Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sneak Preview: Kuth and Atwater's Affordable Fine Art Show

This past week I had an opportunity to get a sneak preview of what promises to be one of this year's premiere art events, the Kuth and Atwater Affordable Fine Art Show. For one week, beginning August 21, AJ Atwater's Studio and Gallery in Lakeside will become a one-time museum with six galleries featuring over 300 original, affordably-priced fine art drawings and paintings.

Every house has a history as well as the signature of its current occupant. Artist AJ Atwater’s home was built in 1888 by one of Duluth’s influentials, Frank Crassweller, an attorney who was active in the city council, the library board, Commercial Club of Duluth, Duluth Curling and the Masonic order. With its Queen Ann-style roofline, the classic Northland home features wide baseboards and narrow hardwood floors. And beginning a week from Friday, the interior will be showcasing the contemporary possibilities of abstract art.

It should be emphasized here that although the word "affordable" was selected in the naming of this show it's really not a fire sale. The delightfully first-rate works have been priced at $300 or less for paintings on stretched canvas and $100 or less for unframed fine art on paper. The show opens Friday, August 21, 4pm-8pm with light refreshments and continues through August 28th, noon-3pm daily. Atwater's home/studio/gallery, located at 4701 Cooke Street, will also open by appointment for tours through the show.

I first became acquainted with Elizabeth Kuth's work through a piece hanging in the office of former Duluth Art Institute director Kat Eldred, a piece that totally enthralled me. Kat insisted that I make it a point to visit her studio and see more of her work, a follow up that took a couple years to get to, but the mental note had been securely fastened upon my interior list of future action items. My first awareness of AJ Atwater's work came through a show called Urban Nightscapes at the Washington Gallery in Duluth's Central Hillside.

What I quickly learned, despite their completely different approaches, was that each took their inspiration from the influential New York School of abstract painters that so dominated the 1950's and whom I myself found inspirational when I was a young art student. During my visit Wednesday evening the conversational flew down many different channels, but one recurring theme was the contrast between Atwater and Kuth in both their art and their lifestyles.

On the surface the paintings themselves are comprised of Atwater's bright colors versus Kuth's muted colors. In much of the work we also see simplicity versus complexity. But the contrasts go far beyond this and as we talked these emerged.

Kuth's enigmatic work draws its power from an interior life reflected in images; Atwater is taken up with the energy of exterior life, reflected prominently in bold colors. Kuth loves the quiet of the country; Atwater gets off on the energy of the city.

Their homes are also a study in contrasts. Atwater lives simply, yet in the city. The house has few furnishings and plenty of open space. Kuth's Island Lake residence and gallery is filled with art and furniture, almost crowded while remaining homey. Their lifestyles contrast accordingly. For Kuth, think Walden. For Atwater, think Broadway Boogie Woogie. Bright lights, big city.

For the show, six galleries have been set up. The Blue-Green Gallery is the first room on your left as you enter, a room full of light where Atwater usually has her studio and paints. Adjacent to this is the first Kuth gallery called Layering, Mark-Making and Ancestry. Most of these works on paper show graphic kinds of symbols that become forms.

They each have three galleries, with names for each. And even though there are 300 works of art, there's remarkably still enough space to not feel cramped or overwhelemed.

One thing interesting is the titles for the rooms. Atwater's galleries are titled:
Blue and Green Gallery
Red Orange and Yellow Gallery
White and Black Gallery

Kuth's gallery rooms are titled:
“Layering, Mark-Making and Ancestry”
“Rooted Expression”
“Interior Landscape”

Atwater expressed the aim of the show this way. "People who come will experience something in themselves," she said. "We want people to have an experience that will enrich their lives. It's not just something to do."

Kuth affirmed their hope that people will be "inspired to create, or to look at life in a different way. When exposed to fine art you have a real opportunity for inspiration to strike." The artists will be there to discuss the work and nurture that.

"If you go to an abstract art show you’re going to be challenged," Atwater added. "And questioning is OK. Art creates wonder almost more than anything."

Kuth pointed out that their contrasting styles add to "the possibility of finding something that could speak to you. We have a vehicle here to be able to offer that to people."

Atwater jumped on the word vehicle. "I like that word. Art as a vehicle between worlds. People will see different things, especially in abstract art. What do you see here? A beach house on a prairie? A supersonic structure? People who engage art see different things."

Elizabeth Kuth (L) and AJ Atwater
"It brings us to what we should be, like children, to experience that awe," said Kuth. "Awe is one of those things in life where you never know where you will find it. 'I don’t know what it is but something here really speaks to me.' We’re seeking awe even when we don’t know we are, and you never know where you’re going to find it.

This led Atwater to affirm two key things that are especially important in their work, ambiguity and authenticity. "I think what we each accomplish, even though through different means, is authenticity. The work has to be authentic. We each make an aesthetic call, and thru form, line and color, something ambiguous and authentic happens."

"If people come in and see the contrast between two styles, questioning is ok, ambiguity is ok, and it gives you a sense of wonder while posing questions," Atwater said. "Even if you don’t figure it out."

* * * *
Enter here.
I'll close by noting once again AJ Atwater Studio and Gallery is located at 4701 Cooke Street, in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood The artists themselves will be available for conversations about their art and its possibilities for gift giving and to affordably grace homes, cabins and offices in the Northland.

For what it's worth, you can gain five minutes of enjoyment by engaging a work of art in a gallery, or you can take it home and enjoy it for the rest of your life. The latter can be very rewarding.

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