October 2020 Virtual Exhibition: Quirky Exhibition
Prairie State College
Featuring works by Diane Levesque, Michael Noland, Marilyn Propp and Kevin Veara
Works featured share a love for the eccentric. In a variety of styles, these artists explore imagery but with an idiosyncratic take through distortion, strong color and exaggeration.
October 26 to November 18, 2020
Kevin Veara, Exult 62 Fox Sparrow on Spicebush
Gallery Guide - Quirky
This exhibition features the unusual work of four artists, Diane Levesque, Mike Noland, Marilyn Propp, and Kevin Veara. What joins their work is the quality of “quirkiness,” with quirky being defined as “characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits.” Each of these artists use images in an unexpected and unconventional way that defines their individualistic work, either through unusual combinations of or approaches to their imagery. These works provide a sense of delight, humor, even darkness, and cannot help but evoke an emotional response.
Diane Levesque’s complex paintings mix horror with humor through her use of dislocated and out-of-scale body parts. The works, on the surface, appear like wacky graffiti, but once the viewer looks more closely, the ghoulishness and violence become more evident. Levesque combines bright colors, strong mark-making and whirling imagery in paintings that express shock and anxiety. But their reference to cartoon and graffiti imagery makes for a rich combination of contrasting emotions. Levesque also complexly layers her imagery, with painted images overdrawn with black line. She conveys a strong sense of vertigo, with disjointed images united by their consistent style. These are works that draw the viewer closer to observe every detail, with a shocking and mesmerizing impact.
The works of Mike Noland share Levesque’s use of bright, saturated colors and a cartoonish influence. Noland’s paintings portray animals, insects, plants, shells and other natural forms; the images are not realistic, but instead, are suffused with simplified flat shapes often filled with repeated patterns that evoke scales, feathers and other details of each life form. His work shares a sensibility with that of the Chicago Imagists through his use of highly polished technique, a kinky appearance, and glowing, almost neon color. Many of his earlier compositions were symmetrical, evoking naïve painting, but these are instead very sophisticated in their appearance. There is an almost “other-worldliness” about all his paintings, as the creatures depicted stare at and engage us as viewers. Our response is both delight and discomfort, joyousness and threat; these opposing complex emotions demand involvement with these images.
Marilyn Propp’s work has an environmental theme, but like Noland and Levesque, uses an eclectic mix of images to convey her concern for clean water and its inhabitants. Her prints on handmade paper are comprised of layered images of aquatic creatures and the human detritus that threatens them. Her use of scale distortions exaggerate the dangerous elements, as funky screws, pipes and propellors swirl actively through her round works on paper, colliding with sea creatures such as octopi and turtles. Like the other artists in the exhibit, Propp uses color to enhance her message, with soft pale colors of water opposed to the black outline of the various man-made objects, and occasional spilling of intense and acidic color that suggestively threatens danger from man-made substances. While Propp addresses an extremely serious issue in her work, she too infuses humor and edginess into her expressive imagery by virtue of the cartoonish drawings of hardware that have slightly wobbly silhouettes. And, as with Levesque’s work, the outward distant appearance seems peaceful and lovely until viewed more closely; suddenly, as the details become clearer, the danger lurks.
The large paintings of birds by Kevin Veara are certainly unorthodox in the world of wildlife painting. His masterful understanding of actual bird species is conveyed expertly in these works, but that is where the convention ends. The detailed images of the birds themselves are surrounded by pattern, whether real or imaginary. This intense use of repeated and detailed pattern transmits a strong feeling of claustrophobia, even when the birds are surrounded by flowers, which engage every inch of space on the canvas. The patterns, when flowers, are painted with the flowers facing the viewer, flattening any feeling of space, therefore tightly enclosing the bird. We usually associate birds with freedom, but these birds seem endangered by confinement. There is a surreal aspect of confinement suggested not by man-made threats but instead by natural elements. The intensity of glowing color adds to the beauty, but also to the suggestion of danger. Just as the other artists in the exhibition create images conveying dueling emotions, Veara contrasts the aspect of enjoyment of beautiful painted images of birds with the perception of threats outside the birds themselves.
Each of these artists create works with dual intentions, adding to the richness of their meanings and visual images. Their ways of expression are unconventional through use of color, unusual combinations of images, interpretations of real objects and natural beings, all conveyed through masterful technique in drawing, painting and printing. And these works are quirky, one and all.
