The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 2, 2013

Rising to the top

By Tanner Kent
The Mankato Free Press

---- — MANKATO -- Every time Essie Mostaghimi exhibits his paintings, he seems to attract attention.

In 2011, his painting “Maneejae” was accepted into the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council’s juried exhibit. A year later, “Purple Heart” received fourth prize at the same juried exhibit.

This year, two of Mostaghimi’s paintings were accepted in the Carnegie Art Center’s inaugural juried exhibit with one, “Numb,” receiving a $100 Award of Excellence.

The only problem is, Mostaghimi so rarely exhibits his work. The self-taught painter who is also the owner of the Home Plate restaurants in Le Center and Le Sueur has painted since he was a boy of 12 -- but he’s never had his own show.

“I’ve created almost 2,000 works over the last 30 years,” Mostaghimi said. “I just never gave up.”

Such is the beauty of juried exhibitions, where clout and name recognition are tertiary concerns to skill and merit.

The Carnegie exhibit -- which remains on display through May 25 -- was judged by Richard Barlow, himself an artist as well as art instructor at Gustavus Adolphus College and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Barlow winnowed a field of more than 200 submissions to the final 100 that appear in the exhibit.

Five of the pieces were given Awards of Excellence, which were individually sponsored by local art patrons and businesses. In addition to Mostaghimi, winners included Jill McKeown (photograph), Amanda Crary (painting), Bob Doering (ceramic vessel) and Violet Love Goode (sculpture).

Doering is a Mankato glassblower who’s well-known in local art circles as a talented ceramicist with a striking color palette. Love Goode is a Minnesota State University graduate student who recently wrapped up her thesis exhibit and whose winning sculpture juxtaposes ornate detail with almost wanton haphazardry in a sort of visual feast.

Crary, who is also an MSU graduate student, received fourth prize in the Prairie Lakes juried exhibit two years ago. Still, she said she was surprised when her abstract painting “Conversations 13” not only received an Award of Excellence, but was purchased as well.

“It’s even cooler that I don’t know who bought it,” said Crary of her abstract painting, which radiates heat and movement from a heavy, black center mass. “As an artist, that’s always a goal -- to have people relate to your work.”

Jill McKeown has exhibited her work in the past -- but she’s never been a winner in a juried exhibit.

The owner of Mankato photography business Captured by Design, McKeown employs herself shooting portraits, family photos and weddings. And though the photographs she pursues for artistic interest incorporate similar understated compositions and delicate treatment of light, her subjects are vastly different.

In her free time, McKeown likes to shoot natural scenes, landscapes and especially abandoned structures. Her winning photograph was inspired by the latter when she captured a hot shaft of bright sunlight beaming into a dilapidated dwelling, barely illuminating the soiled couch that was left behind.

“I love old, abandoned stuff,” she said. “For me, the things that are left behind can be very interesting. ... Even though I run my own business, this is more of an expression of me and my own interests.”

As for Mostaghimi, the father of four primarily uses his daughters as subjects and portrays them as part of a broader social or political commentary.

In last year’s juried exhibit winner “Purple Heart,” Mostaghimi places the eponymous military honor in her lap as she sits before a field of blood-red poppies. In this year’ winner, “Numb,” Mostaghimi’s daughter sits on a tree stump holding a bouquet of rainforest flowers. Above her, a roiling black sky portends begins to form over a background of tree stumps that resemble decapitated living forms, their trunks left a raw shade of pink.

“I want to make an impression on the viewer,” said Mostaghimi, who added that he achieves his trademark high-sheen quality to his paintings by repeatedly sanding his canvases and applying only very thin coats of paint. “I want people to stop and think for just a second.”