RAM Talks Art: Emerging artists on display during ArtScene

Emerging artists are in the early stages of their careers. Even though they may have exhibited for only a couple of years, they demonstrate skill and complexity in execution of their artwork that will, hopefully, continue to deepen. This is an exciting time to watch artists in their careers. New forms are being discovered. Concepts are being fleshed out. Their identities and reputations as artists are being established.

Two—of the many—emerging Rockford artists showing at this year’s ArtScene Oct. 5-6 are Nathan Shaver and Salem Barker (for more about ArtScene, see related article, “Fall ArtScene at 37 locations Oct. 5-6,” pages D20-D21).

At first glance, a football touchdown does not seem all that similar to a glass vase. However, neither can be achieved without hard physical labor and solid teamwork. These two qualities that attracted Nathan Shaver to various sports in high school and college carried over into his start as a glass artist during his last years of college. For some of his larger objects, Shaver requires a team of up to eight people to succeed.

For Shaver, the process of making the glass object is as important as its result and, even though he has an idea of what he wants to do beforehand, the final form usually departs significantly from the original conception. He considers himself a very physical artist who likes to work intuitively, allowing the shape of the vessel and patterns on it to emerge as he works.

Shaver’s use of the vessel is inspired by the regular patterns and line found on clay vessels of Native American tribes that he first saw as a child. This influence shows through his use of a traditional Italian technique called canework, where long pulled strands of hot glass are wrapped around the molten form of a newly-blown glass vessel. The result is a series of colorful lines that striate the surface—like those found on a candy cane.

Shaver then coats his pieces with a black powder that, when cooled, gives his vessels the appearance and texture of a blackened clay pot. He then grinds and cuts away at this surface, intuitively creating an intricate network of lines and depressions that reveal the colorful canework buried below.

Shaver eschews external content from his work, yet he does not produce merely decorative vases. Rather, his work explores form, materials and color. It invites you to roam over its dull, pitted surface and sink into smooth oceans of glassy color.

Shaver has exhibited in several group shows at Illinois State University in Normal, at the Illinois Glass Artist Show put on by the Peoria Art Guild, and at Marx-Saunders Gallery in Chicago. This last show has been his most significant and most nerve-racking, he said. He had the opportunity to court many prominent collectors, and he won Best in Show.

Nathan Shaver’s first solo exhibition will be on display at Kortman Gallery (JR Kortman Center for Design, 107 N. Main St.) during ArtScene.

Salem Barker transitioned to being an artist in 2003 after working in Rockford as a machinist, and then traveling the world for six years working as an on-site machinist in heavy industries such as steel mills, mines, and hydroelectric power plants, among others.

Two forces coincided to provide the opportunity: First, he was out of work because of a motorcycle accident; second, a micro-burst hit Rockford in March that year, knocking down many trees in the area. Barker, with the aid of a friend, dragged part of a fallen maple tree home, where he began carving it with chainsaws and tools he had on hand.

While a traditional woodworker may hammer away at a piece of wood with a chisel, this self-taught artist adapts angle grinders, die grinders, and other industrial tools to sculpt wood into ethereal forms.

Barker finds inspiration for his forms in nature—which he considers the penultimate work of art—and in theology. He looks at his sculpture as a form of resurrection. Finding materials around Rockford in the form of dead tree trunks, some as large as 5 feet in diameter, that once were magnificent living titans, he removes material until a new object emerges that will exist for many more generations.

Barker’s first experience exhibiting was in 2006 at the 58th Greenwich Village Art Fair, where he won the award for best 3-D Non-Functional Artwork. Since then, he has been exhibiting throughout the Midwest in various art fairs, including the prestigious Uptown Art Fair in Minneapolis. He is represented by Golan Liberman Contemporary Art in Rockford.

During ArtScene, you can see Salem Barker’s work at Golan Liberman Contemporary Art Gallery (2209 E. State St.) and at Midwest Stone Source (2233 Charles St.).

Art exhibits will be on display at nearly 40 different venues during the 20th Annual Fall ArtScene, Oct. 5-6. For more about this free citywide event, visit www.fallartscene.com.

Rockford Art Museum Registrar Jeremiah Blankenbaker can be reached at blankenbaker@rockfordartmuseum.org.

from the Oct. 3, 2007, issue

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