Smile Politely

Local artists bring Viewpoints to Springer Cultural Center gallery

Group shows can bring together art and artists on the basis of shared technique, or  philosophy. They can be connected by location, time period, training. They can “come out of the same scene.” Or, they can share a similar thematic intent which resonates beyond apparent differences in media and style. Viewpoints, the latest group show at the Springer Cultural Center, coalesces around the notion of point of view and how it varies depending on whether the artist is behind the lens of a camera, tempering stone and clay, or playing with the balance of water and pigment on canvas. 

Viewpoints features the work of Tess Bennett, Marissa Moxley, KeIcey Williams, and Najma Motan.  The show covers the walls of the hallway and opens into the historic corridor facing Church Street where Najma Motan’s stone and ceramic work is installed in cases and on pedestals. Motan, inspired by natural forms, presents a range of functional pieces (mugs, vases, frames) that are attractive and well-made, though they lean a bit more towards craft than fine art.

For me, the most powerful pieces of her collection were those that demonstrated her point of view and asked us to question ours. A terracotta nest filled with stone eggs etched with calligraphy, entitled Home With a Meaning, teases us with hidden messages (literal Easter eggs) and invites us to explore our notions of home and safety.  Similarly, a stone prayer pillow features a design so intricate and meditative it begins to feel like a mandala, until we are reminded of the dissonance between the material (stone) and its stated function (pillow).


Back along the hallway, we experience a range of work from painter Tess Bennett, who works in mixed and water media (e.g. alcohol ink).  Bennett’s abstract style is well-suited to water media. There is energy in the rhythms of the paint’s drip and pour that continues to engage the viewer. The varying layers of pigment, often taking on different textures and shapes, work to explode conventional notions of representation. For me, these pieces show Bennett at her best.  

Moving on, the viewer’s gaze is drawn to the bold and often surprising use of color in photographer Kelcey Williams’ work. Williams is a perfect fit for a show seeking to explore why we view things as we do. The deep red sky —pictured in the promotional materials— shows Williams manipulating color to make us question what we’re seeing. Is it a sunset? A firestorm?  Williams also makes us reexamine everyday objects by abstracting them out of context. The Lorax Sweater (shown below) is one of the most engaging examples of this strategy. 

While the texture of the yarn appears representational in some places, the extreme close up removes the original context and forces our gaze deep inside the pattern and texture. A glance at the title card tells us this is a sweater.  But without its context, without its true sense of proportion, it becomes something else entirely.

Photographer Marissa Moxley delivers larger works, primarily in black and white, in a range of abstract and figurative subjects. Like Williams, her POV challenges us to see the extraordinary in the everyday, and vice versa. Her abstract pieces employ a unique alchemy of mixed materials and post-production magic that enable us to see multiple layers of meaning simultaneously. In her figurative work, she leaves us wanting to know what came before and after the moments in which these compelling characters are frozen. 

Viewpoints offers a range of media, style and technique by an eclectic group of artists who are at their best when they challenge themselves (and the viewer) to complicate the equation of subject + object + gaze. Perhaps here the photographers, by virtue of their literal lenses, have a bit of an edge over those working in other media. 

A viewpoint is not just a mindset. It is also a physical space that provides us with a certain view, a particular point to observe from. Viewing this work at this location is a signficant part of the experience.

One of the secondary benefits of a group show like this is that four artists working in different media are likely to draw a wider and larger audience into the seemingly modest hallways of the Springer Cultural Center. 

Springer is a brick and mortar, IRL, arts incubator. From its kids programming to its adult/continuing education art offerings, Springer provides instruction by local artists, hands-on experience in studio environments, and, perhaps, most important of all, a place where the arts are experienced, discussed, and celebrated. As I made my way through the show, I smiled at the thought of some young art student heading toward the snack machine and finding herself forever transformed by one of Moxley’s or Williams’ photos, or Bennett’s abstract paintings or Motan’s stoneware pieces. 

While the corridor-style gallery may lack some of the benefits of a formal, stand-alone gallery (e.g., lighting, signage, space), its presence here among the classrooms and community programs is important.  It is aspirational to students of all ages and levels of experience. It provides potential and, perhaps, surprising moments of inspiration to casual passers-by who may stop for a moment and discover something that challenges or transforms their own viewpoint forever. 

Viewpoints: Art by Tess Bennett, Najma Motan, Marissa Moxley, Kelcey James Williams
Springer Cultural Center
January 12 to 30, artist reception January 17 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. 
301 N Randolph St., Champaign
Gallery hours: Mondays to Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

For more information about this and other upcoming arts events, to apply for a show of your own, visit the Springer Cultural Center’s website

Top photo from Springer Cultural Center, other photos by Debra Domal 

More Articles