Group art shows are like relationships. Often they reflect the coming together of strangers united by a common theme or purpose. Sometimes the common thread is an institutional afflliation where the artists are either students or members of the faculty. These are often the art equivalent of a one-night stand, or a series of casual dates over time.
Every once in a while you come across a group with the kind of long-term commitment, continued growth, and strong history of supportive colleagiality that lonely artists only dream of. The members of Comrades in Art (CIA) are a shining example of art group goals.
As I prepared to review their current show, "Separately Together," it became almost impossible to discuss the work without exploring the larger context of the group, its history, and its mission.
Shortly after the show's opening at the Art Coop Gallery in Lincoln Square, Urbana, I sat down with co-founder Pat Monigold to learn about this CIA.
So herein you will find a hybrid of sorts, part-interview, part review.
Smile Politely: How did Comrades in Art begin?
Pat Monigold: Sara Taber and I started Comrades in Art about six years ago. We had been in painting class at Parkland and I was ready to be a full time studio artist. Painting is a fairly solitary pursuit and I wanted to stay in touch with some of the painters I had met through class. Starting a group of painters seemed to be a good way to do it.
SP: Did you begin with a certain set of goals, or mission?
Monigold: We are a group of local visual artists who encourage one another in the practice of art through creative dialogue, critical evaluation, and thoughtful inspiration. Together, as women and with reflection and self-expression, we strive to nurture, develop, and enhance the esthetics of our individual work.
We wanted to keep the group small, casual, personal but want meetings to have enough participants for active year-round discussions. We have found that monthly meetings benefit from a steady attendance and enough members to have a good discussion of ideas and current art related issues.
SP: How has the group evolved over the past six years?
Monigold: [When it comes to new members,] we think it is important to have a sense of a new person’s personality, aesthetic …. and that she is actively involved in producing art work. At first we were going to limit the group to oil painters but several artists were using acyrlic and water color. Now our 12 members work in oil, acrylic, water color, printmaking, collage, and colored pencil.
SP: Tell me about your group exhibitions. How do the themes emerge?
Monigold: Fall of 2016 was our debut exhibition as a group. Many of our members have participated locally in the Boneyard Arts Festival, Broken Oak Gallery. Additional recognition of our individual members includes solo exhibits and regional and national awards. It is our hope that you will enjoy the work and be inspired to observe the world through our eyes for just a little while.
Our exhibits tend to revolve around a variety of ideas and concepts. This year "Separately Together" reflects the different creative styles within our group. The word, separately, implies unique to a person and original. Together we remain cohesive as a strong and thoughtful group of women. 10% of sales from our current show will be donated to Courage Connection, a local organization helping victims of domestic violence and homelessness.
SP: It sounds like community engagement is an important goal for the group. In what other ways to you reach out and give back?
Monigold: Once a year we all contribute to a $500 gift card. We purchase the card from the Art Coop and give it to the art department of a local high school. We feel that in this way we support a local merchant (Art Coop) and help keep a high school art department supplied. We call this “Melissa’s Gift” in memory of our friend and group member Melissa Lynch who died in 2018. So far we have gifted Mahomet HS, Champaign Central HS and, this year, Champaign Centennial HS. We hope that in providing materials we will encourage young artists.
SP: What has been the best part of your membership in this CIA?
Camaraderie is best part...sharing ideas, discussing art related social issues, friendships developed, workshops, learning, inspiring one another, supporting one another. Melissa...I was so touched by the kindness and love these thoughtful women presented when one of our dear members, Melissa Lynch, was battling breast cancer. This took our group to a new dimension.
Comrades in Art are: Judith Baker-Barrows, Debra Bolgla, Beth Chasco, Linda Jordan, Sarah Marjanovic, Donna Monfort, Pat Baron Monigold, Cinda Wombles Pettigrew, Lynn Hawkinson Smith, Sara Taber, Betty Wendland, and Martha Willi.
As I walked through the exhibition, thinking about its title and theme, I was immediately struck by the unique installation and its impact on the viewer. Despite the ranges in size and frame style, the work is hang shoulder to shoulder, in the spirit of true comrades in art. As Monigold indicated above, the show, like the group, boasts a wide range of styles, techniques, and subjects. Represented here are a number of names that may be familiar from recent shows, particularly, Monigold, Bolga, Pettigrew, and Barrow-Burrows, whose shows at the Murphy Gallery and Analog respectively, you may have seen reviewed here. It is fascinating to see different sides of each artist here, both in terms of new or different work, and in terms of a new lens or context.
This is an extremely strong show with, dare I invoke the old cliche, truly has something for everyone. Beth Chasco's rich, vibrant renderings of local streetscapes in oil invite you to see our humble surroundings anew. She makes the Blind Pig's alley seating area feel like Paris. Her renderings of Jupiter's and Fleurish are equally strong, romantic in the best possible sense of the word.
Amidst Chasco's streetscapes, Taber and Baker-Burrows' bold still lives, and a wide swatch of lovely figurative and abstract paintings are the unqiue multimedia works of Sarah Marjanovic.
As her titles imply, Marjanovic brings a passion for conservation, as well as unique papermaking and mixed media techniques to her work, resulting in provocative yet accessible work. These pieces are important enough for a gallery yet so warm and lovely that you want to bring them into your living space and continue to engage with them.
Left and center, Debra Bolga's Dénouement and Dénouement Unraveled
Debra Bolga's intaglio pieces (seen above left and center) are not to be missed. They stand together as a dialogue, a shared theme that grows ever more complex with additional layers and textures.
"Separately Together" will be up throughout the month and you definitely don't want to miss. And when you do see it, enjoy it as the title suggests, finding inspiriation not only in the technqiue and unique vision of each artist, but in the sheer magnitude of what can happen when you bring together strong, resilient, supportive, women artists and have them work together to discover new heights of expression with themselves and in each other.
And though I'm not one to count the number of shopping days before those upcoming winter holidays, art does make a great gift. So head over to Art Coop and show local both in the store and in the gallery.
Comrades in Art: Separately Together
Art Coop Gallery
Lincoln Square Mall, Urbana
October 1st through October 29th
Cover photo from Facebook event page. Additional photos by Debra Domal