Friday, February 22, 2019

Flashes of Brilliance: Illinois High School Art Exhibition at the Zhou B Art Center in Bridgeport

Hazel Mcclinton, Rockford Jefferson High School

Life seemed relatively easy when I was seventeen. It was a time before cellphones, social media and the 24/7 news cycle. People interacted differently. Relationships were built on gradual discovery and respect was learned through an attempt at understanding differences through experience… There was no hiding behind a text or a tweet.

Well, last Friday I found myself exploring what it’s like to be seventeen in 2019. I spent much of the afternoon previewing the Illinois High School Art Exhibition currently on display in the second-floor gallery of the Zhou B Art Center in Bridgeport [Chicago]. The exhibition includes more than 600 works of art created by high school artists from around the state. The collection offers a snapshot of the seventeen-year-old’s reality. The associated angst is apparent in many of the works, but the show presents a new perspective from the next generation’s worldview.

I found myself wondering slowly through the show. The work—hung salon style—is a curatorial choice that offers something new to explore with a slight turn of the head. 

Natalie Wess, Adlai E. Stevenson High School

The show includes imagery that is “safe” and typical of the age—showing the skills of a future illustrator or designer—but there are also new and unexpected expressions. I found pieces which seemed to be created specifically for shock value. But then I questioned… Was the image solely meant to be shocking or was the content the new normal in our quickly changing society?

Throughout the show, there are special flashes of unique beauty and thoughtful brilliance. The exhibition includes a number of courageous young artists who are not afraid to speak their truth—sometimes with startling effect and sometimes through skillful symbolism. The visual vocabulary found throughout the gallery even offers a learning opportunity for those of us who have been around for a while longer.

Brianna Bischoff, St. Charles North High School

At the conclusion of several walks through the exhibition, I began assessing the mission for which I was attending. I reconvened with Cheryl Jefferson and Richard Laurent, colleagues of the Breaking Criminal Traditions initiative who were also exploring the show. We were looking for artwork that spoke to various human rights issues. You see, the BCT initiative will be presenting an award for relevant work [intentional or not] at a ceremony this Sunday afternoon [2:30pm] at the Bridgeport Art Center—a couple of blocks west of the Zhou B Art Center IHSAE exhibition.

Jennifer Branch, Downers Grove South High School

Please join us this Sunday for the IHSAE at the Zhou B Art Center , Sunday, February 24th from 10-4pm. The event will also include a College Recruitment Fair from 10-2 [BAC], Vendor & Career Expo 10-4 [ZBAC] and an opportunity to visit artist studios at both locations. This is a free event and open to the public. Please remember to come by the IHSAE awards ceremony which will be held at the Bridgeport Art Center from 2:30-3:30pm. The Illinois High School Art Exhibition runs through March 9th. 

Special thanks to Assistant Director, Chris Sykora [Deerfield High School] and Executive Director, John Zilewicz [Niles West High School], for producing this enriching event!

Download the schedule of events

ABOUT: The Illinois High School Art Exhibition:

The General Exhibition is one of Illinois’ premier high school art exhibitions featuring student visual artworks from some of the top city, suburban, public and private high schools. The General Exhibition is a “Best of the Best” competition, developed by teachers, to recognize high school students’ artistic excellence.

Each year, over 100 high schools register to participate in the General Exhibition in Chicago. High schools digitally submit up to 25 artworks into 8 categories: Drawing, Painting, Mixed Media, Design, Photography, Pottery, Sculpture, and Time Arts. 

The IHSAE receives well over 2500 submissions for consideration for the General Exhibition. All entries are curated by the IHSAE Board of Directors and guest jurors, who select works by over 500 student artists for exhibition. Students have an opportunity to compete against their peers for over $15,000 in IHSAE awards and scholarships, including the IHSAE Visionary Award. Students also have an opportunity to receive Early College/Summer Intensive scholarships offered by representatives from select art schools, colleges and universities across the country.

Learn more about The Illinois High School Art Exhibition at

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The exhibition catalog... The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions at The Gallery at Penn College

Opening January 15th, at The Gallery at Penn College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, is an elaborate new version of The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions. This unique exhibition boasts a beautiful thirty-six-page color exhibition catalog highlighting each of the exhibiting artists, a beautifully-written introduction by executive producer, Cheryl Jefferson, and my curator notes. These notes simply offer insight into the exhibition with a brief overview of some of the included works of art. I have chosen to share those note here. 

The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions is an exhibition addressing a variety of human rights issues. These atrocities include acid violence, stoning and honor killing as well as the more common tragedies that we see on the evening news... human trafficking, child marriage, and the rise of Fascism. This collection of work has been brought together with the intent of beginning a dialogue about these hard-to-discuss topics. 

Each object in this collection offers multiple levels of interpretation. Most of the pieces were not created specifically to represent the criminal traditions, yet they were chosen because the content alludes to the issues at hand—offering an opportunity to begin a non-threatening dialogue, create understanding and seek resolution.

As the exhibition’s curator, I interpret the criminal traditions based on works of art that offer conceptual, symbolic, and metaphorical content. For example, the typical viewer might see In the Middle by Teresa Hofheimer, as a painterly study of a crouching male in a minimal, high-key setting. The freely painted nude is placed in the upper portion of the composition with the illusion of space only implied through subtle tonal changes of an almost white background.

Teresa Hofheimer, In the Middle, oil on canvas, 60 x 48"

But Hofheimer’s image is more than just a passionate representation depicting a love for the male form. The image speaks to the psychological pain inflicted on the perpetrator of an honor killing. Honor killing is the murder of a family member by relatives who believe that the victim has shamed or violated the family’s honor. The murderer is typically a young man who is expected to defend the family’s pride. In the Middle is symbolic of the psychological torture imposed on the executioner. The figure’s pose amplifies the impossible choice—torn and confused by the horrifying request of his family. 

