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ONE PIECE: Tilly Woodward

Posted on 12/30/2015 at 12:35 PM

We asked Tilly Woodward to chose one piece from her current exhibit at Olson-Larsen and share a little more about it. Here's what she had to say about this wonderful piece titled Mango...

Mango, Oil on archival mat board, 11 x 8.5 inches

I love everything about painting.  The way paint smells, the way it moves, captures light, describes a form or surface, the contextual relationship of color.  I love the way painting slows me down and helps me take time to look closely at the nature and mystery of physical objects. It’s a meditative process that I feel lucky to engage in, and helps to remind me to appreciate the beauty of the world.

There is always a story behind my paintings.  For me the objects I paint are not just the objects themselves, but are often embedded with a sense of associated memory and meaning that provides me with a particular point of connection with a specific person. The connection helps me focus and commit to close observation and interpretation through the process of painting. It’s a motivation thing.

Mango, alongside Peach installed at the gallery.

This mango was a beautiful object: it’s size, shape and colors, promised taste, all called to me.  I loved the weight of it in my hand, that it was a fruit with a large seed, and the idea of fecundity, especially as my daughter delighted in her first pregnancy and I recalled my delight at being pregnant with her years ago. It’s form spoke of the changing shape of Adrian’s body, the growth of baby Ira inside her. A reminder that once Adrian was the size of a mango herself, living inside me.

These are the sorts of things the viewer isn’t privy to just by looking at the painting, but hopefully the evidence of love and engagement comes forward through the process of thinking, seeing, feeling, painting. From my hands and into the eyes and hearts of viewers.

Tilly's work is on view through the end of January. 

ONE PIECE: Two Pieces

Posted on 11/05/2015 at 4:04 PM

Although this series is titled ONE PIECE, we made an exception in the case of John Beckelman who wanted to share more about two pieces from the current exhibit. 

These two pieces are part of an on-going series of work that intentionally reference until the solidity, stability and permanence of ‘mountains’. They are made of the stuff of mountains – clay, turned to stone by the forces of compression and heat. The scale of the pieces (larger than typical ceramic objects), their general shape (somewhat asymmetrical forms that are wider at the bottom than the top), their surface articulation and coloration - and the firing process itself - are all done in an attempt to create in the work the same sense of both time and timelessness, the quiet presence, that one associates with mountains.


Tall Tapered Vessel 1 and Tall Tapered Vessel 2 are part of NEW WORK, on display until November 28th. 

At the same time, we all know that ‘mountains’ are constantly changing (evolving, breaking down, reconstituting themselves), so also in this work, there is for me a curious intersection between the enduring, seemingly timeless character of fired ceramics and the fleeting, yet wonderful, impermanence of phenomena in the natural world.

ONE PIECE, Thomas Jewell-Vtiale

Posted on 10/27/2015 at 3:06 PM
The ONE PIECE series on the blog offers a closer look at one piece that is currently on exhibit at the gallery. Today's featured artist is Thomas Jewell-Vitale, whose work is on view until November as part of NEW WORK.
The title of this painting is "Koi and Enso" and is Japan themed. My wife Jane introduced me to Japan years ago, otherwise I would never have been able to think of this title or reference. We are fond of visiting Japanese gardens which often have Koi ponds. The  chaotic, squirming trails of the paint and abrupt punctuations of the brush work in and surrounding the blue center panel make me think of Koi fish gliding and splashing about.
KOI AND ENSO, Oil/wax/canvas, 48 x 36
 An "Enso" is a circle often made with a single, loose stroke of the brush in Japanese calligraphy and I realized that I had made a crude circle in the lower left, two-thirds, center panel of the painting. In Japanese calligraphy an "Enso" is said to symbolize the universe or some form of completeness. I found, or better yet, discovered both the Koi and Enso references in this work. I say, "found," because their discovery surprised me much in the same way that other types of associations or significances a viewer might find and attribute to a painting may have relevance only to the viewer but may not have had anythingto do with the artist or his/her intentions.
One writer I ran across said, "Its necessary to attend to what a painting knows apart from what the artist knows". I think that it is good advice. I've built my entire approach to painting around it and also my eagerness to paint in the anticipation of self-discovery. For me, discovering what a work has to say can only come by looking closely for the direction in which the work is leaning as it develops. Certainly I push and pull it to maneuver things but I try to avoid being shackled to any premature interpretation by forcing the shoe to fit. I never start with an idea and then try to execute it. For me painting is about discovery, the same type of discovery I eagerly anticipate when I visit an art museum. I would much prefer to be surprised by the unthought-of imagery a new painting has in store for me and simply let it use my personal history and baggage as its prompt. Eventually we agree when I'm satisfied I've maneuvered it to the point that  it has a life of its own. Only then I can I release the work on to its next incarnation in your mind's eye, to communicate whatever it might mean to you. In this way I believe a work can live on indefinitely.


