Art Review: Deill, Julin show a must-see

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114548037510458.jpg’, ‘Photo by Susan Webb Tregay’, ‘"John Diell and Jim Julin @50" shows at Kortman Gallery, upstairs at J.R. Kortman Center for Design, through May 2.’);

Kortman Gallery is now hosting an impressive and sophisticated exhibit by two of Rockford’s talented artists. This tightly curated, well-received show will be a must-see stop on your ArtScene travels April 21-22. These artists not only share the same birthday, they share an obsession for woodworking, found materials and quality workmanship and finishes. Let them share these with you.

John Deill’s work plays with the concept of windows. Usually in art, windows look out on the natural world, but Deill has turned this construct inside out. He instead seems to be using windows as a way of bringing the viewer into his work. I use this term “windows” loosely. In different pieces he works with one actual, found window, a miniature window, an antique picture frame and a wooden, barred form. All lead the viewer into his world and experiences. And much of his world involves dogs.

A small, shuttered window frame iconically embraces two dogs (or perhaps one bobbing up and down) looking out, guarding the house and waiting for their owner’s return. Always waiting. The old window and hinged shutters are distressed, red paint against a mellow natural wood support. This background is painted with small railroad lanterns, some flashing white, yellow and one flashing red. Stop. Puzzling pieces like this, with their metaphors and ambiguities, are the very pieces that can enthrall a person for years to come.

Ironically, one piece is called “Golden Retriever,” yet had no dogs in it. To me, this work was all about surfaces. It has a very shallow, 3-D surface. One section had a simple mechanism-like construction sunk behind the surface of the piece. It is partially covered by a raised element of burnished and cracked bars of wood, which rise above the work’s surface. Tucked underneath this section was an old wooden bar with the word “surface” printed on it in a decades-old style. Especially beautiful was the burnished, red stain background, made more precious by a scratched arc marring its (here’s that word again) surface.

Jim Julin’s experience as a woodworker began as a child under his Swedish grandfathers’ guidance, and was polished by working with Anderson Gardens’ master carpenter Masahiro Hamada. These experiences are evident in his unique choices of wood and his sublime, labor-intensive finishes. Ribbed, black “springbrook horns” curl out of some pieces, casting dynamic shadows on their elegant supports. Imagine these shadows moving during the course of the day telling the hour like a sundial.

“Plumb Bob 2006-1” has a different support. This long piece of copper flashing has become green and textured with age. It holds an elegant, elongated plum bob of red maple. This hangs silently and meditatively, and calms your spirit.

With a “touch of Dr. Suess,” as Julin’s artist statement declares, “Flower 2006-1” curves invitingly and precariously out to greet you. It is assembled from at least 10 different materials, all perfectly finished and balanced. A wooden egg in a bowl with a long, smooth spear coming out of it is perched on top of a very long, horn pedestal, which is again anchored in its own pedestal. Lighting is an important element in Julin’s work, and here the gallery lighting perfectly embraces the sculpture.

The “John Deill and Jim Julin @ 50” exhibition runs through May 2 at Kortman Gallery, upstairs at J.R. Kortman Center for Design, 107 N. Main St., downtown Rockford. Admission is free and open to the public. More info: 968-0123 or visit

From the April 19-25, 2006, issue

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