Few places in the country have been studied or photographed as much as the dwellings and structures of the ancient Puebloan peoples, of the southwestern US, known collectively as the Anasazi. These people and their culture remain a mystery due to their enigmatic beginnings and lifestyle, and to their rather sudden, unexplained disappearance. The dwellings provoke an unrivaled scientific and spiritual fascination and an inspiration for the first part of the exhibit, Spirited Space: Figure and Form by photographer Father Michael Flecky, S.J.
The exhibit, which continues through Nov. 24 at Creighton University’s Lied Gallery, evolved from a recognition of the spiritual and sacred that derives from the man-made, material world. It features “Images of material space, environmental design, and human presence attempt to provoke appreciation of the mystery of “spirited space” and “form,” according to its show statement. This includes Flecky[s photographs from a trio of projects of various forms, the results of decades of photo excursions, and more recently, self-published book projects and a 2017 sabbatical.
The Four-Corners area, where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet, features a high concentration of these earthen, stone and wood structures. Flecky, now starting his 40th year at Creighton, visited this area for one of several book projects during a 2017 sabbatical.
The first of the three separate projects feature in this show are the black and white images of the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi. The images are presented large, at about three feet by seven feet, and are printed on heavy, slightly textured, watercolor paper. They are mostly done in a wide, panoramic format, and are printed in both vertical and horizontal aspects.
Each is a serene, straightforward portrait of portion of a dwelling or (maybe) sacred space. A smaller print of these images might not work with the rough tooth of the watercolor paper; it might compete with the texture of the building materials used in these structures. At this larger format however, it is not the case, and the grain of the sandy dirt, adobe and wood elements is rich and evident in all of the shots.
The mystery of these people’s lives and fate is stirred by his emphasis on the deep, dark interiors, and on the patterns and shapes of the openings in the exteriors. The doorways in several of the shots reflect an obvious human form and both natural and deliberate openings in the walls sometimes eerily evoke expressive faces.
Flecky intuitively captures a light that emphasizes the contrast between the soft glow of the earth and the darker interiors, and he deftly keeps just enough detail in the dark openings to draw the viewer’s imagination into the structure.
The second offering is a group of images of the interior of the Saint Ignatius Chapel at the Seattle University. These quiet, contemplative, color images are printed at a more intimate size, about two feet by three feet.
The St. Ignatius chapel is a contemporary structure with stark, lightly textured walls and floors. Human-scale, contemplative and inviting spaces are found through the creative placement of space, shadow and light; the latter provided by substantial colored glass, screens, candles and soft incandescent lighting. The result is a series of intimate, reflective spaces and settings.
Flecky’s analysis finds those elements and more by capturing and enhancing the spirit of the spaces. His minimalist, sometimes cubist, compositions are mostly quiet and inviting, and accompanied by a slash of color or protective glow of light. The feeling of the spaces and scenes teeters between sanctuary, contemplation and joy.
The final offerings in this exhibit bring the viewer back to black and white, a good balance after the blast of color of the chapel study. These images, quite different from the first two groups, are negative and positive studies of light and the human form. An outgrowth of recent sessions with students in a lighting studio, these are severely backlit shots using a female model presented in both negative and positive prints.
It is a surrealistic treatment of the human body and the suggested elongation of the figure gives a transcendent, supernatural quality. According to the artist, these images find their inspirations partly from the work of contemporary sculptors Giacometti and Modigliani. Even at only about four feet high, the figures seem eloquently stretched out, surreal, but still accessibly human in form.
Some may find it interesting to see the difference in effect between the negative images, which appear only angelic and elusive, and the positive versions, which feel a bit more human and earthly. As stand-alone images however, the diaphanous, positive versions are more appealing. There is little distinction between the gossamer softness of the fabric and the figure, and there is a welcome interplay of the human and divine.
The show as a whole is sort of a loose triptych, with the color images of the St. Ignatius Chapel sandwiched between the two black and white studies. While a spiritual essence of “place” and “sanctuary” is obvious in the images of the chapel and the cliff dwellings, the anthropomorphic impressions in the cliff dwelling photos then finds a connection to the figure studies. Each of the offerings starts with a very human, earthbound connection, and a corresponding spirituality or sense of sacred builds.
Spirited Space: Figure and Form, photographs by Michael Flecky SJ, runs through November 24th. The gallery is open to the public Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-1:00 p.m., 5-6 p.m. and Saturday & Sunday, 1– 4 p.m. For more information contact: 402-280-2290, liedartgallery@creigh