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ISSUE 120 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/10/2006

Artists use new ways, new means

By Anne Torkelson
Arts Editor

Friday, November 10, 2006

With the artwork of the Tetlie exhibit safely in storage, Flaten Art Museum welcomed the fascinating work of Christine Conley, a painter from Tennessee, and Michael Hopkins, a painter and photographer from Chicago, in the exhibit “New Ways and Means” Friday evening. The exhibit, the second show in this year’s “Media New: Then Now” program series, opened with a reception including hors d’oeuvres provided by Bon Appétit, live music and brief gallery talks by the artists.

As Flaten comes into sight, the first thing noticeable about the new exhibit is what appears to be about 30 large paint splotches on the wall. Instead of a splattered look and single color, however, the pieces have controlled shapes and are full of depth and texture and multiple rich, vibrant colors. The paint splash analogy isn'’t quite right, but isn'’t far off, either; Conley created the pieces from paint chips left over on her palette of oil paints.

The inspiration for the pieces came to Conley five years ago when she was struck by the beauty of the paint remnants on her palette. To create the paintings in the exhibit, she lifts off little pieces of the leftover paint and uses an overhead projector to enlarge the image. She then traces the image onto styrene, a thin plastic, cuts out the shape and paints it with oil paints.

Over time, she experimented with tearing the acrylic into pieces, trying different arrangements of the paintings on the walls and making plaster casts of the chips. “"I got obsessed with them, you might say,”" Conley said. She calls the art a concept that is still evolving.

"One time, she purposefully created “leftover” paint chips, but never made a larger version of them. “There’'s something about the chance element [of using genuine leftovers],"” she said.

Conley noted that while people often describe her paintings as abstract, the work is “exactly representational.” She doesn'’t see this as a misnomer, however, but likes the ambiguity. She also likes the fact that people see different meanings – including florals, musculature, creatures and spacecraft – in the paintings. Because the pieces “are even garbage in a way, discards,” the meaning of the paintings for her has become honoring and focusing on the details of her life that are often overlooked.

Though at first less noticeable, but just as interesting, Hopkins’'s small, 6 by 9 inch X-ray paintings share the Flaten space with Conley’'s work. These paintings, made with white ink on slate, are also ambiguously abstract, as they are not paintings of X-rays but certainly suggest bones and evoke a skeletal image.

The scale of Hopkin's’ work is very important to him. "The reason for the small size," he said, "is so that the viewer can have a one-on-one relationship to the artwork instead of being one in a group of people gathered around a piece."

Hopkins didn’'t create the paintings with a show in mind. "“It came about the way my work normally comes about,”" he said, “"in that it comes with a lot of experimenting, a lot of trial and error."”

As for his influence, he said, "“I don'’t mean to sound new-agey, but what I do is listen to what the materials give me.” White ink is very transparent on slate," he explained, and since X-rays are very transparent, the medium helped create the idea.

One interesting aspect of Hopkins’s medium is that “because of the white ink, "you could work it back into [the slate] over and over again,”" he said. “With some artwork it looks overworked, but with this, it just gave it more layers of skeleton. This is a rare case, but struggling to get the piece right helped create the piece in some instances.”

Thinking about the history of X-rays, Hopkins used a wash of yellow ink over a few of the paintings, suggesting the yellow-gold that comes with age. He calls these ones a “slight ode to old photography.”

Like Conley, Hopkins doesn’'t want to impose the meaning of his work on its viewers, but believes it comes from the individual. “"Being the artist in the show, I don’t have all the answers to my work,”" he said. “Art is a process of finding out more.” Hopkins said that “the art world is trying to be in the entertainment industry. "It’'s trying to tell the audience every thing about the work and give the audience answers to the work, and I don’t want to do that. Each person is going to come to the work with their own background and ideas, and they’'re going to decide for themselves what the meaning is to them.”"

To illustrate how the meaning of the work is relative to the individual, Hopkins describes how a man once told Hopkins the X-ray pieces were painful because they reminded him of a past surgery.

Hopkins certainly doesn'’t mean for his work to be painful, but he appreciates that each person finds his or her own meaning in the work.

Director of Flaten Art Museum Jill Ewald ’'87 calls the work of Conley and Hopkins “very intriguing and very different from what one normally sees. "They'’re two artists who’'ve taken very, very traditional materials and are using them in new ways. They’re both really representational and abstract at the same time. […] Even though their work is so different, it works well together."”

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