Racine and Vicinity Show @ Wustum Museum of Fine Arts in Racine

The good thing about juried exhibitions is that they are democratic; any artist can submit an entry. Successful competitors are usually represented by a single work. This is the case in the “Racine and Vicinity Show: All Media Juried Competition” at Wustum Museum where there are 117 works representing 103 artists. The downside of juried exhibitions, and this is also the case with “Racine and Vicinity Show,” is that they bring together too many works by too many artists. Each painting, print, and drawing is simply hung at an equal distance from the next and no thematic categories organize the show, making it difficult to read beneath the surface of individual works. In contrast, exhibitions with a thematic focus offer a number of works by fewer artists. These exhibitions appeal to me more. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the “Racine and Vicinity Show.” I saw one work (and occasionally two) by many artists that I plan to follow into the future.

Nature:
Don Hinrichs’s moody landscapes caught my attention in the “Racine and Vicinity Show.” This artist keeps things simple and interesting at the same time.

Don Hinrichs, A Cloud Happening, acrylic, 2010. Photo from my phone camera.

 His A Cloud Happening (2011) features a big sky over a deserted beach with low waves washing the shoreline. The excitement in this little acrylic painting is the luminous color and virtuoso’s brushwork used in the sky. Hinrichs paints the clouds, with little pockets of sunlight brightening the edges, at the moment of dramatic transformation, as a storm is builds in the sky.

Sharon Christensen, Our Farm with Bee Balm, watercolor, 2010. Screenshot from facebook.

I spent a lot of time looking at Sharon Christensen’s Our Farm with Bee Balm (2010). This gorgeous picturesque image of a Wisconsin farm, is organized around the curving forms of rolling fields, rolling trees lines, and rolling clouds, all tied together like a complex composition. I rarely find myself transported into places depicted in pictures, but here I found myself wanting to pick the bee balm in the foreground of Christensen’s ten-inch square painting.

Joyce Eesley, Pink Rose Reflection, transparent watercolor, 2010. Photo curtesy of the artist.

Joyce Eesley’s Pink Rose Reflection is a stunning watercolor skillfully carried out in a very unforgiving medium. Transparent watercolor leaves no room for erasing or painting over. Every brushstroke must be perfect as it is painted on the paper. A single rose, blown-glass bud vase, and a silk scarf are shown resting on a mirrored tray; the objects and their reflection merge skillfully in Eesley’s complicated composition.

John Vlaj, Egret, watercolor 2011. Photo curtesy of the artist.

John Vlaj’s large watercolor Egret (2010) is a very appealing celebration of color and the animal world.

Lisa Bigalke, Castle, relief print, 2010. Photo from my camera phone.

Lisa Bigalke’s Castle (2010) caught my attention; it’s a relief print that folds out into a little paper sculpture.

The title of Louise Sliv’s RR4 (2011) must refer to Rural Route 4 that runs through the Wisconsin Dells. I could not find Sliv on the internet so I don’t have an image to represent her work, but I like her oil painting framed in rough wood showing an old church and a one-room rural schoolhouse. Sliv’s treatment of the subject reminds me of Marsden Hartley’s landscapes,which are similar in subject and also rendered in a naïve style with broad, heavy brushstrokes.

On the theme of nature but very abstract is G.D. Helding’s Chaos and Creation (2011). Made up of gooey lays of brightly colored wax, this work represents unformed force melding into solid forms.

Maureen Fritchen, Full Circle, mixed media, 2010. Photo by Jessica Zalewski.

Maureen Fritchen’s Full Circle (2010) is an abstraction in earth tones that is inspired by nature. The circular forms Fritchen uses throughout the composition do not form regular patterns, but rather coalesce like cells bumping up against one another under the lens of a microscope and floating like bubbles carried in the breeze. The linear patters in graphite and transparent wash suggest dried prairie grasses ready to crumble into the earth or be carried by the wind.

Fantasy:

If you like fantasy there is a lot to see in the “Racine and Vicinity Show.” The large pen and ink drawing She Puppet (2010) by Lance Raichert shows a sexy Michael Jackson-esque mechanical puppet caught in a crisis of decomposition.

Chet Griffith, Beatrice, graphit, 2011. Photo curtesy of the artist.

Less circus-like but similar in tone is Chet Griffith’s Beatrice (2011), a painstakingly rendered picture of a young “Goth” woman. Highly stylized as this drawing is, Griffith’s attention to detail—lip rings, exotic face paint (or tattoos), and the fashionable cut of the subject’s blouse—would seem to have been inspired by a photo, though the flaming orbs hovering near Beatrice’s heart must come from the artist’s imagination.

David V. Holmes, Mary Shelley, acrylic and collage, 2009. Photo curtesy of the artist.

David Holmes’s wall hung assemblage Mary Shelley (2009) is, like so much of this artist’s work, both creepy and enticing. I always feel like Holmes’s machine like figures move when I’m not looking, laughing at me behind my back.

Dennis Bayuzick, Last Laughs, oil, 2010. Photo curtesy of the artist.