In the Penny Dreadful Series, Diane Levesque began researching the history of the Staffordshire figurine potteries working conditions from 1740- 1835 and the themes of the figurines produced at that time. She was intrigued to find that from1810- 1835 the company added new themes that reflected common lower class idealized pastimes and some rather horrific contemporaneous events such as infamous murders, notorious law breakers, hangings, mauling by lions and tigers, and animal baiting/ fights. These gaudily colored objects sold as mantelpiece decorations were the equivalent of three-dimensional “penny dreadfuls” and satisfied the need of Victorian tastes for sensationalism in the public imagination. Many of these figures seem to simplify and disguise the actual living conditions of the working poor during this time, yet they were very popular with middle class consumers.
In her paintings of these figure groups, Levesque exaggerates the implied violence and sexuality of the themes through the amplification of the gaudiness and randomness of both the application of color and decorative motifs. She also removes the quaint aura and sentimentality of the original figures. Her intent is to utilize the trope of the material culture critique as a form of social commentary in art.
Originally from upstate New York, Diane Levesque received her MFA from The University of Chicago. She moved to Kenosha in 1991, where she is Associate Professor of Art at Carthage College. She has received numerous awards including an Illinois Arts Council Grant, the Gravida Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis, a Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowship Grant, and a Racine Art Museum Artists Fellowship in 2014. Her work has been exhibited at national venues such as The Art Institute of Chicago, The Chicago Cultural Center, The Madison Art Museum, The Wisconsin Academy of Art Gallery, The Rockford Art Museum, The Wustum Art Museum and the Museum of Wisconsin Art.
Growing up in the area known as "Tornado Alley" gave me a healthy love and respect for the power and beauty of nature. As a child my Great-Grandmother would drag me to the storm cellar anytime there was a severe thunderstorm or tornado in the area. She had a fear of storms and told me many stories of the strange and deadly things she had seen them do in her life. I hope that some of the love and respect I have for nature comes through in my paintings.
For me the act of painting is a "call of the wild". When I start a painting, there is a faith that it will be a good painting. There is a hope that people will respond to it. There is a belief that a spiritual connection will take place between the viewer and the painting. When I was a child, I can remember hearing many animal sounds at night. The sound of fish jumping and splashing, coyotes howling, bullfrogs croaking and insects whining. My paintings are a spiritual journey into those night sounds.
The Midwest is my home. Many people have told me that my paintings have changed the way they look at the natural world. I am pleased that they are able to revisit everyday images of nature and see them anew. As an artist, it is nice to know that your vision has changed the way people look at the world.
Michael Noland was born and raised in Oklahoma and has been showing in Chicago galleries since 1987. He continues to see himself as a Chicago artist even though he moved out to Woodstock, IL many years ago. He lives with a house full of art, everything from contemporary to “outsider” art. He feels that living with art has enriched and influenced his paintings in every way. He has been fortunate to be a full-time painter for the past 35 years and is represented by Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee and by Hofheimer Gallery in Chicago.
This work is part of my ongoing series Notes from the Sea, which reflects the clash/coexistence between the industrial and the natural worlds. Debris, machine parts, and fragments of marine life are entangled and morph into one another; often, the debris blocks the path of the sea life.
Fueled by my concerns about environmentally destructive practices, I use the materiality of paper and print to present images of beauty while offering reflections on destruction. I print linoleum and wood blocks onto handmade paper, combining the texture and color of the paper with the crispness and layering of the relief prints.
As a medium, handmade paper reflects both the undersea world and the way paper itself is made; it is a watery material in which wet pulp is stirred, formed, drained and pressed. I push pigmented pulp through a grid to create a textured surface like fish scales or plant forms; the passages of pulp painting direct the placement of the prints.
The translucency of the paper creates an impression of underwater glimpses. The rounded format refers to phytoplankton (free floating infinitesimal plant life), the basis of the marine food chain. They are also like portholes, windows into this undersea world where broken bits of machinery and fragments of plant and sea life float by. I also use the circle as a symbol of interdependence and continuity.
Sea turtles represent the threats to global oceans. They are endangered due to habitat loss, plastic waste, and climate change. Scientists use tagged sea turtles to track their movements, providing an oceanographic map of the areas through which they travel. They are also a metaphor for my own studio practice: as an ancient symbol of creativity, longevity, endurance, and persistence, they journey for great distances and persevere through obstacles.