Posted on 09/03/2015 at 12:04 PM

As part of our current exhibit, NEW WORK, Randy Richmond has presented a series of beautiful images. Here is what he had to say about this new body of work. 

We are guided by theories. We live by a series of theories until we, or someone else, provides a new theory to live by. The theory of a flat earth continued for many centuries before there was disagreement. Today theories are born, shared, consumed, and adopted at the speed of the internet. The more people that agree on a theory the quicker it becomes the accepted temporary truth of the day.

ADRIFT, Pigment print on Kozo paper,  17 x 24 inches

This body of work I've titled “Flat Earth Theory” began with an exploration of light on a tiny object. The tiny object was a bird nest. The light came through a large south facing window about 20 feet from a large brick house. The house blocked the path of direct sun which created a diffused light with a curious intensity. The surface that held the hummingbird nest was a square topped antique table with curved legs. The dark-stained tabletop is about 20 inches square and has a nice array of character marks gained during it's long existence. While seeming restrictive, the continued use of this same small table in the same space, I believe, will supply an organic evolution of thought as I work through this series. The combination of the curious light, the markings on the table, the proximity of a light toned wall, and the shallow depth of focus, reminded me of images I've seen of old illustrations of how the flat earth appeared in relationship to the rest of the universe. These images usually illustrated great dangers near the edges of the earth, and the safety of maintaining an existence towards the middle zones. In my mind these illustrated dangers represent the theories we create for ourselves, and those created for us by individuals and groups.

A FALSE SENSE OF DEJA VU, Pigment print on Kozo paper,  17 x 24 inches

The subtle mix of warm and slightly cool tones are meant to work with the delicate feel of the kozo paper these images are printed on. Kozo paper is made primarily from mulberry fibers. Because the paper has a relatively soft surface, ink is deeply absorbed into the paper but the dense fibers keep ink from spreading. Sharpness and black density add a tremendous feeling of depth to the prints. Kozo paper is exceptionally strong and completely archival.

Randy's work, along with the rest of the exhibit is on view until October 3.


Posted on 06/24/2015 at 11:38 AM


In talking with John Preston about his latest series of work, wonderful scenes of the Des Moines River with astounding accomplishments of color, he revealed that he will often customize and make his pastels. Born of out a somewhat dire circumstance, John told us more about this ongoing experiment.

On location...

“I do make some of my own pastels, for a variety of reasons. Years ago (1989?) I dropped and broke a critical color on location and tried to reconstitute it with the dregs of ice in a cherry coke and drying it on the hood of the car. It almost worked and I discovered commercially made pastels could be remade from their dust and plain water. In those days the selection of colors was a fraction of what's currently available so I started making the off-shades needed for landscape. In the studio, I collected the dust from my easel tray to make really useful grays (still do).

Most recently I joined a couple other Fairfield artists, Cindy Kaynor and Danielle Shier, making them from scratch. Cindy operates a small art supply store in ICON Gallery's classroom space. She used to buy sets from a prominent manufacturer and sell us individual sticks but they instituted a ridiculously large minimum order policy. We decided to buy pigments and make our own because the process is very low tech - almost as complicated as making Jell-o or cookies. We reverse engineered the formulation of that manufacturer (or something close to it) and can make custom colors, duplicate discontinued favorites or fill the "holes" in your palette. So with pastels at least, we've revived the tradition of the local artist's colorman.”

You can see more of John's work on display now through August 1 as part of our ANNUAL LANDSCAPE SHOW.