Based on nature, but very expressionist, is Dennis Bayuzick’s Last Laughs (2010), a tightly rendered still-life painting with a self-portrait included in the reflection of a mirror. Just as the title suggests, there is something dark about Last Laughs that I can’t quite put my finger on. The facial expression reflected in the mirror is disconcerting. It looks like a grimace not a laugh. Swirling around this enigmatic face is a disheveled still life made up of haphazardly placed books, upturned buckets and cups, crumpled fabric, and dried flowers, that read as a metaphor for the inner workings of the artist’s mind.

Alex Tompsett’s large mixed media painting stopped me in my tracks. I think I saw Tompsett’s work in an exhibition at Remington May (also b4s gallery) last summer. I remember scrawled faces emerging from dark backgrounds. Like Mask Belief (2010) in the “Racine and Vicinity Show,” these paintings appeared to be inspired by African masks. I’m not sure of Tompsett’s inspiration, which may just as well be Goya’s black paintings. Tompsett’s abstracted figures are, I think, purposefully ugly and meant to shock. I like Tompsett’s ugly paintings. I would like to own one, but I can’t imagine a spot in my house for an painting that is this disturbing (in a good way).

Amy Misurelli Sorensen, I Want to be a Real Boy, graphite and acrylic, 2010. Photo curtesy of the artist.

Amy Misurelli Sorensen, I Want to be a Real Boy, graphite and acrylic, 2010. Photo curtesy of the artist.

Some art is meant to illicit discomfort. Amy Misurelli Sorensen’s drawing I Want to be a Real Boy (2010) does just that. In tune with contemporary conceptual artists’s preoccupations with identity art, Misurelli Sorensen focuses on the messy issue of gender identification. We see the muscular arms and torso of the “ideal” man in her drawing, as well as the high-heeled pumps of the “ideal” woman.  My sense is that this drawing is meant to suggest the schizophrenic process a child goes through imagining him or herself  through image ideals (stereotypes) offered by mass culture. Misurelli Sorensen’s picture argues that the process of growing into an appropriate gender is messier than we generally think. I Want to be a Real Boy is a work that is stifled by the context of this juried exhibition. Without room to breath or more works dealing with similar themes, this thought-provoking work looks out of place.

Kathleen Laybourn, Good Mommie/Bad Mommie, encaustic, 2011. Photo curtesy of the artist.

Kathleen Laybourn’s Good Mommie/Bad Mommie (2011) gets lost in the overall mix of the exhibition as well. It too concerns cultural stereotypes. Laybourn layers images of the good mother—the nurturing mother of Hallmark cards—with the bad mother–the evil stepmother Queen from Disney’s Snow White. This piece strikes a cord of truth I think, as the mothers I know seem to see themselves as one or the other at any given moment.

Phil Schultz, Lug Nuts, bronze, 2010. Size approximately 8 inched across. Photo from my phone camera.

I can’t end this commentary without mentioning my favorite piece, Phil Schultz’s Lug Nuts (2010), a wacky cast bronze socket wrench with five spokes. The tiny heads of stupid looking men protrude from the ends of the spokes where “lug nuts” would fit if the wrench was used to tighten a tire into place. The words, “Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Saab, etc.” are pounded into the piece making it a joke on the automobile industry. The fact that Lug Nuts was modeled in wax then cast in bronze gives it gravity that it might not garner if it were made of ephemeral materials. As an object cast in metal it has the weight and presence of the tool it refers to. But what does this piece mean? At first I thought the heads were meant to mock CEOs, but perhaps they represent the workers whose lives have been twisted out of them by the automobile industry.

With 103 artists to see, I can write about only the few works that really stood out to me the afternoon that I visited the exhibition. There is much more to see in the “Racine and Vicinity Show.”  If you haven’t already done so I encourage you to stop in at Wustum before it closes on August 27th.

If I have left out a work that you want to mention, add a comment with your thoughts about the piece. If you disagree with, or want to add something, to my commentary about a work, do so by posting a comment.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I recently started a part-time job as gallery director at UW-Parkside. Several of the artists I mention here also work at UW-Parkside, though I do not work with them directly.

About Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs is the director of galleries and curator of exhibitions at Jamestown Community College in Western New York. She writes the blog "Scene Unseen: Viewing Notes" about visual art in her community.

2 Responses to Racine and Vicinity Show @ Wustum Museum of Fine Arts in Racine

  1. Kathleen Labyourn says:

    I agree. Group exhibitions, of this sort, serve as an interesting overview of what ideas regional artists are investigating, but inherent is these shows is an unevenness to the way in which the works are positioned for viewing. It creates an experience of organized chaos, because there is no one theme that is addressed. It sometimes feels like one is quietly walking through a room that is filled with conversation of various degrees of volume. Some of the more delicate and sensitive conversations get lost over the din of more boisterous speakers. Still and all, it is a good thing to see the number of serious and hard working artisits represented here. Good art does not only happen on the coasts.

  2. Kathleen, I like the way you say “delicate and sensitive conversations get lost”. This is a really nice way to put it.

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