Two Columbia artists showcase mixed media work in fall exhibit

Two Missouri artists use mixed media creations to entice viewers to interact with art through hands-on approach.
Friday, October 10, 2008 | 3:24 p.m. CDT
"# 506," Caleb McCandless

COLUMBIA — The son of a carpenter wanted to create a type of art that no one had done before, so Caleb McCandless of Sedalia created “sculptured painting.”

The wife of an environmentalist wanted to create art about relationships, so Jo Stealey, an art professor at MU, constructed a forest to envelop her viewers.

If you go

WHAT: Autumn Exhibit, featuring the work of eight artists

WHERE: Perlow-Stevens Gallery, 812 E. Broadway

WHEN: Through December; an opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 11

GALLERY HOURS: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Both McCandless' and Stealey’s goals led to mixed media creations intended to involve and inspire the viewer. They are two of the four Missouri artists showing their work at the Perlow-Stevens Gallery’s Autumn Exhibit.

The exhibit opened Oct. 1 and features creations by McCandless, Stealey and six others: Joel Sager, an associate curator of the gallery who works in oil, collage and tar;  Julie Hansen of Kansas City, pastels; Dana Brown of Huntsville, Ala., watercolor;  Jim Brown of Vancouver, British Columbia, mixed media photography; Lorri Acott Fowler of Fort Collins, Colo., sculpture; and Nina Weiss of Highland Park, Ill., oil on canvas.

Gallery co-owner Jennifer Perlow said each artist is showing a new batch of work in the exhibit. Three artists are semi-permanent, which means the gallery always keeps some of their artwork on hand. Others, like McCandless, are showing work at the gallery for the first time.

“We pick art we think is significant — art that makes us go ‘Ooo,’” Perlow said of the three-person panel that selects what to show. The process is quick and based on a gut reaction, she said.

“There’s a lot of straying from a singular focus in media to a variety,” Perlow said of the latest show. Together, the eight artists do not portray a single theme but rather stand in their own right as significant bodies of art.

McCandless’ oil and wood creations fit the criteria.

“It’s not painting, and it’s not sculpture,” McCandless said of his work. The hardest part, he said, was coming up with his creation process, which took about a year of trial and error to perfect. He adds lead to his oil paint, giving it the ability to react with magnetic forces. Then, using iron filings, he literally pulls the paint up to 8 inches off its wood surface.

“I really enjoy sculpting because it lets me use my hands,” McCandless said. “I grew up helping my dad, who was a carpenter, so I thought it would be neat if I could continue that somehow with my art.” The colorful structures can get as large as 24 by 60 inches.

Stealey, who has shown at the gallery before, is both continuing and diverging from her past artwork.

“My overall purpose is to seduce the viewer, to get them to touch the work,” Stealey said. “They are then rewarded by getting to take something away and out of the piece.” This hands-on approach applies to most of Stealey’s fiber work.

This involvement, she said, is comparable to relationships between people. Stealey, who lives in rural Missouri, is also inspired by a relationship with the environment. Her new creation, a standing forest, deals with environmental concern.

“We are in a place that is so pristine and healthy, yet the world is on the brink of environmental destruction,” Stealey said. 

Stealey created a 21-piece forest that acts as an environment for its viewers, containing 17 trees and more than 200 rocks. The trees are in various states of their life cycle and range between 5 and 9 feet tall. She wants her viewers to question whether the forest is healthy or in a state of destruction.

The viewer interaction is ambiguous but inevitable. “It seduces you in, but also repulses you,” Stealey said.

Fiber is Stealey’s medium of choice. For her forest piece, she made her own paper from abacá and flax fibers. When the paper was still wet, she draped it over the tree structures. The fibers used are natural and environmentally friendly.

“It is a departure from what I’m doing but natural evolution from where I’ve been,” Stealey said.

Viewers' reactions to the mixed media are an important result of the two artists’ creations. When McCandless is creating his art, he is enveloped in the process rather than the final product.

“All of the pieces have a story in the process behind them,” he said. His excitement comes when his viewers are able to add more to the results.

“The viewers are usually surprised and kind of in awe, always trying to figure out what it is,” he said, noting these reactions are his favorite part.

“I really want the audience to see it as a final product,” McCandless said, something that he is unable to do when he is caught up in the process. The viewer, he said, usually adds various interpretations he has not yet seen.

Stealey’s environment also provokes audience response.

“Viewers will have a different emotional response if they are asked to walk through it” instead of simply looking at it, she said. “They can experience the subtleties of the individualities of the forms.”

Combining the heavy oil and wood creations and the 17-piece forest with six other bodies of work is a challenge. Perlow’s job is to map out the gallery space in a strategic balancing act.

“Hanging shows is both the greatest and most frustrating part of the job,” she said. Her goal is to arrange the art in a way that shows the significance of each artist without creating conflict.  “I don’t want to pull away from any one artist.”

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