Art Review: ArtsPlace where both art and students flourish

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112188115514271.jpg’, ‘Photo by Susan Webb Tregay’, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112188118114255.jpg’, ‘Photo by Susan Webb Tregay’, ”);

Visit ArtsPlace. Here your taxes and donations to Rockford’s Arts Council are at work creating skillful visual arts, drama, dance and articulate, hard-working young people. Just stop in to the gallery and studios, and a student will greet you and give you the grand tour. This year, the program is located at 323 W. Jefferson St. next to Minglewood. While the program runs from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., guests are asked to come from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

This eight-week summer art and job skills program is now at its halfway point. The walls of the gallery are rich with drawings and paintings in graphite, watercolor and acrylics. Soon, the students on the painting team will be experiencing oil painting as well.

The drawings are impressive. Although done from magazine photos, the students’ choice of references was mature and thoughtful. Most of them express serious content from the confident stare and casual posture of one young man to anger, mystery and the prospect of punishment. As a group, these drawings show a full range of life and emotions in the teen-age years.

Adrienne Minor captured an angry young man by leaving photorealism behind and making a detailed drawing with angry strokes of her pencil. Looking at this piece, you gnash your teeth like the figure in the drawing. It is crowded onto the piece of paper, and the tight composition leaves you with an unease that you can’t quite identify. This drawing not only relates to the viewer on a personal level, but Minor was able to move beyond her reference photo and create a unique work of art.

These students’ technical skills for creating realism with just a pencil were outstanding. Having proven that, this team is now focusing on moving these skills into less familiar (or unfamiliar) media. Next came a very successful encounter with watercolor. While they had heard of watercolor’s unforgiving reputation, and they believed it, any struggle with the media gave the paintings an added patina of maturity. Working from a traditional still-life setup, the paintings were tightly cropped and densely painted, giving a feeling of abundance and making the viewer work for his or her pleasure. Keeping the viewer involved is, after all, the purpose of the fine arts.

Sarah Pittaway’s roses showed the depth and contours of their petals and weight of these blossoms. This weight serves to balance the visual weight of a dark vase and grapes on the left. Christopher McNeely’s unusual composition creates a path for your eye to follow around the painting. Two lush apples sit on the bottom of the painting. One has its stem facing you so it is round, unapple-like and intriguing. Then the patterning on his candleholder balances and repeats the wonderful textures of foliage on the other side of the painting.

Acrylics are the third, and current, project for this team’s summer program. Working from magazine photos or reproductions of famous artists’ work, this team has begun to create work that reflects the technical skills shown in the pencil pieces. None of the cumbersome qualities of the fast-drying acrylics was evident. Gently gradation of value and sophisticated color was present in every realistic painting. Works done in styles from Picasso to Jackson Pollack showed maturity and surely added to everyone in the group’s understanding of art history.

By working, talking, playing, praying and getting paid together, this team has jelled into a quiet, cohesive group. Growing together, their appreciation for the arts is flourishing. Five other teams are delving into their areas of the arts, as well. Sixty students in all are able to take advantage of this opportunity.

I could go on and on about my brief encounter with ArtsPlace, but I encourage you to stop in and experience it firsthand. You will see the painting, print-making, sculpture and functional art teams at the Jefferson St. location, or you can attend their dance and drama performances at the New American Theater, July 28, 29 and 30 at 7 p.m. Suggested donation at the performances is $5. Call 961-1734 for more information.

Susan Webb Tregay, local artist and author, is working on her own book, Master Disaster.

From the July 20-26, 2005, issue

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