Mosaic / Reviews / April 28, 2010

On the corner of Simmons and Kellogg streets

Having never been to a Knox student’s art show, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the Round Room last Friday.

Soon enough, the room was packed with students, faculty and the families of the four artists who were preparing to present their material. Seniors Abbie Frank, Nicole Andersen, Zac Bahr and Kathy Olsen each took a turn guiding the audience through their artistic journeys at Knox.

The idea of an art show for each senior in the department is wonderful and the opportunity to hear the original artists’ perspectives on their work added a whole new level of appreciation to the pieces they presented.

Frank began the show with her series of wooden sculptures, entitled “Woodfall.” Frank studied in Florence, Italy, where one would expect to find artistic inspiration left and right — but according to Frank herself, she became more and more uncomfortable the longer she stayed in the city. She eventually realized that being surrounded by carefully planned city blocks, entirely removed from nature, was taking a toll on her.

The pictures she showed depicted a crowded and cramped urban space, predictable and formulaic compared to the organic wooden sculptures she constructs.

Nature is the inspiration and the medium of Frank’s work. She uses pieces of natural wood that she finds herself and paints, combines, or adds to them in order to examine her own connection to (and separation from) the natural world.

The resulting sculptures impart a feeling of symbiosis between human and nature, with the artist neither giving nor taking too much from what is already present in the natural wood. The connection between human and nature is definitely felt through Frank’s work.

Following Frank’s presentation, Andersen took the stand to exhibit a beautiful series of landscape paintings and drawings. The only painter of the four artists, Andersen said that she was very concerned with both expressing her love of nature and its complexity and also with the “space” contained within any given painting. Her work was partly focused on learning how to impart believable feelings of space and volume in the images she creates.

After seeing Andersen’s paintings, I, for one, believe that she has been successful. For using such muted palettes — mostly paintings in browns and grays, or charcoal drawings — Andersen’s work feels as complex and spacious as if you were standing in the very creeks she paints.

Looking at her works gives me the same feeling of discovery and wonder as I myself have felt in similar natural settings. Andersen’s fascination with nature comes through in every piece she has produced.

Next up was Bahr, a sculptor who began by producing charcoal drawings. Eventually, Bahr realized that he wanted to work in three dimensions and began transferring the dark lines of his drawings to real-life sculptures, working mostly in black wire.

However, his art continued to evolve, and Bahr began using the black wire approach to produce “skeletons” for more solid sculptures, covered in “skins” of burlap or other materials. This process interested Bahr in the transformation that artistic materials undergo and the process by which a hunk of burlap, for example, becomes a piece of artwork. He began combining materials and even whole pieces into a constantly evolving body of work, exploring material transformation and the artistic value of both familiarity and originality.

Last but not least was Olsen, another sculptor with similar influences as Bahr. Both drew inspiration from the sculpture of Eva Hesse, who was preoccupied with the process of creating sculpture. Olsen created art to convey her love of organic shapes, as well as “quirky” lines and color relationships.

Originally, Olsen intended to be a printmaker, but as she continued to produce art, she began to lean towards sculpture. Early pieces included a series of paper cutouts that Olsen used to play with the relationships of various shapes in space. Olsen developed a flair for producing “organic takes on geometry” that I found very interesting, using familiar shapes such as rectangles and spheres, but producing them with an organic and natural feel that one would not expect from such shapes.

These same pieces played with color, and Olsen produced some series, which varied very little in shape and color, highlighting even the smallest change in hue or tone. Small bursts of bold color guide the eye through Olsen’s compositions and the shapes feel both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

Hearing these pieces of artwork described by the artists themselves brought so much more to the table than simply wandering through CFA and idly looking at a piece here and a piece there. The senior art show took the audience into the minds of the artists in a way that no amount of perusing can imitate.

Sam Lewis

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