Honor killing may be the result of common behaviors. Outside of Western cultures, women and girls have been honor killed for wearing makeup, using technology, reading, or any reason the men of the family may choose. Gay men have been victims as well. In some Middle Eastern countries, men are thrown to their deaths from rooftops based on the presumption of being homosexual. The stark background of Hofheimer’s painting may be interpreted as the intended cleansing—or at the very least—symbolic of the attempt at reestablishing purity. 

By taking the legal stand of “defending the family’s honor,” killers typically go free. Those imprisoned are treated as heroes. The psychological effects on all involved result in a society immersed in shame and fear. But in the 21st century, can murder truly be justified by beliefs passed down from a repressive male-dominated society?

Joyce Polance, Fault, oil on canvas 30" x 24"

Joyce Polance addresses personal authenticity in her work. She defines it as a willingness to be vulnerable and exposed, revealing the experience of inner chaos. Her paintings express pain and suffering on a visceral level. Although not addressing a specific criminal tradition, Polance’s imagery conveys the agony of repression. Her painting, titled Fault, is an image of pure emotion and inner rage. The intimate canvas presents a distraught female nude emerging from darkness. Perhaps in shock, the figure is almost lacking facial expression. Her vacant eyes suggest that she is numb to her surroundings. She embraces her legs—tightly holding them to her chest—seeming to be contemplating her predicament. She mutely stares back at the viewer, silently screaming to exist. Desperate slashes violate the image, ripping at the pigment’s surface. This imagery seems to address the debilitating fear, imposed anguish, and brutal repression of people—of women—throughout the world.

Anne Smith Stephan, Cold Ice, oil on canvas, 30" x 48" 

Interpretation is somewhat expected when approaching abstract art. Both splendor and agony are found in the abstract paintings of Anne Smith Stephan. With thinly dripping paint that sometimes builds to heavy impasto, these beautiful canvases offer unique environments to explore. A calming ethereal atmosphere is created with numerous layers of pigment that conceal a deeper message. Like an archaeologist, digging and scraping, the artist seems to be excavating—uncovering elements of a not-so-distant history. The rich and compelling multi-layered surfaces can be interpreted as exposing the physical and psychological wounds of life.

The works included in this exhibition may be interpreted on many levels. Although all are beautiful at face value, this collection is intended to touch the viewer’s mind and soul by highlighting the challenges faced by our global community. The hope is that these paintings, drawings, and sculptures will inspire discussion that supports positive social change.

A reception for The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions will be held at The Gallery at Penn College on Thursday, February 7 from 4:30-6:30pm. I will be presenting some additional insights in a gallery talk which is scheduled for 5:30pm. The gallery at Penn College of Pennsylvania College of Technology is located at one College Avenue in Williamsport, Pennsylvania 17701.

Special thanks to Penny Griffin Lutz, Galley Director of The Gallery at Penn College and Emily Kahler for The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions logo design. Cover image by Joyce Polance, Pull, oil on canvas, 24" x 24"

The Penn College version of The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions, includes work by: Carol Brookes, Corinna Button, James Deeb, Sheila Ganch, Clare Girodie, Charles Gniech, Sergio Gomez, Suzanne Gorgas, Teresa Hofheimer, Lelde Kalmite, Pauls Kloczkowski Luberda, Richard Laurent, Kathy Liao, Zurich Miller, Joyce Polance, Nancy Rosen, Lorraine Sack, Dominic Sansone, Barbara Simcoe, Anne Smith Stephan, and Neil Tetkowski.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Nancy Rosen - Frankly Mine at Studio Oh!

Nancy Rosen, mixed media on paper, 50x50"

This past Friday evening—fighting the remnants of a holiday cold—I was excited to attend the opening reception of Nancy Rosen’s latest solo exhibition titled, “Frankly Mine” at Studio Oh! When I arrived, I was inundated by the crowd of Rosen’s passionate collectors—many who have been made aware of Rosen’s work due to the Netflix show “Grace and Frankie.” The show's producers found Rosen’s work and continue to utilize it as that of Frankie’s—the character played by the iconic Lily Tomlin.

Rosen—a highly prolific artist—has been working in her current style for more than a decade. I believe that I first became aware of Rosen’s work in 2009 when I juried one of her large works on paper into an exhibition titled “Red” at Gallery 180 of The Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago. A solo exhibition followed shortly thereafter. Since then, I’ve been honored to curate many of her pieces into the ever-evolving human rights exhibition, “The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions.” The show offers unique presentations for each new venue. 

Rosen will tell you that painting—for her—is like breathing… it’s just what she does. She will also tell you that, what you see in her paintings is your own reflection. I agree with her. When you look at any piece of art, you bring your history to that moment. Your personal reality—created by your past—is what you experience.

As a curator, I’ve spent a great deal of time exploring Rosen’s imagery. Seemingly influenced by the organically-abstract style of Egon Schiele—the early 20th century Austrian painter—Rosen creates her figures with irregular lines, generally understated color and beautifully-obsessive background patterns, which result in highly emotional compositions. Mostly the void of men, in my mind, her work is about women and their supportive relationships with other women. Rosen’s imagery defines the beauty and the pressures of the female experience. The beautiful background patterns seem to be  symbolic of humanity disappearing into visual chaos.

If you have not had the opportunity to experience the work of Nancy Rosen, make the time to visit Studio Oh! Located at 4839 N. Damen Avenue in Chicago. Gallery hours are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 1-6 pm and by appointment. The exhibition continues through February 15th.