on Sea Change at SooVAC until July 8th.
For more on Samantha French.

Friday, May 18, 2012

This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Knitting Circle...

As The Looming and Body Doubles at Soo Visual Arts Center come to a close, here are a few thoughts from current intern Katie Parr.  Katie is a recent grad from the College of Visual Arts. She splits her time between interning at Soo Visual Arts, photographing, biking and baking.

While meditating on the current work on display at Soo Visual Arts Center, I am flooded with memories of my grandmother’s kitchen; the brick red ceramic sink she bought at a thrift store to match the shag carpet, Eric Enstrom’s ubiquitous photo Grace (you know, the one with the old man praying over a loaf of bread), the crocheted table runner she painstakingly made by hand, the cross-stitched Lord’s Prayer sampler that hung above the dining room table. The air is warm and scented with vanilla and nutmeg, the oven churning out batch after batch of glitteringly sweet crescent shaped cookies. These memories bring me a comfort and joy that only a grandmother’s kitchen could. For a moment I am lost in my reverie…until I realize the piece that sent me into a trance was a seven-foot tall knit police officer in riot gear. I am left feeling…well, off.  As much I want to live in grandma’s kitchen circa 1978, I am not allowed the pleasure. I guess I’ll have to go back and visit soon.

The current show at Soo Visual Arts Center features the work of artists August Krogan-Roley, Kurtis Skaife and Amy Toscani. The work of all three artists plays with the long contested, ever arguable idea of kitsch. Is kitsch art? Can something so tastelessly designed be worth my time? While thinking of kitsch one may automatically think of a cheerful Norman Rockwell painting (well, at least I did). However, these artists bring a much deeper, and arguably darker twist to a movement associated with ceramic angel figurines and poster images of frightened cats dangling off tree limbs that read “Hang in there!” or “Never give up!”. The comfort and sentimentality normally associated with kitsch is present in the work of all three artists, even if only for a moment. Kitsch has the amazing ability to comfort, romanticize and distract, but by doing so it protects the viewer from a harsher truth and colder reality. Harold Rosenberg perceived in his essay Pop Culture: Kitsch Criticism: "There is no counter concept to kitsch. Its antagonist is not an idea but reality." The work of all three artists conjures a particular sense of nostalgia and wistfulness, one that is centered around childhood memories and fantasies of growing up among a Midwestern landscape littered with tea cozies and crocheted doilies, yet at the same time has the ability to confront reality, even if covered under a saccharin coating. The statements these artists make are worth our time.

See the show before it ends Saturday May 19th! 
For more information on The Looming HERE
For more information on Body Doubles HERE

Friday, May 4, 2012

All About You...Kurtis Skaife

Here is some insight into exhibiting artist Kurtis Skaife...knitting and football what a fantastic combination:

1.  What is your first art related childhood memory?
My family's Halloween decorations were damaged somehow, so I drew monsters to hang around the house.  I remember the main theme was that all the monsters had multiple arms or multiple heads.

2.  As an artist, who is your biggest influence?
I became obsessed with Robert Crumb when I discovered him in high school.  I was initially attracted to the weirdness and gross-out factor and I sill love his stuff today but for different reasons.  When I discovered him I became aware that there are contemporary artists which was a huge realization for me.

3. What did you listen to in the studio while creating this show?
I listened to/watched lots of NFL games, Odd Future, Das Racist and NPR.

4.  Name three unexpected items one would find in your studio.
In my studio you would find a Minnesota North Stars pennant, the first Nightmare on Elm Street poster and a basil plant.

5.  What is your least favorite famous work of art?

 I can't really pick a least favorite piece of art but I  have always been particularly disturbed by bad looking cartoons.  They just grossed me out.  I remember the Flintstones and Charlie Brown specials were the biggest offenders.

6.  What art do you have hanging on your walls?

 I have art from friends including really nice stuff by Lindsay Smith, Jes Seamans and Luke Thomas.  I also have a giant Frank Stella screenprint that I found in a curbside trash in uptown years ago.  Its my greatest find.

7.  What are you working on now?
I am taking a break from crocheting to try and get reacquainted with drawing.

You can see more of Kurtis's work in The Looming until May 20th.

More about Kurtis Skaife HERE