Artist Introduction Video
My artwork reflects the inspiration I receive from the arrival of birds in their seasonal and geographical movement. My paintings are observations easily dismissed; an homage to the overlooked and the beauty underfoot. My use of color and pattern exemplify the joy I receive in that observation. I rarely know what my next painting will be. When a bird shows up on my property, their image and the flowers surrounding them reflect my joy and welcome of their arrival.
As long as I can remember, I have had an affinity for birds; their colors, habits, the myriad of shapes and sizes. My earliest memory related to this love of birds was receiving a used bird book as a birthday present. I was fascinated as to how they were organized into families and types. From this, I began listing all that I would see when my family would go on trips. Or I would choose a family and list all the subspecies. I wanted to be a scientific illustrator or an ornithologist. I have been drawing birds since I was 4 or 5 years old and have never really stopped. I love painting and the idea of painting as a sort of puzzle you put together on a flat surface in two dimensions.
During grad school I became scholarly about art, I embarked upon the study and discovery of every artist I could find. I began to experiment with subject matter, medium and style, trying to determine what a real artist was. While digging into the question of what constitutes “art” I began pursuing a minimalist approach. In this, I learned discipline, exploring single colors or sample compositions to explore surface and the space it inhabits, even determining the perfect height on the wall for a painting. Preferred colors were black and white on raw canvas. I learned a lot from this exploration. Another important exploration was with pattern and structure: Islamic pattern and its numerology and grids as a construction method. This was an interesting study but it didn’t allow me to move forward with artwork. I kept pushing this for a few years but eventually realized that it was feeling forced, I had a breakthrough while painting a decoration for a kitchen. I realized I had hit on something. It started small and then expanded into several compositional ideas. As time went on these ideas were winnowed down to one theme, the birds.
First it was voicing concern for the deterioration of the environment and how it was affecting my subject. It has transformed into an exploration of what drew me to them in the first place. My latest series reflects the fondness I have regarding their beauty and the world they inhabit.
I live on a few acres on the south fork of the Sangamon River in Illinois and have become a steward of sorts. Restoring habitat, removing invasive plant species, and having a burn schedule which allows the existing native plants to flourish. By doing this I have become aware of another sort of calendar. One which is counted by a bird’s arrival and departure.
I have become obsessed with the ecosystem, living among the plants, animals, insects, weather, geology and river biology; especially mussels and the insects that use the river as part of their life cycle. I live at a shallow part of the river where coyotes, deer and turkeys cross at regular intervals, giving me an intimate look into the natural world around me. As I have been more involved with their habitat, I see the interrelationships of the birds with the plants, trees and insects. I try to capture this in my paintings with fanciful plants native to the region and season. In my previous paintings the plants were once symbols of human’s encroachment on the landscape and their effect upon my birds. I have more recently chosen instead to focus on the plants as comfort and nourishment to the birds reflecting the celebration of life that occurs all around them.
I keep a listing of when birds first arrive and when they move on, also high counts and rare arrivals. I can identify the birds by their calls so I feel like I am in time with them. I have found that I become inspired to paint certain birds every spring especially when they are of special interest (my favorites).
The woodcock is a favorite; he arrives in March and for several weeks you can hear him performing his elaborate courtship flight in the fields across the river. Another favorite is the cat-like call of the secretive yellow-bellied sapsucker, which is only here in April and September. My paintings have become documents to my experience on the river and how these encounters have affected me.
Kevin Veara received his MFA from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1991. Since 1992 he has been the owner of Black Moon Tattoos in Springfield IL. A native of Springfield IL, Veara's studio is surrounded by forest designated as a nature preserve that is home to a myriad species of birds who frequent the feeders outside his windows. Here on the steep forested banks and flood plains of the Sangamon River the artist finds his inspiration. His observations are in tune with the natural time – a calendar based of the arrival and departure of the birds
After the Pipeline
Relief print, collage on handmade cotton and abaca paper with pulp painting
34” x 37 1/2”
Free Fall XIV
Relief print, collage on handmade cotton and abaca paper with pulp painting
34” x 33 1/2”
Relief print, collage, on handmade abaca and cotton paper with pulp painting
34 1/4” x 35 1/2”
Relief print, collage on handmade cotton paper with pulp painting
33” x 35”