Eclectic art warms winter exhibit

Columbia-area artists Joel Sager, Avery Danziger, Mike Sleadd and Jo Stealey among works displayed in exhibit
Sunday, February 11, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:49 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

Vibrant greens of grass and warm blues of sky may seem to show an afternoon in photographer Avery Danziger’s series of nudes. But the photos were shot late at night, with only the moon and a flashlight as sources of light.

“By capturing the moon in certain ways, the light, which is reflected off of the moon, gives the work the appearance of daylight,” Danziger said.

His series of nudes and of the coast of Spain are showing as part of the Winter Exhibit at Perlow-Stevens Gallery at 812 E. Broadway. The annual show features local, regional and national artists, many of whom gallery owner and curator Jennifer Perlow counts as friends.

“I think it’s one of the strongest showings we’ve had,” Perlow said.

Take a look at the exhibit’s four Columbia-area artists beginning on the next page.

Avery Danziger: Photography

Among the works that may garner a reaction from visitors is Danziger’s series of beach shots from Cabo de Gata, Spain. These photos capture the softest of waves crashing upon a sandy shore, with the moon as the only observer to that soothing moment. The waves, however, are not a single round of crashing waves.

“The waves are not reality,” Danziger said.

His use of longtime exposure, coupled with a small hand-held flashlight allowed him to highlight the motion of several rounds of waves — letting him select which elements will have motion and which will not. All of this is captured with a single exposure.

The artistry of it might suggest some trickery, but Danziger said his work has not been altered or Photoshopped. “It’s all luck,” he said.

Danziger’s nudes are so vibrant and colorful that one might not believe they were shot between 8 and 11 p.m. at a farm south of the city near the Columbia Regional Airport.

The model in the series has been positioned in several poses throughout the time exposure, resulting in photographs that appear to have several moving subjects. In fact, there is only the one woman; her face is always blurred.

The ability to decide what he wants to capture on film is one of the reasons Danziger loves this particular type of photography. “It’s a very unpredictable process,” he said.

For example, he holds the camera. By doing so, Danziger can exploit his hand’s natural movements and tremors to help create that prevalent sense of movement.

Danziger is not interested in the rules of photography; he prefers to push the limits, allowing him to create fresh, innovative photographs that keep him feeling young. The process is unknown and spontaneous.

“The images I produce are collaborations between the subjects, the lighting and the photographer,” Danziger said, “and I love that; I love that serendipity.”

Joel Sager: Portraits

“It’s crucial for artists to get known and recognized through forums like this,” said Joel Sager, an associate curator at the gallery. His portraits are of single, faceless subjects — intended to show emotion through body language, posture, texture and color instead of facial expressions.

“One of the reasons I felt faceless portraits were more important is because it’s kind of a generalized idea,” Sager said.

Generalization of the subjects in portrait allows viewers to personally interpret each piece, giving them the ability to connect to the painting in a way no other person will be able to, he said.

Though the subjects are faceless, they are not without personality. Sager likes some of his subjects’ physical traits to show through in the work, such as a man’s baldness or a woman’s gray hair. Many of the portrait subjects are either friends or acquaintances; one is his wife.

Although he places sentimental value on the portrait of his wife, Sager does not have a favorite; instead he finds things he cherishes in each of the works on display.

“Maybe something was achieved in one piece that wasn’t achieved in another piece,” he said.

Along with the facelessness of his portraits, his paintings have a destructed, aged feel; this is something he strives for in all of his work. And he prefers his artwork to be stripped to its rawest, purest form.

“I’m always trying to achieve the more destructed look,” Sager said. “I don’t necessarily want it to look kind of pretty and shiny.”

Mike Sleadd: Pen & ink

Mike Sleadd, an assistant professor of art at Columbia College, works in a medium he finds tedious but rewarding. He produces his drawings and sketches with a plume, dip pen and a bottle of India ink.

“I like that I have less control,” Sleadd said.

If a mistake occurs or a blot of ink drops onto the heavy parchment-style paper Sleadd uses, he must incorporate that into his work. Erasing is not an option.

“You don’t want to throw it all away,” Sleadd said.

What is true in life is true in art, he said. When people make mistakes, they cannot erase them; they must work through those mistakes and grow from them.

Along with his interest in working his mistakes into the drawings, Sleadd is also interested in what can be found below the surface of his art. With his sketch, “Of Jupiter and Juno,” Sleadd really wanted to get inside the piece. He likens his interest in the hidden elements to an attic, where the most intriguing, stimulating artifacts are tucked away in forgotten trunks and dusty, cobweb-covered boxes.

“I’m more interested in the detail of what’s hidden in life than what’s on the surface,” Sleadd said.

Sleadd realizes that sometimes his work does not have such hidden meaning — that sometimes a drawing is just a drawing.

“It’s about playfulness: sometimes creative and intellectual, sometimes just playful,” Sleadd said.

Regardless of whether the work is more fun than serious, he recognizes that developing the relationship in the drawing is important. It establishes a relationship with the line, texture, darks and lights and patterns. “It’s a constant play of relationships in parts of the entire drawing.”

When working slowly — which is the only way to work with pen and ink — the work builds and it takes on various characteristics that he was not anticipating. Some things start to come into focus that were originally peripheral, taking a dominant role in the sketch, forming an identity in the work, which in turn surprises Sleadd — in the most pleasant of ways.

“In a lot of my work, I notice that it will start off on one way and I’ll turn it,” Sleadd said of changing his creative direction. “It kind of has this multiple personality. It becomes something else when I turn it.”

Jo Stealy: Sculptures

At this stage of her creative life, Jo Stealey said, her years spent living in Mexico and Central America are not as influential in her work as they used to be. One would assume the shockingly bright colors derive from that time, but, in fact, Stealey just loves vivid color.

“The color in my work probably reflects what’s going on in my life at that point in time,” she said.

The weather and seasons not only play a part in the hue and vibrancy she chooses, but also affect what she creates. So does living in the country; she makes her home northwest of Boonville on 45 acres of pasture. She is moved by the texture and color of land and sky.

Stealey’s work is in fiber; that is, taking some type of material, breaking it down and applying it to an object. She uses flax, the raw plant from which linen is derived. She uses a Hollander beater to break down the flax, producing a pulp fiber.

“I use this fiber because of its high shrinkage and skin-like material,” Stealey said.

Like skin, the fiber is porous and absorbs color quite nicely, allowing the vibrancy of the work to become dimensional. “I think of myself as painting three-dimensionally with the pulp,” Stealey said.

While browsing through the series at Perlow-Stevens Gallery, a thematic pattern emerges; Stealey would describe the shapes as vessels.

“I think of vessels as containers of ideas,” she said.

Of the ideas these vessels contain, the piece “Vortex” contains the idea of duality in life — duality in winter and summer, spring and fall. The circular patterns that draw one into the middle of the piece act as a guide to draw the eye to the center of the circle, deeper and deeper; the duality becomes continuous.

Stealey thinks her pieces exude a sensuality that propels the viewer to reach out and touch the work, to feel the varying textures. “I want you to feel like you want to hold it, so you can develop a relationship with the piece,” she said.

She thinks it’s the same emotion one gets when meeting a stranger: wary at first, but slowly growing more intimate. Stealey would like the same experience to exist between her work and the viewer.

“We are sensual beings and need to experience that,” she said.

Stealey said would like the taboo of touching the artist’s work to be shattered to better experience the duality, sensuality and intimacy her work conveys.

And she thinks the series of vessels in the Winter Exhibit represent a progression from her past work.

“It has become a sculptural form to articulate conceptual ideas — which is very exciting to me.”

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