Neil Griess Blurred Landscape 2019 Acrylic and watercolor pencil on prepared paper 21.5 x 32 inches
Have you ever found yourself asking “What exactly is an emerging artist?” Is it as obvious as it sounds or is there more there than meets the eye?
Searching the term on the Web only confounds the issue; it appears that arts writers and curators are in little agreement about this somewhat new and seemingly overused label. What they do agree on, mostly, is an evolving presence and reputation.
One possible enlightenment is the recent collaboration of Omaha’s Gallery 1516 and the art center Amplify Arts which resulted in an exhibit, appropriately titled Emerging Artists, that opened at the former’s location at 16th and Leavenworth.
Amplify Arts’ Program Director Peter Fankhauser offered this as the venue’s definition: “Artists in the early stages of their creative development, with 2 to 10 years of generative experience, a focused direction and goals, a developing artistic “voice,” who have yet to be substantially celebrated within their field, the media, or funding circles.”
The exhibit, which takes good advantage of G1516’s excellent space, features the work of seven local contemporary artists at varying levels of experience and renown. Gallery 1516’s Assistant Curator Suzy Eberly tapped into Amplify Arts extensive roster to serve as guide through the forest of those transpiring from unknown to known. Together, they assembled a group of local talent, as described in the show’s accompanying pamphlet, “that reexamines and rewrites traditional artistic narratives.”
Gallery Director Pat Drickey said the show was “put together as a kind of precursor and complement to the upcoming Spring 2021 Biennial.” In addition, it satiates the recent virus-induced dearth of art shows; group shows have always been a good way to show more work to more people.
Prior to the completion, Eberly moved away, but still consults with the gallery. Subsequent curation and installation was then taken up by the staff at 1516. This transient collaboration yielded a group of seven artists at different stages of their careers: Camille Hawbaker Voorhees, Shawnequa Linder, Jenna Johnson, Neil Griess, Tom White, Patty Talbert, and Anne Dovali. Depending on your frequency of gallery visits in the area, a few of these names may be new to you, and more than a couple may be recognized.
The work is of varying size, ranging from larger, six and eight-foot paintings by Johnson, Dovali, and Talbert, to more modestly sized works by the others. Additionally, there are more intimate works from Griess and Hawbaker Voorhees.
The presentation of the work is comfortable and logical, arranged to the benefit of both the artist and viewer. With only a couple of logistical exceptions, each artist is allocated their own space on the wall, and the adjacent floor when called for, as there are a few sculptural entries.
Neil Griess has ten paintings of surreal, abstracted landscapes of strong perspective, many of which elicit fantasy or science fiction parallels. Most of the work is watercolor, with some airbrush work and watercolor pencil additions.
In addition to Griess’ two-dimensional pieces, on display are a few of his “models,” small sculptures from 2018 that look like maquettes for larger earthwork sculpture or landscape designs. These four functionally abstract pieces are made from typical modelling materials, like foam core, acrylic medium, fake grass, paper and more.
Much of the show consists of more traditional paintings. Linder, Johnson, Dovali, Talbert and Griess all use traditional mediums, acrylics, oils, watercolors and such. In a few instances, collage or found objects add interest or dimension to the piece.
Linder, like a few of the others, has had much exposure over the last few years. Her mysterious and sometimes eerie, faceless portraits appear to have more “personality” than many traditional portraits tend to convey. A couple of her eight works veer farther from her recognizable portrait style, towards straight up abstraction. This foray into the less subjective is inviting and enigmatic.
In a similar fashion, Jenna Johnson takes to deconstructing the human form in “Dropped in It” (2020,) obscuring the facial features of a seated young woman, but retaining enough for us to question her subject’s emotional state. Across the room, and the first piece in the show, is Johnson’s D.T.M.H. (2020,) a less deconstructed portrait of a young woman, whose braids come to life, popping off the canvas.
Anne Dovali is represented by two large paintings in a surreal yet photo-realist style that also bring some humor to the room. “The Compromise” (2018,) oil on canvas, features a scaley reptilian/human under attack by what appears to be a miniature hunting party. Accompanying this large painting is a greenware floor sculpture, inspired by the scales in the painting.
The engaging little installation by Tom White furnishes the northwest corner of the gallery. White, who now lives in Chicago, has modified an old console tube television that has been redone with back lighting and a translucent collage where the picture used to be, then topped with a tapestry work of his design, and a ceramic “vase”.
Rounding out this domestic tribute is a “yarn drawing” in his same drawing style, recalling the child-art every parent has on their refrigerator. This “T.V. Dinner” (n.d.) is a humorous reflection on a lifestyle that actually predates many of these artists.
The installation is framed by two matching portraits in White’s colorful drawing style of interlaced lines and color, that harkens back to the pop illustrations of the ‘60’s and Peter Max. His 2D entries are actually digital prints made from hand-drawn originals. The quality of the prints is superb, but some may desire to see the original drawings. The jury is still out for many art lovers.
Patty Talbert’s two paintings, “Reflections of Power” and “Reflections of Patty” (both 2019) use dense patterns of repeated shapes to create a tapestry of colors that meld into vibrant portraits. The patterns call up similarities to fabric and painting found in some African indigenous art. Talbert’s newer painting, “Reflections (2020,”) is a large diptych; an abstract, geometric piece using similar patterns but in a more pastel palette.
Many will recognize the 13 embroidered paper works from Camille Hawbaker Voorhees. Her method of distressing a base layer of paper and applying over painting, fabrics, embroidery, and more, results in cryptic, abstract, archaic objects d’art that would be at home in a history museum as well as an art gallery. Longer looks may reveal hidden shapes that can form into words or faces.
Emerging Artists may not satisfy everyone’s definition or understanding of its operative word, but one can rightly conclude, “emerged” or “established”, these seven artists have successfully “arrived” in the Metro’s arts scene in this very fine collaboration.
The Emerging Artists exhibit is open to the public by reservation, as individuals in groups up to six, and member groups from 7 to twenty. As it stands, the show will end November 22nd. All attendees, nonmembers and members, need to contact the gallery to make reservations. Please check their website for further information; gallery1516.org