New VACI exhibit brings abstract art to Strohl

  • Pieces by artists, from left, Susan English, Adam Kenney, and Michael Morrill are displayed in the “Design, Flow, Interpret, Repeat: Contemporary Abstractions” exhibition Tuesday, July 17, 2018 in Strohl Art Center. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

This week, Strohl Art Center’s exhibits are “ flipping,” said Judy Barie, Susan and Jack Turben Director of Galleries. The abstract “Design, Flow, Interpret, Repeat” opens at 3 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, with a reception in Strohl, replacing the grounded, landscape-filled “Force of Nature” that has filled the first floor since Week One.

The new show features work from six artists, several of whom designed pieces specifically for the occasion.

Kate Nielsen is one of the artists whose work will be highlighted. Nielsen, a Brooklyn-based painter, describes her creative process in her studio as “a meditation.” While painting, Nielsen said she “oscillates between figurative and abstracted subject matter,” working with layering acrylic paint.

During her undergraduate years at the Rhode Island School of Design, Nielsen spent semesters in France and Italy, studying Impressionism and Renaissance painting, respectively. But it was her childhood in Reno, Nevada, and trips out west that influenced her most recent work.

Nielsen’s “Land” series, part of which will be in “Design, Flow, Interpret, Repeat,” was influenced by rock formations in particular, she said, plus the general western landscape.

“It’s the buildup of the rock formations, all the different layers you see and how the landscape changes really quickly, I think, directly relates to this series of paintings,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen was featured in a 2013 New York Times story about Amazon’s art department.

While Nielsen thought, “it’s such a monster company, it was disconcerting,” she told the Times, when Amazon originally contacted her, she’s now comfortable working with the online retail giant.

“In the last couple years, I feel like I’ve transitioned to selling pieces straight out of my studio and smaller galleries,” Nielsen said. “But part of me wants to keep that Amazon store just for the large audience.”

Amazon, Nielsen said, has led her to “interesting” experiences in the art world—like selling work as far as Sweden and hearing that one of her paintings wound up in one of a celebrity’s New York homes  (Nielsen declined to name which one). Pieces from her “Survival Tip” painting series have also wound up in homes around the Midwest and in military bases because of Amazon’s reach.

Susan English is another artist whose work will be featured in “Design, Flow, Interpret, Repeat.” Four of her paintings will be on display and are printed polymer on panel.

With an architect father and a mother who encouraged arts and crafts, both of whom took her to museums often as a child, English was raised in a creativity-minded household.

“There was this general focus on the visual world, and just enjoying and taking in natural beauty and just looking at things,” English said.

In high school, English worked primarily with ceramics, which she said was simply because of convenience; a woman in her neighborhood taught the medium. In college and graduate school, English leaned toward painting and drawing which, she said, have always retained a “sculptural aspect.”

“It’s a constantly evolving process,” English said. “And one thing leads from the next, and there are certain things that I’ve always been interested in. Color and structure and faith … that’s remained consistent throughout my work.”

English called those three aspects the “deep veins” of her work.

“My work is very much in relationship to the things I’m looking at in my life and observations in nature, but also observations of light and observations of color,” English said.

English recently completed a residency in Wyoming, where she was struck by the contrast in population density from East Coast cities and the landscape in general.

In 1982, when English had just graduated college, she completed a residency at Chautauqua’s School of Art. She still keeps in touch with some of her friends and remembers the school as “an exciting creative community.”

“Design, Flow, Interpret, Repeat” will also showcase work from Stephanie Ambruster, Harris Deller, Adam Kenney, Kathryn Markel and Michael Morrill.

For the exhibit, Barie wanted to stage something visitors have never seen in a Chautauqua gallery before. To achieve this, she came up with the idea of pedestals placed diagonally across the space that will display black-and-white ceramics from Deller.

Barie has also staged Kenney’s glasswork on a shelf on one of the walls. Kenney crafted the vibrant pieces “playing off the colors of other artists” in the show, Barie said.

“When I do a show like this, where there are six artists, I really try to coordinate (the exhibit) as being one piece,” Barie said.

Tags : Kate NielsenStrohl Art CenterSusan EnglishVACIVisual Arts at Chautauqua Institution

The author Kirby Davis

Kirby Davis covers visual arts for The Chautauquan Daily. The proud Clevelander is a rising senior and a journalism/American studies double major at Miami University in Ohio. When she’s not writing, Kirby is probably watching a movie, re-watching “Gilmore Girls” or brainstorming potential names for her future pet corgi.