Monday, February 12, 2018

Local Art Scene: JNG's Sweep Is a Survey of Contemporary Painting

"Nanabazhoo with Butterflies"
One of the cool features of the new Joseph Nease Gallery (JNG) here in Duluth is the ability to reconfigure the gallery space by rolling some of the walls into new locations. The opening reception for Sweep presents the advantage of this feature, enabling the viewer's line of sight to take in compositions from angles that reveal other relationships and contrasts.

The JNG has 29 paintings on display from more than 20 artists representing a wide range of styles.  Some of the artists will be familiar to local gallery hoppers -- Leah Yellowbird, Kirsten Aune, Adam McCauley -- and others less so, such as Marcus Cain, another artist with Joe Nease/Kansas City connections. There is a lot to see here, some of which has obtained national recognition.

I found a number of pieces to be exceptionally striking and worthy of more than just a passing glimpse. One of these is Rabbett Strickland's "Nanabazhoo with Butterflies."

A much larger, more complex painting from this Native artist has been on display at the Tweed in recent years. This beautifully painted piece is an excellent example of the mystical power of Strickland's sensitive work.

Detail from "Nanabazhoo with Butterflies."
Marcus Cain, who came to town for the opening, has four pieces on display here as a result of a previous relationship with the Neases in Kansas City. Cain's approach to painting (right) focuses more on process as opposed to image reproduction. Rather than using brushes he makes his painting using the marking-making tools ceramic artists use. He calls it meditative mark-making, but if you get up close and engage the pieces, they have a tendency to cause eyes to un-focus because there is no object or point of reference for the eyes.

Whereas one is initially drawn to the pieces by their colors and the 3-D impression of corrugation and depth, it's possible to soon experience the kind of headache one gets from overmuch exposure to those Magic Eye pictures which encourage you to allow eye-focus to relax.  

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One of my favorite artists in the region has to be Leah Yellowbird. Her "Rolling in the Deep" grabs you in part due to the Escheresque underwater fish pattern in the background, almost like a wallpaper pattern. Her acrylic paintings tediously reproduce the sensation of Native American bead-work on canvas. The vibrant colors, lively compositions and unexpected sterling silver attachment on this piece all conspire to produce a magical image that defies easy categorization.


"Rolling in the Deep" (detail) -- Leah Yellowbird

Here are some additional pieces you will see if you're able to go.

Adam McCauley's "Nosun"
"Reddy"-- one of three gummy candies painted by Kay Kurt.
For more information on the Joseph Nease Gallery, 
including its hours, visit

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