The new exhibit at Council Bluffs’ RNG Gallery by Wanda Ewing (Little Deaths) and Rebecca Herskovitz (when everything goes silent) is a powerful statement from two strong and accomplished artists. Running from Nov. 9th to a Dec. 7th closing, this show is a must-see for anyone wishing to experience a fresh investigation of woman-thought, hopefully leading into a deeper consideration of the themes involved.

Wanda Ewing is an instructor of art at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She has shown frequently in the area since 1999, lately with latch hook yarn “paintings”, like those shown in this exhibit. Using a rich and tactile approach with an erstwhile “hobby” medium, Ewing gives a nod to this traditional “women’s work”, and pushes it into the fine art realm with the rich harmonies of reds, magentas, blues or browns. By using dense splashes of close chromatic color, and framing them with shiny sequin borders, she adds a glorious ‘amen’ to each presentation. 

This new latch hook work shows a decided maturation from earlier forays in the medium, with the more complex monochromes and finished look, achieving a gestalt—nothing to add– or to take away.  Yet her longtime theme of how women—especially African-American women– are viewed remains constant, starting with early printmaking images and moving through the “Pin-up” series of women in paintings, collage and wallpaper. Wanda’s continuing sense of humor and play seems to ride along with the quiet criticisms of the dominant culture, and ultimately has considerably more impact than rage ever could.   

Two pieces seem to stand out particularly well: “TNT”, a compositionally strong black to white value study, and “Lilac Wine”, a smaller magenta to violet-toned piece with silver rectangles of glint and glisten to border it. 

If you have trouble making out the women, step back and squint at them—they’ll soon take form …and possibly a meaning for you, given some thought. The use of a border of pink on one piece as telling—in color psychology, the choice of pink generally indicates either someone who is well protected and cared for, or someone who wants to be.  (Re: Faber Birren Color Test).  An interesting choice.

The generally elegant color combinations and careful craftsmanship in Ewing’s pieces add greatly to the viewer’s sense of satisfaction/finish with the work.

Herskovitz’ india-ink wash drawings seem to sit squarely in an Expressionistic style, with their loose, yet sensitive light to dark values, the expressive drips and seemingly off-handed gestural approach. A former resident and familiar artist in the Omaha area, she now lives and works in Northampton, Massachusetts.

There is an effortless quality about the work that requires someone with a solid foundation in drawing and painting. Rebecca says that she reclaimed and reinterpreted this imagery, lifting from pornographic magazines, and then presented each image with a minimalist gray-scale. 

To this viewer’s eye, the lovely washes and beauty that glows from the women seems to reclaim their lot as worthy human beings. The artist sees this work as an exploration of loss, of vulnerability, and intimacy. The same title for every work asks the question:  “Who are we, when everything goes silent?” Herskovitz continues, “when all is lost?  Stripped of that which we know, the totems we use for identification, for distraction, for solace…What is left?  Who are we?”

 On the east wall, left, an open-mouthed young woman seems to gaze at the viewer with judgment, like Manet’s “Dejeuner sur l’Herb”, or his reclining “Olympia”, both women frankly regarding the viewer (and causing an uproar in France in 1865, as women weren’t to gaze back, but be the objects of viewing).  Somehow, in 2013, we, also, have become accomplices in this young woman’s plight.

Another powerful image- east wall center- of a beautiful, blue-eyed, blond woman, has not been cheapened to a prostitute here, but elevated to an Aphrodite level, given the beautiful brushstrokes and lush values by Herskovitz.  As with so many of these images, one feels the need to mentally recast this woman as worthy…and somehow rewrite her story. A few are so young–it makes us ache to change their situations.

The viewer might also study the delicate, sure brushwork of the negative areas, to catch the nuances of slight value change which makes for a more unified whole of positive and negative space.

This is an exhibit well-worth our spending time, and looking deeply into each and every image of both of these artists, as each work holds a story.

Little Deaths and when everything goes silent continues until Dec. 7 at RNG Gallery, 157 West Broadway, Council Bluffs, IA. A special closing will be held Dec. (Alprazolam) 7, 6-9 p.m. For details, call 712-256-4140.

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