Artists in full “flourish”

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Terrence Payne, Not So Much Lost As Less

oil pastel on paper, 60″ x 48″, 2010

Walk into the galleries of the Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and you walk into a richly colored, carefully detailed multiverse of the imagination.

Titled “Flourish,” the show is filled with images that draw you in and hold you, some with the lure of comfort and safety, others with the promise of a fairy tale, minus the fairy tale ending.

Artist Terrance Payne says the group chose the name “Flourish” for their exhibition because they’re not scared of being “pretty.”

We draw the viewer in and tempt them to spend time contemplating the layers of meaning they can find once they get beyond the surface. To different degrees we are all using color, pattern, texture and line within our work to this end, creating narrative, commentaries and other worldly experiences to get our points of view across.

For MAEP Coordinator Christopher Atkins, “flourish” holds other meanings:

It’s a short and picturesque word that highlights the colorful and organic nature that’s in their work. I also think that this show is a big step for all of them so it’s a moment of intense creative growth for their careers.

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Erika Olson Gross, Lake North Star, 2010

graphite, gouache, and watercolor on paper

In the first room hangs the work of Erika Olson Gross. Olson Gross’s work reflects her dual careers of art and motherhood. Her detailed graphite landscapes create a sense of both depth of field and the fragility of life, while flat colored designs evoke family tradition, and seemingly capture the moment in time. In one image a blanket of colored triangles is pulled over the detailed rendering of her two sons sleeping; in another, the pattern from a swedish bridal pillow appears to bless the lake and woods below.

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Joe Sinness, Something Special, 2010

colored pencil on paper

On the opposite wall from Olson Gross can be found the equally comforting and richly detailed still-lifes of Joe Sinness. But in this case, much of his work also evokes an ironic smile. Sinness excels at botanical art, capturing the rich color and fragility of morning glories, fringe tulips and dahlias. It would be enough for some artists to stop there, but Sinness adds layers of art history and cultural commentary, incorporating images of Barbara Streisand, pink flamingos and Italian baroque paintings. He further challenges himself by placing images in curved glass or reflected in mirror tiles, creating mind-bending moments that recall M.C. Escher.

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Jennifer Davis, Curious, 2010

acrylic, graphite,and charcoal on panel

Walk into the next room, and things start to get a little menacing. Jennifer Davis is well known in the Twin Cities for her playful yet haunting characters. Part human, part animal, the figures in her work go on picnics or ride their bikes, and yet the viewer is left unsettled. Christopher Atkins says it’s as though the rouge on their cheeks was smeared on.

I think it’s a combination of her mythology, anthropomorphic figures, and this easter egg palate, along with very soft features, and sense of textile and pattern that makes her work so distinctive and recognizable.

Dominating the room are a series of oil pastel portraits by Terrance Payne (see the top image in this post). The characters – women – are posed in classic portrait style, but the classicism stops there. Payne’s fascination with pattern and form are evident in how he plays with both his backdrop as well as his subject, draping one women in fabric, and binding another in belts. Yet he also lets us see the circles he used to create the foundations for each face and limb – “showing his hand” as it were.

MAEP Coordinator Christopher Atkins says the “hand” of the artist is dominant in all of the artists’ work. Whereas much modern tries to eliminate the sense of its being “handmade,” these works revel in it.

Atkins notes this is the first completely two-dimensional show the MAEP has presented in a longtime, but it reflects a community of Minnesota artists working with pencils and pastels who are flourishing quite nicely.

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