Smile Politely

Parkland’s Art and Design Faculty Exhibition balances the personal and political

Entering Parkland College’s Giertz Gallery, you’re immediately immersed in the dynamic tension and release on every wall, in every carving, and as the centerpiece of each artist’s statement in the 2021 Parkland Art and Design Faculty Exhibition. The space bubbles over with the creativity and generative beauty you can only experience from seasoned and talented artists. Parkland’s faculty includes award-winning artists and teachers and their bountiful output is on full display from August 23rd through October 16th.

Joan Stolz’s mesmerizing Skin in the Game dares the viewer to enter and wince. Her vivid collection of 36 “scoundrels,” as she put it, is based on her impressions over the last few years as a self-professed news junkie. “I wanted to paint out of the pandemic and to magnify the tones and expression of their wicked skin,” Stolz notes. “I put a zit on Lindsey Graham’s face. Just because he’s grotesque.” Stolz’s oils on panel blocks ooze her pandemic catharsis and leave you craving the story behind each and every image. Curator and gallery director, Lisa Costello, chose to hang the images on a stark linear grid evoking study and curiosity.

Two rows of small oil on wooden block paintings of over thirty faces of famous politicians and political donors, with a tight emphasis on the facial skin and skin tones of each person featured. Skin in the Game, 2021. Photo by Amy Penne.

Joan Stottz, Skin in the Game, oil on canvas, © 2021. Photo by Amy Penne.

Laura O’Donnell’s Black Figure earthenware pieces are reminiscent of the ancient Greek pottery that inspired her creations. “We couldn’t travel during these last few months so I wanted to create stories, like the ancient Greeks, told in miniature with intricate detail,” said O’Donnell, an award-winning teacher of art and photographic history at Parkland College. She continued, “I love the storytelling aspect of ancient Greek art. We, humans, are wired for storytelling and we needed that more than ever during the pandemic.” O’Donnell splits her time between Parkland College and Eastern Illinois University and she teaches students at both schools how photography and images shape our shared culture.

Chris Berti, retiring Professor of Art, featured six carvings in this year’s lineup. Berti’s Cloud Bear must be seen under the immaculate lighting that dominates the Giertz Gallery and is always carefully designed by Costello. The sunken white and grey marble sparkles like freshly fallen snow in Berti’s carving, illuminating his idea that “the crystals in the marble are like ice or even sequins. This polar bear is looking to the heavens, up, maybe for a way out of this climate crisis. It’s a symbol of hope, but also the despair that it all could melt at any moment.” Berti’s carvings in marble, granite, and limestone, are perfectly spaced throughout the exhibit, grounding the viewer at every turn with the stunning detail Berti’s capable and talented hands create. His Magnetic Yoke and Keep Walking, both carved from spectacular and layered Indiana limestone, visually represent the layers of time and movement that only limestone can reveal.

Multimedia artist Peg Shaw’s video and sound installation, For All We Know, is a standout in the exhibition. Visit the Giertz Gallery on a quiet Tuesday or Wednesday and you’ll get the full effect of Shaw’s haunting sounds and images of a serene body, floating on “the perfect still membrane between this and that.” Shaw states the piece, “seeks connection as well as an awareness of presence and absence.” In the image, five fires crackle and pop as the listener is drawn into the water’s sonorous ripples that conjure alchemical sensations in the mind of the viewer. Shaw’s installations have garnered her 40 North’s Ace Artist Award and her teaching, like that of colleague Laura O’Donnell, has earned them both the Illinois Community College Trustee Association’s Outstanding Faculty Award.

The marble carving is of a large magnet in dark limestone with ribbed and rippled marble pouring forth from the base of the magnet. In the background are grey and pink colors on oil pantings hanging on the bright white wall. Magnetic Yoke. Photo by Amy Penne,

Chris Bert, Magnetic Yoke, imestone and marble. © 2021. Photo by Amy Penne.

Every piece, from Peg Shaw’s 6’x8’ installation to metals artist Denise Seif’s tiny garden of lichen and fungi pendants, brings the viewer into a conversation about the ephemeral nature of time and space. Seif’s colorful pendants, composed largely of “found pieces of wood and enamel on metal,” are intricate sources of hope and life, brilliantly lit and exposed under the vitrine, with shards of sunlight glistening from Parkland’s courtyard window.

Matthew Watt’s bold oil paintings, evoking abstract dimensions of memory, also benefit from the natural light and provide the boundary between the two dynamics that Costello intended for the exhibit. The front, Costello notes, is productive and busy in contrast to the deliberately meditative back half of the gallery, where Shaw’s installation and Stolz’s quieter CW paintings dominate. Stolz based this set of paintings on her observations of the color and soapy swirl at the carwash. The oil on linen series is reminiscent of Monet’s Water Lillies, but with a less impressionistic twist. The gesture paintings with their Venetian reds and Titanium whites play skillfully together in this series based on the repeats we see in the natural world.

Kelly White, Lady Reclining, oil on canvas, © 2021. Photo by Amy Penne,

40 North Executive Director Kelly White’s Lady Reclining demands your full attention as you peruse the back half of the gallery. The limited-palette oil on canvas image immediately evokes the 1920’s images that inspired her work. White stated, “I relied on basic Van Dyke brown and Titanium white to bring out the natural sensuality of the subject, based on old erotic postcards from the 1920’s.”

Paula McCarty, Women Who Painted, digital drawings on aluminum, © 2017-2021. Photo by Amy Penne.

On the sidewall, Paula McCarty’s series Women Who Painted, brings together original phone drawings of artists including Frida Kahlo, Lucy Kemp-Welch, Hilma of Klint, and Illinois native, Dorothea Tanning. These stunning digital drawings printed on aluminum are McCarty’s way of “rewriting history and underscoring these deserving [and often excluded] artists’ contributions to the art world.”

The opposite wall features the salon-style collection of framed plein air paintings by Melinda McIntosh which, according to Costello, create a more intimate space to compare and contrast the small but striking landscapes.

Parkland’s dazzling exhibit is not to be missed. These talented artists challenge and delight in their work and celebrate the power of the human story.

2021 Parkland Art and Design Faculty Exhibition
August 23–October 16, 2021
Giertz Gallery, Parkland College
2400 W Bradley Ave, Champaign 

Giertz Gallery hours:
M-W:  10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Th 10 a.m. to 7p.m., and Sat noon to 2 p.m.
Call 217-351-2485 for more information.

Top photo by Cindy Smith.

Arts Editor at Smile Politely

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