Smile Politely

A review of CU Comrades in Art’s The Near, the Dear, and the Faraway

Hanging in the above exhibition on the right side wall are some colored pencil and graphite paintings/drawings by Lynn Smith.
Lynn Smith, colored pencil and graphite paintings/drawings; photograph by Dr. Ian Wang

Just before July the 4th, our country’s Independence Day holiday celebration, I revisited Champaign County Park District’s Springer Cultural Center to see the art exhibition titled The Near, the Dear and the Faraway. This exhibition is a group artists’ exhibition by Comrades in Art – CIA. It is on display from June 24th to August 5th, 2023. Participating artists are current CIA members: Judith Baker-Barrows, Debra Bolgla, Beth Chasco, Sarah Marjanovic, Melinda McIntosh, Donna Monfort, Pat Baron Monigold, Lynn Hawkinson Smith, Sara Taber, and Martha Willi.                      

When I curated another art exhibition of this group in April of this year at the Champaign County History Museum, I learned that CIA is a group of local visual artists who encourage one another in the practice of art through creative dialogue, critical evaluation, and thoughtful inspiration. In the Fall of 2016 was their debut exhibition as a group at Art Coop Gallery in Urbana. Many of their members have participated in a variety of exhibitions including: University of Illinois Krannert Art Museum MFA Exhibition, Giertz Gallery Parkland College Faculty Art Exhibition, Springer Cultural Center, Art @ the Y Murphy Gallery, Illini Union Art Gallery, 40 Point One Juried Exhibition, Boneyard Arts Festival, Anita Purves Nature Center, and Broken Oak Gallery. Additional recognition of their individual members includes solo exhibits and regional, national, and international awards.

As a group of comrades CIA has created a philanthropy called Melissa’s Gift. It is in memory of their member, Melissa Lynch, who passed away in 2017 from breast cancer. This gift consists of two $250 gift cards purchased at Art Coop and then awarded to two Parkland College Fine Arts students for the purpose of buying supplies for their art classes. CIA hopes to inspire young artists while promoting a local art business and giving support to our community. Each CIA member contributes to this fund annually.

In addition, a 10% donation, of work sold from any of their group exhibitions is given by the CIA member to Courage Connection, a local organization helping victims of domestic violence and homelessness.

Together, as women, they strive to nurture, develop, and enhance the aesthetics of their individual work by means of reflection and self-expression. The majority of these exhibiting artists painted in the style of representational or commonly referred to as social realism. However, artist Sarah Marjanovic displayed her abstract paintings and Debra Bolgla showed two pieces of conceptual mixed media collage artworks.

I wrote to interview a couple of CIA artists and asked them what the exhibition title meant. Although none of them answered my question directly, while in viewing all the artworks on display, I felt strongly that all exhibiting artists painted dearly from their hearts and reflected their personal lives near and faraway. This CIA exhibition reminded me an exhibition I saw at the National Art Museum in DC in 2013 in which a well-known artist Gkoohovat pointed out (in 1931):”For me, we live in a real world. So art-wise I do not stop at realism. I need to go beyond the real world, bigger and much more.”

Here is what two of the exhibiting CIA artists told me about the insights of their artworks on display.

A two pictures collage of Debra Bolgla's On Longing. The paintings are dark in black and greys. They have old photos laid overtop drawings, for instance, on the right a small photo of a girl and a photo of a child on a horse is laying over a sketch of a bird
Debra Bolgla, On Longing, photos provided by the artist

In my interviewing to Debra Bolgla, she wrote to me:

 “On Longing is a sequence of faint time that has captured and pulled at my soul. At its core…visualized attachments and detached crossroads…beloved objects… gathered remnants…discarded vignettes…erased perspectives…and precious matter that is removed, involuntarily, from our presence. To long for something we can’t attain encapsulates empathic energy, loss, and absence. It is fear of the unknown and the essence of knowing. It is out of our reach.”

Images are digitally manipulated collages integrating created texture, mark making, and photography. Final artworks are mixed media, hand-altered Giclée prints.

CIA Show at Springer Cultural Center; three large vertical rectangular paintings hang on a gallery wall. The left one is primarily blue and features a black swan in a pond; the middle painting is mostly mauve and shows a tree reflecting in a puddle, the right painting is mostly green and shows a forrest reflecting in water.
Beth Chasco, Illusions Series I, II, and III, oil on canvas; photograph by Dr. Ian Yang

Another artist, Beth Chasco, wrote to me:

“In each of these pieces, I have sought to recreate and make permanent a magical moment in time whereby the forces of nature have impacted my senses, creating a rich image full of illumination, delicate hues, varied contrasts, intricate structure , allusive reflections, the slightest bit of movement and a delicate touch of whimsy.”

After visiting and viewing this CIA art exhibition twice in June and in July, I would like to share with our readers what artist Thornton Dial Sr. pointed out in 1993: ”Art ain’t about paint; it ain’t about cavase. It is about ideas. Too many people died without even ever getting their mind out to the world”. (Quoted from National Portrait Gallery exhibition in DC in March 2011 by Dr. Ian Wang).

I certainly enjoyed the exhibition and found some of the artists ideas fascinating.  

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