Parkland College’s Giertz Gallery and 40 North: Champaign County Arts Council have collaborated to bring us Around the Block II: Artists From our Neighborhood, in the Giertz Gallery from June 19-August 9. The exhibit, juried by (now retired) Joliet Junior College art history professor Gisele Atterberry, showcases over 70 pieces from local artists. This is the second Around the Block since 2015. I went to the opening reception last Thursday to get the scoop.
Once, at a party, I told a new acquaintance that I occasionally write about the visual arts for Smile Politely. To which the acquaintance responded, “Is there a visual arts scene in Champaign?” In a town known primarily for its music (and now food), painters, sculptors, photographers and the like can fly under the radar. Around the Block II filled me with pride for Champaign-Urbana’s vibrant creative community. I have never seen the Giertz Gallery so packed. A little reporterly nosing revealed artists from all walks of life -- some of them my teachers, fellow studio-goers, or creators of publicly visible work like 2016’s Boneyard banner image -- and some of them new to me.
As with any group show, it can be difficult to draw out unified themes. However, there’s no denying that Around the Block II has a distinctive Champaign-Urbana flavor. In her opening remarks, Gisele Atterberry pointed to the prevalence of nature imagery in the show. One example is Umeeta Sdarangani’s Urbana Summer Meditation, which evokes going for a flower walk in residential Urbana.
I also noticed a few familiar scenes, like David Smith’s Neil at Dawn. And I enjoyed this cheeky nod to the cultural landscape. Midwest Nice is part of Catherine Wiesener’s Portal/Porthole series, which explores the interaction of nature with the manmade world.
I found myself drawn to a wall of miniature canvases, which included an interesting collage from Hilary Pope, whose style I recognized from the Parkland College graphic design student show, and an eye-catching dog portrait from Jan Adams.
There were also some wonderful sculptural pieces, like Rick Larimore’s Meaner Mouth and Thomas Brewer’s Our House Vessel.
Meaner Mouth (2017)
My one quibble is that I wish there had been artist statements, but I did manage to (somewhat awkwardly) pull a couple of artists out of the crowd to chat with me about their work:
Sarah Wisseman with Red Cabbage (2017)
“I normally paint impressionistic landscapes, and for this I wanted to challenge myself to do something more detailed. I was inspired by an oil painting class I took with Joan Stoltz, where we did some still lives. Oil is a wonderful medium that has its own difficulties.”
Favorite artist: Joseph Turner
Charlie Wisseman with Portals on the Prairie (2015)
“I made this piece for a Guild of Bookworker’s exhibit. The theme was the prairie/the midwest. I took a kind of nautical angle [the book features a series of porthole-like windows]. I was a pathologist, so I like cross-sections. This book has a cross section of an ossage orange.”
Favorite artist: Joseph Cornell
Rosalind Weinberg with April (2017)
“This is an abstract painting about the month of April. In a previous life I was a spectroscopist. I have been painting seriously for 30 years. I do a lot of printmaking and this is my first serious painting in a while. I like to do acrylic paintings with hard edges.”
Favorite artists: Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian
Faith Gabel with Eye of the Tiger (2017)
“I was watching the Rocky movies when I made this painting! In all of my paintings, I like to go for a feeling. With this one I wanted to embody confidence and strength. I am a nurse -- I work at PnG research. I like to make paintings that I would put up in my home.”
Favorite artist: Carmello Blandino
Jason Patterson with A Detail of a Drawing, After a Daguerrotype taken by J.T. Zealy of an Enslaved Woman calld Drana, Owned by & on the Plantation of B.F. Taylor, Esq. Daughter of an Enslaved man called Jack Guinea. Columbia, South Carolina, March 1850. (2016)
“I have been painting on my own for about a decade. I use 19th century historical images of African Americans from archives like Yale and the Library of Congress as references. I am a historical painter, but my style is modern.”
Favorite artist: Gerhard Richter
Paula McCarty with Blue Scarf (2017)
“This painting is from the interior of my house. I was inspired by the textile that you see in the picture. When I was painting, the color of the plants would change with the lighting throughout the day, so there were endless possibilities”
Favorite artists: David Hockney, Matisse, Sarah Kane
In sum, this is a great show; I highly recommend paying a visit -- not least because I love the Giertz gallery as an art space. Around the Block II is evidence of a thriving arts community, made up of life-long learners and infused with a spirit of collaboration and support. The exhibit runs through August 9, when Atterberry will give a closing gallery talk at 6 pm. Here’s hoping that next year brings us an Around the Block III.