Without a strong curatorial guide, group art shows must rely on their diversity as well as the quality of their work in order for individual pieces to stand out. The current show at Hot Shops is no exception as four artists compete for attention in this very diverse exhibit.

This unnamed group show in the North Gallery for April consists of painter/draughtsman James Freeman, sculptor Tom Swanson and husband and wife team Paula and Jeff Yoachim, she with her fantasy paintings, and he with ceramic work.

Center stage of the show is occupied by a variety of Tom Swanson’s  “F (foam) Bombs”.  Most of the smaller bombs are images Swanson has covered with reprinted 1960’s images from “Life Magazines” that he has collected over the years and collaged onto the foam shapes. Typical of many years of his style of work, it is faultlessly crafted, allowing the viewer not to bother fussing with technique, but to move on to a possible meaning.

Smaller works follow common 1960’s cultural themes: pin-up girls, car and liquor advertising, religious and war-game images and maps.  All seem to stay in the design-like oeuvre, but as Swanson observes, they seem to present a world many of us no longer aspire to, given our current awareness of diversity and accepted mores.  “I’m a better man now,” he says, as a corporate employee coached in today’s acceptable behavior.

It’s the large, dark-toned bombs which dominate the gallery. The bombs hanging from the ceiling seem especially forbidding.  They somehow demand more attention than we viewers may wish to grant them. But all of these dark bombs, given their size and number, seem to have a totally different message for the viewer to puzzle out as we look at them.

Despite our knowing that they’re made of light foam, their presence seems a menace.  And the giant, seven-foot bomb, displayed on its side, absolutely dominates its space.  As if in a war museum, it becomes a military statement of power and might.

Swanson mentioned President Eisenhower’s long ago warning that the military complex must be kept within bounds, less it overwhelms the needs of our populace.  This viewer takes this comment as the reason for this show.  Swanson gives us some “candy” to walk around and study, but as a student of history, (his college major), it makes sense that this artist is very concerned with America’s continuing focus on war.

James Freeman’s section of the exhibit consists of a group of black/white works, two painted, two drawn, which he describes as “currently abandoned” as a series.  The “Laughing Horse” drawings seem a successful redux of earlier series.

The rest of his works are comprised of painted explorations in mark making, scraping and layering.  He states that he had no particular agenda with this group, but that there were some 60 paintings there, as each has roughly 5 layers to them before he felt a sense of finish as he worked.

All Blue”, a reference to Miles Davis’ 1969 album, “Kinda Blue” is shown above.  It has a rich and pleasing, iconic quality, with its obelisk-like presence.  Some may well be reminded of Richard Diebenkorn’s abstract oil work, which has a similar layered approach.

Another successful work can be found when one enters the gallery, hard right-the somehow rabbit-like figure, “Connected”, which is nicely scumbled, with nuanced negative areas.

Paula Yoachim’s large, high-color acrylic paintings seem to point to a theme one might see in a children’s book, with frog princes, circus themes, pigs and trains.  Set in front of carefully detailed houses, each seems to tell a particular story in its imagery.

An art teacher who grew up in North Platte, Nebraska, Yoachim earned both her undergraduate and masters’ degrees as an art teacher at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She now teaches at Bellevue West High School, and was the featured illustrator for the 2013 Omaha Summer Arts Festival.  Her goal is to illustrate children’s books- not surprisingly, as seen in this exhibit.

Jeff Yoachim’s work in this show is based mostly on a ceramic slab process, with gloss glazes.  This viewer found the two rather political works, “House Divided”, a well-conceived house sculpture, and “Rewind”, which shows images of Adolf Hitler and Barack Obama, as most interesting to think about.

Yoachim stated that he’s interested in observing the strongly held views people have on politics. “People seem to get really worked up about it.” As far as good craftsmanship is concerned, the rondo called “Mad Hatter” seems to show the best texture and workmanship of his work.

Yoachim also earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where he met Paula. He finished his Masters of Fine Art degree in ceramics at Fort Hays State University in Kansas, and is currently teaching high school art classes in Glenwood, Iowa.

This group Show will be on display at Hot Shops’ North Gallery from the April 6th opening until April 27th at Hot Shops, 1301 Nicholas Street. For details, go to hotshops.com.

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