Smile Politely

A pretty square show

U of I is known for creating and showcasing some of our most well-known local artists such as Langston Allston and Glenn Davies.The intense rigor of the University of Illinois art department is to thank for this effort as they are part of our best effort to generate artists for this community. Last weekend at The Urbana  Independent Media Center, the class of 2017’s Junior Painting majors  opened a show at IMC that  highlights their painting talents.

Aptly titled 2×2, it is a showcasing of works that were produced during an in-class experiment. Pairs of students  traded paintings and worked with each other to produce three works each. Expectedly, this allowed them to use numerous ways of interpreting a work of art not only their own, but each other’s work collectively. It isn’t really stated why or how the works necessarily link up and explain each other, but from what I gather they seem to pick up on the concept of visual development. For instance, some of works seem to take one painting’s texture and drive that into the next piece, or the theme the original artist kept or abandoned after swapping the images they each had.

Despite the paintings being remarkably simple in idea, given the varied subject matter I don’t think it’s just happen stance either. For instance, there are two figural chronological paintings done with increasing textural complexity by Nora Mokate that caught my eye (they are not titled, but I have seen her face and work before). I don’t want to spoil the paintings for you, but I feel as though the texture given by her paintings and self-portraits radiate some sort instability like listening to a John Coltrane album.  Some of the swipes given by a palette knife seem to give the colors a rough surface and though the painting isn’t dry, it felt like looking at a smooth rock.

Other paintings — such as the girl staring at what I assume is her older counterpart in the painting angrily by another artist — seem to have been altered very little.  The simple portrayal of a girl staring at another woman sends a very salient message of feminine youth and/or feminine conflicts that I was curious about.  I didn’t really dive too deep into things, however, as there’s nothing more ruinous to a painting than thinking the life out of it.

While we’re on the subject of figural painting, The portraits that are in black isolation don’t look as if they’re reading as more than photos which to me seems to be a problem. I feel as though if you were to make paintings, that you would need to surpass the need to use a photo or else it defeats the purpose of the medium.  I felt sharply divided as a painter of five years about this, but I’m sure that other people probably disagree and enjoy the simplicity of the painter’s style, I just didn’t happen to enjoy them myself which led me into a state of mental conflict on whether they should’ve used medium.

After my disappointment in these few figural paintings, I moved to the more abstract pieces, by Kayla Stanko (another easily recognizable artist). These  are really pleasing to the eye in terms of color, but are incredibly suffocated by the square frame.  The colors and shapes seemed to be dictated by the square but almost seem to lend themselves to being mistaken as flat yet stuck in a state of life which I’m befuddled by. My confusion is raised mostly by the use of textures and color to produce an effect of foreground and background with almost no mention of an actual foreground or background while at the same time seeming to be rather boring texturally.

Drawn away by some of the abstract paintings, I deeply enjoyed looking at some of the art such as the unique darkness of Katie Gamble’s darker works, which though unlabeled, are extremely noticeable. Though I left with mixed feeling regarding the abilities of the painters, I recognize that most of the work is by artists developing new talents. However, there are some gems at the show and I recommend that you see 2×2 on the merit that it is an exploration by these new artists, but I personally feel a little dissatisfied by most of the painting.

The IMC Gallery is usually open during normal business hours and throughout the weekend, but you can visit their facebook page or call (217) 344-8820 to inquire about a visit. 

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