Posted on 06/02/2015 at 3:17 PM

Our current show is coming to a close, so we thought we'd better share these works from our ONE PIECE series. We asked both Gary Bowling and Christopher Chiavetta to choose one piece currently on display and dissect it for us, and you.

"Tourmaline,  is named after a colorful green and pink gem and references the process of mineralization as a metaphor for the emergence of new material within a landscape. With painting I am interested in thinking about the intersection and overlap between biological things and geological things, or between human made things and naturally occurring things. This painting explores some those ideas." - Christopher Chiavetta

"Winter Hay is a study in contrasts.  The contrasts include very proximate objects closing off space against a vision of open unencumbered distance; a division of abrasive dark cold against soft airy light; the subject of hay which I associate with the heat of summer and the dry of fall, but  clad in the less familiar cloak of winter's ice.  A close friend, upon seeing this piece in my studio, commented that, as a rancher, the painting reminded him of one of the things he disliked most about managing cattle in the winter.  I had never considered that ranchers might have to bust the ice off of hay bales in order to feed it to cattle." - Gary Bowling

Both of these, along with more work by each artist is on display in our current exhibit,

NEW WORK, which is on view through June 6th.



Posted on 05/14/2015 at 1:52 PM

We are excited to debut a new series on the blog called ONE PIECE.

We know that connecting to artwork is important, and one way of doing that is having a bit more context and background. To that end, we are asking artists from each exhibit to share a little more about one piece on view at the gallery.

First up is Mary Merkel-Hess and her piece IN CHEPHREN'S TEMPLE.

In Chephren's Temple, Paper, reed, acrylic paint, 31 x 18 x 18 inches

"In Chephren's Temple" was inspired by a visit to the Great Pyramids in Egypt a few years ago. It wasn't the pyramids that caught me so much that day or the Sphinx which is nearby but a small temple near the Sphinx.

Photo taken at the site

This small temple was a staging area for the rituals that went on at the site. I was so taken by the simplicity of the place and the columns which receded so beautifully that I asked my husband to take a photo of me with the columns. Those columns suggested a possible plan for one of my paper sculptures.

Mary's drawing for the piece

When I got home I did a drawing of large pieces receding into the background just as those columns had. Yes, that's me in the photo and the drawing. In my dreams my work is monumental! Later I made three sections of this imagined piece but the original conception was for several more.  

The work installed at Olson-Larsen 

Earth Day

Posted on 04/22/2015 at 3:10 PM

Beautiful images inspired by beautiful earth...

by Eugenie Torgerson

by Doug Shelton

by Michael Johnson

by Gary Bowling

Studio Selfie: Levi Robb

Posted on 04/02/2015 at 11:52 AM

Our FOUR PRINTMAKERS exhibit has been fantastic, and if you haven't seen it, you have about twelve hours to do so!

Our final Studio Selfie from this group is of artists with Levi Robb.

He shared this shot of himself from a recent late night studio session.

Read more about Levi and see his work here.

Studio Selfie: Joel Elgin

Posted on 03/19/2015 at 3:17 PM

With the FOUR PRINTMAKERS gallery talk just about a week away, here's another Studio Selfie to entice your attendance!

Joel Elgin, along with the three other featured artists will be here at Olson-Larsen on Saturday, March 28th at 1:00 pm. 

Here's what Joel shared with us about his studio.

My studio has walls and no walls.

The prints I physically make are etched and printed within the walls of the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse printshop.

The content originates from ancient Irish myths and legends and my actual exploration of the related Irish sites. The images come from a place free of walls.

My walled printmaking studio is typically filled with the energy and noise of students who have become obsessed with the possibilities of printmaking. Their obsession leads to madness in the form of loud music and the emotional highs and lows of printmaking success and failure - both equally important in the learning of the art of making prints.

I enjoy teaching in this "good madness" but I need to etch and print alone, so the summer, or when school is not in session I start early each morning with strong coffee and Tom Waits music pouring from the stereo. At the end of each day I lock the doors but my mind continues its journey to Ireland; back to the studio with no walls. Though they are 3,500 miles from each other, and walled and without walls, the studios are one, in constant cycle, feeding each other, calling each other.

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