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ISSUE 119 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/17/2006

Color abounds

By Clare Kennedy
Arts Editor

Friday, March 17, 2006

Last Friday, nearly one hundred students, alumni and professors stepped out to see a triple threat art opening. “Pattern-ing,” the latest installment in Flaten Art Museum, features the work of Liz Quisgard of New York City and Bruce Thorn of Chicago. Next door in the print room was “Evolution: The Yoshida Family and Friends,” a collection of contemporary Japanese woodblock prints.

Accompanying both were the musical stylings of the Unicorn Basement, a group of St. Olaf students whose day-glo outfits and semi-improvised electronic music made for a much livelier opening than expected.

“It shows two really different approaches to pattern,” said Jill Ewald, director of Flaten Museum and assistant professor of art. “Bruce is a political artist and Liz is a visual artist. His is about existence in the world, they’re the patterns in the world created by living.”

Quisgard’s aim in making art could be said to be defiantly decorative. “No meanings. No messages. No preachments. No symbols. Politics, philosophy, the human condition, the environment and other causes about which people paint, perform and sculpt these days are subjects for discourse- best expressed with words. Attempts to transform them into pictorial images tend to become mere illustration,” Quisgard wrote in her artist’s statement.

Surprisingly, Quisgard’s artistic philosophy is actually quite a relief from the overly conceptual, opaque pieces many viewers have become used to.

“I like to enliven the mind by seducing the eye,” Quisgard said.

And seduce she does. Her sculptures, colorful textiles and jewel-like paintings are all pleasant. However, Quisgard hits her stride with “Bizarre Bazarr,” a gigantic mixed media piece of paint and found objects. The ornate loops of feathers, coins and beads of “Bazarr” almost seem to vibrate if you look at the piece long enough.

In the context of decorative art Thorn’s work certainly would not look good in a doctor’s office; even in the calm of Flaten, the busyness of his work provokes anxiety, which is most likely the big, conceptual point. If anything, his goal is to overwhelm the eye.

His strongest pieces are his oil on sheet metal paintings like “Temperate Zone.” Endless masses of shapes and colors pop off the flat surface and create a maelstrom of form, which though hypnotic is also a little irritating.

His many gouaches, characterized by elastic lines and fresh colors, are frantic as well. People, eyes, rockets and foliage are caught up in the swirling rhythms.

Most of his work is good, but the larger oils left me cold. Paintings like “Chatterbox” and “Radical Youth” evoked very little with their ugly, unmixed colors and bland shapes.

“Evolution” was organized by Karil Kucera’s Arts in Japan class from a collection recently given to the college by Eugene ’52 and Margaret Skibbe ‘53.

“Evolution” was a pocket of relative peace and simplicity. The show centers around the work of Hiroshi Yoshida, his two sons Toshi and Hodaka, and two of Toshi’s students, Micah Schwanberow and Noboru Sawai. The beautiful works range from earlier, more traditional styles to western abstraction.

Of all Sawai was the most interesting. His work is both visually pleasing and vaguely disturbing, from the deranged face in “Portrait of the Artist as a Nun” to the pornographic sea scenes of “Fisherman’s Dream.”

“Evolution” will be up March 10 to March 31. “Pattern-ing” runs until April 13.

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