Smile Politely

Color and craft at EIU’s Tarble Arts Center

Colorful painting of library books with butterflies on the spines. Books are blue and yellow and maroon spines. The butterflies floating in front are yellow, red, tangerine, and pink.
Carolina Torres, Secret of the Wings, acrylic on paper, 2024; Photo by Amy Penne

The stars of the Artists-in-Residence exhibit at Eastern Illinois University’s Tarble Arts Center were the artists in residence producing art in real time. Studio space became gallery space. Sadly, I missed that part. What’s left is the exhibit itself: Mixed media pieces combining collage, acrylics, pencil, and other elements. There are no titles of works or adjoining explanations, just collaborative art on walls. It’s disorienting. It is also intriguing.

Diane Christiansen and Jessie Mott transformed one of the galleries into a working studio from February 21st through 29th. Viewers could see the artists working on the pieces which would eventually make up the exhibit. Christiansen and Mott then did a short series of talks and an opening reception on Friday, March 1st. What lives in that space now are the fruits of their artistic labors. 

Abstract painting and collage image including green horizontal shape beneath purple and yellow oblong images. A sharp beige triangle dissects the right half of the image.
Diane Christiansen and Jessie Mott, No title, collage, 2024; Photo by Amy Penne

Their colorful collages set against the gallery’s deep teal wall probed deep collective silence. I felt an absent presence in the room. The collages themselves are the collaboration performed. We can see Mott’s queer animals dancing with Christiansen’s animating forces at work in still drawings and held together by vivid acrylic backgrounds. Both artists are known for animation, movement, and multimedia installations. But these are collaged moments, suspended.

It was challenging to experience the art without any textual support. No titles. No wall text. No artists’ notes. Nothing. I wanted to know more about what went into the pieces and exactly what media were being used. But that feeling of missing out on the work of the pieces has a galvanizing effect on the viewer. It’s exciting and creepy, like you’re seeing diary entries on a wall about events you missed. You’re left to your own resources to figure it out.  

Christiansen is a collaborative artist who lives and works in Chicago. Her works and installations have been increasingly collaborative and include music, film, and animation. Mott, another Chicago artist, also works in animation, drawing, and poetry. Their collaboration at EIU’s Tarble Arts Center is on display through March 15th, 2024. 

Painted image of person of color with warm brown skin tones, bright blue eyeshadow, with blue bracelets against lavender and chartreuse shadows.
Sam Montano, Nova, acrylic, 2024; Photo by Amy Penne

The rest of the Tarble’s spacious multi-room gallery is alive and bursting with color from the Art From Here exhibit which also runs through March 15th. Art From Here is a showcase of art from K-12 students throughout East Central Illinois. Showcase doesn’t even begin to describe the spirited and brilliant work of some of our youngest budding artists. 

Art is good for the soul and when it’s art coming from young souls, it’s even more inspiring. I’m a sucker for a gorgeous piece in crayon and marker and there’s plenty of that for the young at heart. But there’s also brilliant acrylic paintings, stunning ceramic masks, and a balanced mix of pencil, charcoal, digital media, and even upscaled origami-inspired paper fortune tellers. 

Colorful painting of library books with butterflies on the spines. Books are blue and yellow and maroon spines. The butterflies floating in front are yellow, red, tangerine, and pink.
Carolina Torres, Secret of the Wings, acrylic on paper, 2024; Photo by Amy Penne

I’m an English teacher married to a K-12 school librarian, so when I came across Arcola’s tenth-grader Carolina Torres’ Secret of the Wings, an acrylic painting with three-dimensional butterflies set against library books, my heart sang. Butterflies emerging from books? Yes, please. The colors alone can’t help but make you happy. 

Another Arcola student, senior Sam Montano’s acrylic painting entitled Nova captures you with those blue-shadowed eyes. The piece also captures the movement of skin tones and body position against bright periwinkle and chartreuse shadows. 

Charleston High School’s Destiny Santos created an interesting take on the origami-meets-paper fortune telling trope with watercolor and colored pencil in Self Expression Explosion. Santos’ dynamic three-dimensional work has all the playfulness of those folded paper trinkets we made as kids, but this one takes on far more meaning with text collage and color. 

Image of broken bits of colorful plastic pieces in a tower form. Crumpled and ripped book pages are at the bottom and a chain holding a ring dangles on the left, hanging from the plastic tower.
Gillian Irons, Broken Pieces, mixed media sculpture in plastic, paper, and metal, 2024; Photo by Amy Penne

Charleston ninth-grader Gillian Irons’ Broken Pieces, a mixed-media sculpture using paper and bits of colored plastic, includes a mysterious ring at the end of a chain hanging from the minced plastic sculpture. It sits on a shelf against the gallery’s stark white wall and the shadows give it added dimension. 

Colorful child's tempera painting of a bunny face with a purple eye and a blue eye. The background includes a red sunshine in the upper-left and yellow and blue and brown and green scribbles and images all over the painting.
Priya Shotts, Magic Bunny in the Garden, tempera on paper, 2024; Photo by Amy Penne

And then there’s just color on color on color in fifth grader Priya Shotts’ Magic Bunny in the Garden. This Crestwood School student’s tempera painting makes you want to drop what you’re doing and just go play with paint — which I did later that day, but mine wasn’t as good as Shotts’ delightful piece.

Anyone who knows me knows my passion for art is rooted in the intersection of art and education. Some kids are prodigies; all kids can learn art from caring instructors. The committed instructors of the students listed above include Charleston High School’s Heather Siegel, Arcola High School’s Alex Lugo and Ixcell Vega, and Cumberland High School’s Wendy Peters. But there are many others listed and so many beautiful works of art from visionary kindergarteners through accomplished seniors from right here in East Central Illinois. 

In the coming days, we’ll read a review of Champaign-Urbana’s juried high school art show on display now in the Illini Union Art Gallery. What these shows demonstrate is that the world of art and design greatly benefit from the unfettered creativity that only youth can expose. 

Artists-In-Residence & Art From Here
Tarble Arts Center at Eastern Illinois University
2010 9th St
Feb 9–Mar 15
M-W by appointment  
Th + Fri 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sa 1 to 5 p.m.

Arts Editor at Smile Politely

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