Smile Politely

Take THAT, derogatory idiom!

Alright, just in case you haven’t heard it – because you’ve never seen a popular film about some teacher somewhere doing something – the derogatory phrase goes, “Those who can’t, teach.” With an English teacher in the family constantly correcting my grammar being largely responsible for my turn to writing & editing, I’d revise the saying to say, “Those who can’t, critique.” But 40 North isn’t writing anything, and that would make for a boring art show, so their positive spin on the saying is a way of highlighting our current art educators’ copious amounts of talent.

Every artist participating in Those Who Teach, CAN is currently an educator in Champaign’s Unit 4 public school system. I got the chance to chat with Stacey Gross from Centennial about her reasons for participating; she spoke about how welcome and important this opportunity is, because as an educator, the focus on instruction can create obstacles to actively creating. “It really gave us a reason to actually practice our art,” she told me, which makes a lot of sense. I know from experience myself, when you spend the majority of your time applying your passion to practical application of a skill, it can be hard to remember to save some energy to spend on your own creations. That’s me, and I don’t even have to grade projects or create lesson plans.

(unlike these lucky folks, who both CAN and TEACH)

Once again, I missed the artist’s reception… but this year, so did my photographer, which means I have no amazing photos of all the cool people who show up to these things. It also means that I got to go to Consolidated Communications during the workday, but I felt more comfortable this time, and the workers seemed unbothered. I know it’s an odd schedule and an unconventional venue, but with it being situated on that stretch of S. Neil, it’d be an easy lunch-break trip; there’s plenty of drive-thru options regardless of which direction you approach.

With this year’s theme being much less restrictive than last year’s Paper Trail, the exhibition appeared much more conventional, displaying mostly paintings, drawings and photographs with a few mixed-media works. There were some ceramics, some paper sculptures with metal findings, and my favorite: Jurassic Barbie* by Josh Doniek of Centennial.

*not its real title — although the real title is amazing, I would consider sharing it a “SPOILER”

Ok, maybe I should have built up to that one, perhaps I should have gone through some two-dimensional works first. But when I walked in, my brain shouted “T-rex fancy dolls!” and I walked right over to the display cube. Then I went back to the beginning and slowly got there and spent a lot of time looking at the intricate crochet, the hand-stitched flower petals and the sculpted dinosaur heads. But I’m trying to get you to go to this show, and this photo was tricky to take and doesn’t fully display their glory. Go for the dino-dolls; stay for the rest of the awesome. And there are more than are pictured, so definitely go.

But please, do go back toward the front door and look at the rest of the show, because you will re-discover what you love about Jillian Nickell. My heart hoped for a second that it meant Ms. Nickell is back in town, but I know she taught at Central for a few years in the ‘teens. Still, even if she has not brought her whimsy back to Chambana, in this art exhibition, she’s bringing life to one of my favorite idioms. Next to it is a silkscreen doing an excellent impersonation of an ink drawing, by Stacey Gross. Gross also has a stunning run of four photographs, which have to be seen to be appreciated. And pondered. And considered. And questioned? And more appreciation follows.

At the far end of the wall, there’s an intriguing collection of small charcoal drawings that was noteworthy at first glance for its framing style. The oddly kinetic placement of frames brings to mind trendy Pier-1 pieces, but the rough texture of the wood makes a conflict in my brain. Then as you get closer to see each work, there are tiny typeset messages hidden in most of the scenes. Ravyn Rodgers of Central definitely poured a lot of consideration into the execution of the work.

Ever since childhood, I’ve been drawn to images that use the entire spectrum of color, often citing “Rainbow” as my favorite color, and organizing my large boxes of crayons into the gradient. Therefore, I was visually caught by Adrielle Horcher’s acrylic work and the stoneware on the neighboring plinth. It was only a second before I said, “Oh, ladyparts,” and then had to spend a much longer time exploring and analyzing the pieces. I’m not certain the sculpture is accurate, but it is definitely intricate – and that’s not to express doubt, it’s just to highlight my ignorance about my own organs. “Women’s healthcare is complicated,” I heard someone say this week…

With as long as I spent examining my inner workings, I spent nearly as long tracing (visually – I didn’t touch, despite temptation) the textures in John Odum’s “Rising Road”. I’ve subjected you to so many poor-quality photos today, but this work just did not capture well on my inferior device. I’d urge you to go stare at this and think about lovely, soothing, but complicated things that have calmed down after going to shit. Like a sunset over a body of water that’s just had a devastating storm, or a bruise that is blossoming on sunburned skin. Or you know, whatever it brings to your mind. And remind yourself you’re not allowed to touch it even if those receptionists are totally busy.

After I lurked in the invisible corner for probably too long, the last thing that really drew me in was a pair of photographs – but I first I didn’t realize they were both photographs. The first of a set by Priscilla Putnam, “Fishing at Dusk”, made me walk closer because I love looking at ink drawings, especially when the artist chooses to saturate a large portion of the piece in black. Or maybe a silkscreen? Or, just look at the artist’s card – it is definitely a photograph. Wow. Looking to the right, I see the left’s completely inverse image: it’s so real it hurts, the photo is mostly made of light, and it appears to be the same location shot from the other side. It even looks into the arch, instead of through. “Ruins” is the perfect complement; they almost need to be purchased together.

Purchased – absolutely. Many, if not most, of these artworks are for sale. Kelly White at 40 N would be happy to facilitate if you’re interested. There are better photos at 40 North’s facebook site, but going in person would be the best way to judge a future investment – in either the artist, or your children’s artistic future. I’m not going to hand out ribbons, but when I was walking through, I know I definitely picked out a school that I thought had a higher concentration of artworks I admired. And I didn’t mention every piece or artist, so seeing for yourself might be the only way to discover your own favorite.

Those who teach, CAN will be on display at Consolidated Communications at 1300 S. Neil until August, 11. The venue space is connected, but feels fairly separate from the business inside. However, the gallery hours are the same: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.   

All images were taken by Rebecca Knaur. All art and images thereof remains the intellectual property of the creators. 

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