Smile Politely

Art Around the Block highlights the diversity and talent of the C-U art scene

An overview shot of the art around the block gallery show. In the foreground are various sculptures on white square pedestals. On the far wall are small pieces of artwork. There is an open doorway on the right leading to the second half of the gallery.
Serenity Stanton Orengo

The call for entries for Art Around the Block IV: Artists From Our Neighborhood was my very first post as Art Editor for Smile Politely, so I was especially excited to check out the exhibit for the first time when it opened. The summer art exhibition, which is hosted at the Giertz Gallery at Parkland College in collaboration with 40 North, features 63 works that were selected from more than 100 submissions. This year marks the first in-person showing of Art Around the Block since 2017, and it is the fourth installment of the exhibition. Criteria for the show stipulated that all pieces must be original work that had been completed since January 2020 and had not previously been exhibited at Giertz Gallery. Participants also must reside in Champaign County or counties within the Parkland College 505 District.

Art Around the Block gallery shot. On the far wall are six paintings. A duo of face sculptures sit on a large square white pedestal in the foreground.
Serenity Stanton Orengo

This was my first time at Giertz Gallery, and I was grateful to attend the show with someone more familiar with the Parkland campus. There is a lot of construction happening at the moment that makes navigating your way to the gallery a bit more of a challenge than usual. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was the traditional set up: bright white walls, white rectangular and square pedestals in the center of the room, overhead spot lighting. The gallery is made up of two rooms; there are open doorways on both sides of the interior wall so that your path roughly resembles a figure eight. It had a quiet, traditional gallery feel, with the exception of visible construction workers out the one window. There were very few large scale pieces; this was likely necessitated by the smaller space.

a black and white photo of sparse tall trees at nighttime. The ground looks almost black and takes up 1/4 of the frame.
© Michael Holtz, A Hedgerow, archival photograph, 15 x 24 inches, 2023; Giertz Gallery at Parkland College on Facebook

The collection is quite diverse; there’s photography, ceramics, drawing, sculpture, painting, fiber, and even video represented. There were several familiar names: Andy White had a bird sculpture present, and Faith Gabel (you can read my interview with her next week) also had a painting on display. One thing I noticed was that there were a lot of neutrals present. In fact, many of the pieces that used brighter colors were positioned in such a way that they were never the first thing you would see.

abstract square canvas, made up of overlapping squares and rectangles of various sizes in lime green, turquoise, purple, blue, red.
© Lisa Kesler, Structured Moment II, acrylic paint, linocut prints, hand-painted papers, cold wax medium, 2023; photo by Serenity Stanton Orengo

Both Gabel’s Checkmate and Lisa Kesler’s Structured Moment II, two of the brightest pieces in the collection, were positioned in the far corner of the second room, so that they were not immediately noticeable when you entered the room, regardless of which entry you chose.

Gallery shot of Art Around the Block. Paintins are on the far back wall and right hand side; there are sculptures on the left center of the room on different heights of white square pedastals
Serenity Stanton Orengo

The same was true for the interior wall of the second room; this too featured some of the more colorful pieces, and in this case, you could only see them once you were fully in the room. Since the eye is naturally drawn to brighter colors, I can assume this positioning was intentional to not detract from the less colorful art in the room. Even so, there was still an exceptionally high number of pieces that were predominantly brown, tan, black and white, or bronze. In looking at the cover photo for this article, you can see the viewpoint when you first enter the gallery: not a single non-neutral color in sight.

Abstract square painting; browns and black thin curved brush strokes on a tan and brown background
© Yeong Choi, Glimmer of Awareness, oil and charcoal on canvas, 2021; photo by Serenity Stanton Orengo

Of those less colorful pieces, one of my favorites was Glimmer of Awareness by Yeong Choi. It’s worth noting that in Choi’s online gallery, Glimmer is one of her only pieces that doesn’t feature bright colors. Choi’s abstract piece was comparatively quite large, but I think I would have been drawn to it regardless of the size. Her lines and brushstrokes are interesting, and there is something simultaneously effortless and intentional about her work; it’s one of those pieces that invites the viewer in as you attempt to decipher what exactly you are looking at.

2 white vases, each has two sections. the one on the right is a little less than twice the height of the one on the left, the vases have the appearance of leaning towards each other through their top halves.
© Ingrid Melief, 2 Vases—Listening, Porcelain, glaze, 6.5 x 3 x 3 (left) and 12 x 5 x 5 (right), 2023; Giertz Gallery at Parkland College on Facebook

I also very much enjoyed the highly effective simplicity of Ingrid Melief’s 2 Vases—Listening. The pair of vases have clean lines and curves, and as soon as you see the name of piece, you think, “what a perfect title.” It makes me wonder what came first: the name or the vases.

Vertical painting; bright red, blue, and white flowers take up most of the canvas with a black and white check background.
© Faith Gabel, Checkmate, Mixed media on canvas, 2023; photo by Serenity Stanton Orengo

I first saw Faith Gabel’s art at this year’s Boneyard Art Festival, and I was immediately a fan. Gabel’s pieces are aesthetically very pleasing; she paints gorgeous florals in beautiful vibrant shades of color. While I loved her large pieces at Boneyard, the piece on display here may be my new favorite. Checkmate positions her trademark flowers against a black and white checkered background. The contrast works perfectly for me, and creates an appearance of the flowers bursting from the canvas. To me, it felt like a fresh and cool take on florals.

A black and white up close rendering of Dimash is laid on a gold silhouette. Abstract black and white swirls and line are along the right side of the work.
© Judith Johnson, Muse, charcoal, graphite, ink, gold leaf, on wood, 2022; photo by Serenity Stanton Orengo
© Kelly Hieronymus Whiting, Bell Bowl Prairie- Camp Grant, paper, gouache, UV light, 2022; photo by Serenity Stanton Orengo

There were two interactive pieces in the collection: Judith Johnson’s Muse and Kelly Hieronymus Whiting, Bell Bowl Prairie- Camp Grant. Johnson’s piece had a large QR code next to it with the words “Hear Dimash.” Since I’m not familiar with Dimash and therefore didn’t know that is who was pictured in the artwork, I was quite surprised when the code took me to a Youtube video of (the apparently quite famous) Kazakh singer-songwriter Dimash Qudaibergen performing. Whiting’s piece, which also required viewer participation, requested visitors ask the gallery attendant for a flashlight to experience the ultraviolet light in the artwork. There’s a definite risk with asking your viewer to do something in order to fully experience your art; there’s always the chance they won’t follow through. In both cases, I imagine many visitors skipped the participation aspect, particularly with Whiting’s piece, which would require you to go back to the entry point of the gallery to ask for the flashlight.

Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the show. While not every piece was for me, plenty were interesting and compelling or just plain aesthetically pleasing.

The show runs through July 26th, at which time there will be a gallery talk by the guest juror for the show, Christopher Schneberger, Assistant Professor of Photography and Gallery Director at Vincennes University in Indiana. The show is well worth the visit to the Parkland campus, and is a great testament to the diversity and vitality of the Champaign-Urbana art scene.

Art Around the Block
Giertz Gallery at Parkland College
2400 W Bradley
June 5-July 26
M-W 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Th 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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