“us being u.s.”
Opening Reception Friday, June 2nd, 2017, 6-9pm, Artists’ Talk 7pm
Americans have long held a devotion to our “things,” those objects with which we surround ourselves, populating our cocktail tables, curio cabinets, and bookshelves. We dust them, reposition them, we show them off to visitors. They recall special occasions, travels, and milestones. Our “things” are three-dimensional portraiture. Through the lens of Representational art, us being u.s. explores our relationship with “things.”
Simple objects, portrayed in a realistic manner, appear to be nothing more than what we see, which is actually a good thing, because, in this way, Representational art offers us a common language. When viewing the work of artists Ben Steele, Kimberly Witham and Wendy Chidester, we will all agree upon what the eye beholds: a box of crayons, a cluster of grapes, a fan, a toy car, etc. From there, however, this art provokes a more probing conversation. Do these images offer a sense of security in a time of uncertainty? Are they part of a common currency used to reconnect with those around us? Can this visual language facilitate our understanding of the past, present, and a very complicated future?
Not many artists can compress multiple periods of art history into a single work with the skill of painter Ben Steele. Steele’s remarkable ability to reproduce styles ranging from Grant Wood to Gerhard Richter, Georges Seurat to Pablo Picasso enables him to create impressive homages to history’s most venerated artists. Steele’s “American Crayons” rewards the viewer with a conte “drawing” of American Gothic as the label for a crayon box, set against a Grant Wood 1930s-era landscape, a fastidious combination of American Regionalism and Pop Art. Ben Steele’s collection in us being u.s. was inspired by the city of Chicago, and identifies Steele as an artistic chameleon. It is tempting to pigeonhole him as one thing or another, but his multifaceted ability as a painter defies labeling. Ben Steele is a Washington state native; he relocated to Helper, Utah, to work with recognized artists David Dornan and Paul Davis, where they have developed an artists’ outpost of immensely talented people. Steele’s work is represented in galleries from California, to New Mexico, to Massachusetts.
When Kimberly Witham produces a Vanitas photo image, replete with over-ripened produce and taxidermied roadkill, its lushness and precision lends it the peculiar fascination of a Frans Snyders’ still life with dead game, fruits and vegetables. National Geographic states “The photos she takes…look so quaint that you might not even realize that those peaceful-looking animals in the center are dead.” To view Witham’s work is to also acknowledge her mastery of the photographic form. The quality of her images are startling in their clarity. She has a painter’s eye for texture and color, and she often stages her still vignettes on absolute black or absolute white, which focuses our attention, and pulls the scenes from their 16th century origins into the now. Kimberly Witham earned her BA from Duke and her MFA from Dartmouth; she has been featured in publications, including National Geographic Online, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wired.com; she has earned numerous awards, recognitions, and fellowships; Witham has an extensive exhibition record around the country; her work also graces the cover of several books.
In her oil portraits of ordinary objects, Wendy Chidester presents an antique typewriter with the quiet beauty of a Rembrandt self-portrait. Chidester’s painted objects, many of them culled from our collective past, hold for us a memory of yesterday which we rightly romanticize. To view Chidester’s “Underwood Standard” typewriter portrait is to recall the pre-Apple era when there was no doubt that we were more intelligent than the tools we used. Chidester engages the immaculate style of Northern European still life painters of 1600-1800. However, she aligns with the modernists in never allowing the viewer to forget that her work is but the interpretation of an object, by a painter, whose viewpoint is unique to each creation. Chidester’s work has yielded a long list of private commissions; she has also garnered numerous awards; her work can be found in prominent galleries around the U.S.; she is frequently featured in American Art Collector Magazine.
“us being u.s.” opens Friday, June 2nd, 6-9 pm. An artists’ talk will take place as part of the opening reception. Exhibition runs June 2nd through July 29th, 2017. Gallery19 is located at 4839 N. Damen Ave. Chicago, IL. 60625. 773-420-8071.