Tuesday, August 25, 2009


-jeffery mcnary
Staying true to its charge of working primarily with emerging artists, Around the Coyote’s 1st Annual Painting Competition and Exhibition convincingly expands those efforts for painters. In the past, the gallery played host to open-call shows for works on paper and photography. In lending its resources to those striving for footholds in the paint medium, Matthew Hallinan’s “Energumeno,” a large, vibrant oil on canvas with surrealist leanings emerged as the premier piece of this exhibition. There are figures partying and one waving a Sandinista flag from the rooftop.
“The purpose of these types of shows are really to just give artists more exhibition opportunities, so they can show their work, meet other artists in the same discipline, meet art patrons, collectors, curators, etcetera,” says Anne Mills, Around the Coyote’s executive director.
This show’s curator, Sara Schnadt of the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs office, selected the ten finalists for the exhibition based upon images of their work, artist statements and biographical information relative to their work and personal styles. Artists paid an application fee of fifteen-dollars, and the financial award for the winner is yet to be determined. Schnadt selected Hallinan’s work based upon her perception of his “vision, technique and how that technique had been developed.”
Elizabeth Kauffman’s work, “Page 249.” a technically sophisticated watercolor and graphite on paper, noted that juried shows wrestle with “institutionalized” points of view and expectations. Nonetheless, she, as does John Mosher, whose open-ended pieces of loose color and hard black lines resemble those of illustrator Ralph Steadman, concur that showing in this forum is exciting, a “breakout thing.”
Hearing his work held the “strongest images,” Hallinan explains his process: “I have in my mind a mental sketch. I manipulate pieces which otherwise wouldn’t exist. I use poetic devices. There are only a few tubes of color put into this,” he says, “I’m thrilled.” (Jeffery McNary)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


-jeffery mcnary

“Can nature and technology co-exist?” asked Robert Wayner in his staccato-speak. “It’s critical that we continue to explore how wild nature and technology can exist together.” With this as his magnetic north, the geologist turned musician, turned painter and sculptor, now gallery owner, has pinned his hopes on his Black Walnut Gallery where he showcases Chicago artists and his own wood sculptures. Relocated from Wicker Park to the West Loop-Fulton Market area, Wayner’s current offering is a group show titled “Closure.”
Growing up in Southern Illinois farm country in a Mennonite household, Wayner’s imagination drew him to woodworking, which “filled me with amazement,” he recalls. “The Mennonites have been in the forefront of the green movement for a while,” Wayner shares, “as well as being big in third-world relief and agrarian stewardship.” Although he admits, “I don’t think that brought me to where I’m at,” those early groundings are reflected in the flow of the two-story gallery, with its domestic, natural feel and its bundled fasces hanging by twine at points in the long throw of the place. Earlier this year Wayner presented a group show of Mennonite artists.
Wayner’s sculpture, “Nature Cradling Technology,” embodies Black Walnut Gallery’s core values. Aluminum balls perch atop sculpted wood, signifying a balance among progress and tradition, in both art and in life. Alongside naturally felled wood sculptures are some of Wayner’s colorful paintings, many dedicated to Tolstoy, whose “Confession,” said Wayner, “encapsulates the notion that we never choose who we are.”
“Closure” is an exhibition dotted with like thinkers. Painter Rex Sexton haunting “Kaddish” presents a deep blue shadowed, ghostly figure under a full, yellow moon overlooking tombstones bearing semi-faces. “I learned how to paint from a Holocaust Jew,” says Sexton. Growing up in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, Sexton “saw hardship with no let up.” He paints “expressions of humanity with the hope that I capture its dreams in the midst of adversity.” Romanticism emerges in his stunning “Edith” oil painting. This semi-cubist portrait of Edith Piaf seduces with thick, deep layers of tans and blacks, doe eyes and arched eyebrows. It’s more Seine than stockyard.
Wayner coolly accepts the challenges of running a gallery. “I’m an artist, I had to do this,” says Wayner. “I search for truth. I didn’t have a choice,” he says with barely a shrug of the shoulders.


-jeffery mcnary

Twenty-two artists, all alumni of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from the mid-late eighties, have come together for “End of the 80s,” a ‘reunion’ show, at the Avram Eisen Gallery. The exhibition is primarily curated by Laura Olear and Bruce Linn, both class of ‘88, with the group collectively dedicating the show to Ray Yoshida, a recently deceased professor and mentor to many participating artists.
A co-mingling of diverse styles can be expected in group shows of this proportion, and “End of the 80s” holds to that. There is unusual grace and also chatter. No obvious Yoshida ‘style’ is identifiable in the exhibition. “It was more a thing of his teaching, his demanding, his aggressiveness,” said Olear of his pedagogical approach. “Few of his students didn’t feel he’d a profound impact on them,” added Linn.
Approaching Lindsay Obermeyer’s “Red Blood,” a cranberry red bead embroidery, connections among the exhibition’s layout emerge. Nearby is Olear’s “Tracheal Diverticulum,” a dark mixed media on arches with the a medical tone, and Linn’s blood-red and black layered oil on canvas, “Sacred Heart with Bullit & Band-aid,” an intensely political statement the artist lays at the feet of the Bush-Cheney administration.
One corner holds Steven L. Jones’ penetrating “Mothman Took My Baby Away,” a two-piece of acrylic and ink on dyed red paper in conjoined wooden frames, “colored by grief and filtered through a mood disorder,” according to the artist.
The exhibition highlights, in sharp relief, vast differences of artists schooled in close time and space. Complicity courts sedition. “People still tell stories about Ray and feel, ‘I’ve got an idea of what Ray would say,’” Linn reflected. Perhaps so, and perhaps he would concur there are works here containing commentary and polish, while others appear swept and bruised and requiring a viable alternative to just muddling through. (Jeffery McNary)


-jeffery mcnary

There’s a gee-whiz element in the art of Anna Joelsdottir. Her current exhibition, “The Dandelions Are Over,” takes a step beyond previous works, which have evolved in series and often develop around negative space. Now, here, we find explosions of color, activated and covering entire canvases with mystical landscapes and abstractions.
Joelsdottir’s centerpiece, a quasi-sculpture installation, “Flood,” is a lurching, plunging avalanche of mixed media on joined pieces of mylar. Its intense splashes of yellows, tangerines and grays are unpredictable, and the work, with its stained-glass effect, refuses to lie at ease. Twenty-four-by-eleven feet from ceiling to floor, it drapes, gathers at points, and rolls across the upper wall, living dragon-like on the edge of chaos, while another disconnected, daring nine-foot work leaps and hangs across the room.
“When I came to Zg to install, I had decided to use the mylar in the front gallery and somehow work from the windows and ceiling making use of the changing light,” Joelsdottir recalls. Alone to fit mood and space into her system she “pushed a pin into the first sheet between the two windows. As the piece grew and began to take shape, I began to understand what it was I was trying to get at, and the title became ‘Flood.’”
A fairytale appears at work here among four canvases, each medium-sized in acrylic, ink and pencil. An additional six small mylar pieces borrow from “Flood,” capturing its translucent effect and color. Those works meet Joelsdottir’s ambitious efforts at transcending language and cultures via her paints, yet they are best served by their copious notes of the complex main piece.