Sunday, August 21, 2011

Art in a small town: on juried shows – Real People 2011

I grew up in a small town but I couldn’t breath in a small town. For the past 8 years I’ve lived in a South Asian neighborhood in Chicago, where the savory curry air and minor key of the call to prayer is occasionally punctuated by mariachi music and the pounding base of a sub woofer.

It’s anything but country but I do remember that it was in the country, in Sunshine Studios under the tutelage of portrait and landscape plein air artist and retired U.S. Air Force wife Phyllis Oliver and afterschool popcorn sprinkled with lemon pepper, classical music and a good dose of Right vs. Left political debates, that I learned the fundamentals of painting and drawing. And it was in the North Kitsap Junior High School gym, on portable gray folding walls during my hometown of Poulsbo’s annual Viking Fest, that I learned that the art that gets the most reaction from the crowd probably won’t win first prize - in 1989, I made a disturbing assemblage painting, inspired by the Dec. 1988 Lockerbie Bombing, which featured Barbie doll legs blasting out of the side of the Pan Am Flight 103. Many a mother’s tongue clucked, “What has the world come to that our youth are focusing on so much violence?!” I think the painting is still somewhere in my parent’s basement and the bomber, Abdelbasset al Megrahi, was released in 2009 after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.

Earlier this summer I got an invitation to jury a national figurative art show for The Northwest Area Arts Council (NAAC) called “Real People 2011” (most likely as a result of my realistic 2006 charcoal Loving series). Despite NY gallerist and art world mavin Edward Winkleman’s advice on juried exhibitions and my general principle never to participate in shows where there is an entry fee involved, I said yes and was promptly sent a link to review over four hundred art works. I had no idea who the artists were or where they were coming from. All I had were the visuals and a brief description of the work. I ranked them on a scale of 1-20 and my results were compiled with two other jurors (Chicago gallerist Dan Addington of Addington Gallery and a McHenry county artist Rodger Bechtold) and then 80 works, that received the highest average ranking, were selected.

The NAAC organizers graciously invited me to meet them to review the show early and eat lunch with them at LaPetite Creperie. Sure, no problem. The day I went to meet them, I realized that I thought I was jurying an art show in Chicago at the “Near Northwest Arts Council" (Wicker Park Center). I believe in giving back to the community and I remembered that when I was very young, I had been selected for a juried show at that venue. But this show was for the “Norwest Area Arts Council” in McHenry County in Woodstock, IL! An hour and a half northwest of Chicago through cornfields and too many toll ways, Woodstock was put on the Hollywood map by Bill Murry in the 1993 Groundhog Day movie.

Old Court House Art Center in Woodstock, IL
Upon walking into the old courthouse/jail where the exhibition is held, my first impression was surprise that I really had no idea about the sense of scale from seeing works online. Almost without fail, every work was a different size than what I had imagined. You also have no sense of resolution in photographs online or the surface and texture of a work. Subtlety and nuance just can’t compete online. So what stands out instead are bold blocks of colors, dramatic value contrasts, and strong central images. 

But what makes a work actually good both online an in person? You’ll have to go to the opening on August 27th to see which artists the shows judge, Rodger Bechtold, selected (in person) for the top prizes and honorable mentions but here are three art works from Real People 2011 that that worked for me online and were even better in real life:

Portland, OR Christine Zachary for her Ashcan School of art palette, Edward Hopperesque lighting and general sense of unrest as seen in her painting “Longing.” On her website she says she “concentrates solely on objective painting.” Is there any such thing? It’s the subjectiveness in her work that intrigued me.
Christine Zachary's "Longing" as seen on her website.
Christine Zachary's "Longing" as seen in real life at Real People 2011. The intimate scale, old school modernist dark frame, and the enameled surface of the painting were not apparent online.

Aiea, HI Ann Oshita’s “Barbie Expressionist I.” She describes here inspiration as coming from “cultural icons, children, and my sister” as “they enable the depiction of triumphs and tragedies.” I was drawn to her rough depiction of a confident red haired vintage Barbie – this girl, with her designer clutch in hand, looks like she is going somewhere. Oshita is a graduate from Parson School of Design in fashion and illustration and also from Wellesley College in Art History.

Ann Oshita's "Barbie Expressionist I" as seen in Real People 2011

Slayton, MN Laura Veenhuis’ oversized stylized oil painting of a badass smoking cool wrinkled old lady named “Kitty.” On her website she says it’s the first of 7 in her “Tormented Women” series and “The theme relates to thoughts or feelings that challenge people everyday to be a good person or to lead a God pleasing life.” I thought it was a portrait of a snooty art collector surveying her surroundings! I believe g-d would like all of us, big cities and small towns et al, to appreciate art (make it, buy it, view it, critique it, whatever). Art is, after all, one of the pleasures of a reflective and engaged life no matter where in the world you are.

Installation view of Laura Veenhuis' "Kitty" in the Old Court House and former jail turned art center in Woodstock, IL
Real People 2011 is held in the Old Court House Arts Center located at 101 N. Johnson, Woodstock, IL 60098. The exhibition is open August 4 - October 2. Gallery hours: Tues-Sat 11am-5pm, Sun 1-5pm. A reception will be held on August 27, 2011. Call 815-338-4525 for more information.


  1. Hi, I just read your comments about my painting, Longing. Had not known you'd written anything until I looked myself up on Google recently.. also the photos of the exhibit were the first I saw.

    As a rather solitary painter I very much appreciate getting the validation, it makes me want to keep trying. Christine Zachary

  2. Have enjoyed reading your blog. Please check my new website,, with over 75 paintings and other works.