The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 5, 2013

Different harmonies: Carnegie exhibits showcase artists looking for balance in very different ways

Carnegie exhibits showcase artists looking for balance in very different ways

By Tanner Kent

---- — Visitors will find "The Triplets" at the back of the Carnegie Art Center.

The trio of expressive and grotesque portraits are perhaps the most impressive and representative works in Minnesota State University master's student Hope Thier's exhibit at the downtown Mankato gallery. And they are not hard to spot.

No. 1 is sassy and glamorous, the insect perched on her shoulder indicating something more threatening under her airs of sophistication. No. 2 is a serious-minded man, his steadfast self-importance reflected in the gaunt giraffe's neck that protrudes from his pressed collar. And No. 3 is a woman whose inner self is so incalculable behind a pair of sunglasses that it requires two poses for a full reflection.

Though the triplets represents distinctly different personalities, the artist said they share the same source of inspiration and are intended to explore the nature of personal appearances and social perceptions.

"I'm very interested in how an individual wants to be perceived, and how society actually perceives them," said Thier, whose works combine elements of painting, drawing, printmaking and collage. "'The Triplets' are portrayed in the way they'd like to come across."

Though Thier works in a variety of styles — she's produced stunning nature photography, and her exhibit that opened Wednesday at the Robbin Gallery in Robbinsdale includes only mixed media work focused on birds — she said she's particularly challenged by the works she creates based on old family photos.

Thier found the cache of photos years ago among her great-grandmother's personal effects. That side of her family's history is shrouded in mystery and scandal, she said, and the photos provide compelling, if frustratingly incomplete, pieces of the puzzle.

To fill in the blanks, Thier said she assimilated the dress, facial expressions and body language of the faded likenesses in her photos into more expressive illustrations of themselves.

The result is both poignant and absurd.

In "Take a Walk," a peacock-headed woman strikes a contrapposto, runway-model stance before a throng of plainly dressed admirers. In "Back in Stock," a young woman tows a wagon-load of faceless playmates.

"I based these characters on the personality traits I see," she said. "I want them to create a dialogue of their own."

Metallic harmony

Tim James is still a painter — he just chooses not to paint on canvas or paper anymore.

For many years, the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District art instructor painted mostly realistic portraits. But after a two-year teaching sojourn to Athens where he lived and worked in the shadow of that city's vast and historic artistic influence, he began working in the style of abstract expressionism.

With that, James began exploring metals as a medium for his paint. Finding himself drawn to their physical as well as aesthetic properties, the artist said that working with metals demands an eye both for technique and composition.

"When I'm working with something," James said, "a big part of it is thinking about how to achieve harmony."

Displaying concurrently with Thier's exhibit is James' display of several metal and mixed sculptures created since his return from Athens. And though James said he works primarily with scrap metal and found objects — "I got piles of stuff laying all over the place," he said — his works reflect nothing of haphazardry.

Rather, James' art is marked by a sense of fragility and precarious balance.

In "Helios," two symmetrical metal legs bear a large, golden disk in a powerful show of artistic counterbalance. In "Sparta," James uses the weight of color to offset the weight of several metal plates arranged into a misshapen rectangle. In "Samaria Gorge," a vertical slab of metal seems to unfurl from a dry, gnarled stick in a hieroglyphic display.

"I try to preserve the character of the metal and wood that I use," James said. "And I look for things that will work well with each other."