Seven Madison art shows dig deep

Artscape August 2016 Blog Gallery
“Their Arising and Passing Away” by Michael Velliquette at Gallery Marzen.

When Michael Velliquette is part of an exhibition, you can expect art combining cut paper, imaginative arrangements and other-worldly color. And “Many Lives to Wonder” at Gallery Marzen doesn’t disappoint.

In the show, which is up through Sept. 2, Velliquette and Rhea Ewing ponder nature and consciousness—but in strikingly different ways.

In Velliquette’s works, vibrant color and black mix in scenes in which abstracted flowers, suns or other forms seem to dance or swirl across the page, or furry-headed creatures stick their tongues out at you. His collages not only seem to have a specific energy; they also appear to convey their own language.

Ewing, meanwhile, explores human ancestry through beautiful renderings of skulls, hands, butterflies, flowers and leaves. Using soft colors alongside black, and lush foliage with cracking bone, Ewing juxtaposes ideas of life and death.

Ewing states on the gallery’s website that their work explores the tendency to find human narratives in science: “I see the natural world as fraught with fables and allegories of love, trust and defense mechanisms. I see questions of what we should value about the world around us, about each other and what it means to be human.”

Ewing has another showcase this month, with Terry Emmrich in “Against Entropy” on the first floor of Overture Galleries.

Here, the artist explores several themes in just a half-dozen works. The “Affection” series of three prints piles up butterflies in ways that are poetic but powerful; the inclusion of hands literally adds a human touch. “Invisible Only to You” amps up the three-dimensionality, with sunflowers, butterflies and hands emerging from fabric. And “In It Gets Better,” leaves of garlic mustard, an invasive species, fill and spill out from the composition.

On the opposite wall, Emmrich’s nine linoleum block relief prints infuse scenes of nature—bees, plants and birds—with an incredible sense of dynamism and urgency. Says the artist, “The pieces on display are an exploration into the chaos and instability in nature, sometimes hidden behind a façade of tranquility and order. The forces depicted may be as violent as an explosion or as subtle and unobtrusive as the growth of a virus or the quiet intrusion of of an invasive species.”

On the second floor of Overture Galleries, “The Last Glacier” sees Todd Anderson and Bruce Crownover also focus on nature.

The two are part of the Last Glacier collaborative art project that “seeks to capture the fading majesty of the remaining glaciers in Glacier National Park, Montana.” The park had more than 150 glaciers when it was founded in 1910; today, fewer than 25 remain and it’s predicted that those will be gone by 2020.

Anderson and Crownover hiked and climbed hundreds of miles within the park before creating their woodcut prints, 12 of which are on display at Overture Center. The works, through their stunning texture, rhythm and color, indeed convey the grandeur that the artist witnessed firsthand in Montana.

Jordan Adams and Justin Bitner also make a case for preservation in “Dichotomy of Juxtapositions and Crooked Ruins” on the third floor of Overture Galleries.

Adams is interested in ruins and paints what he calls portals. “I imagine portals, whether the mouth of a cave, the trapdoor of a gallows or a haunted doorway, as thresholds to the unknown,” he writes. His acrylic-on-paper works are full of texture, as well as ambiguity and mystery that draw the viewer into unknown places.

Bitner, whose work was recently shown at the Central Library, continues to be fascinated with collecting, particularly objects like doorknobs and painted wood pieces that show wear from human hands or the passing of time.

But perhaps the most dramatic use of texture is found in “Hair Trigger Eternities” in Overture Center’s Playhouse Gallery. Caryn Ann Bendrick, Marissa Mackey and Barbara Lades and Paul Sullivan consider the landscape through materiality.

Bendrick’s hand-cut paper works are standouts. Suggesting topographies, the vividly colorful works bring to mind the way water etches out canyons or fault lines fracture mountains. A small cut-paper book is a clever inclusion, and all the works are offset by a handful of ballpoint ink drawings that suggest wrinkles and movement with just rows of lines.

Lades and Sullivan’s interesting sculptures made of boards, sticks, cotton and bright paper, along with Mackey’s “Vehicle” series of dramatic nighttime landscapes illuminated with car headlights, make this eclectic exhibition a must-see. (“Hair Trigger Eternities,” “Dichotomy of Juxtapositions and Crooked Ruins,” “The Last Glacier” and “Against Entropy” all run through Sept. 4.)

Nighttime and illumination also come into play at the James Watrous Gallery. In “Night Vision,” Valerie Mangion showcases paintings based on images captured by a trail camera set on her farm in Wisconsin’s Driftless region. The camera uses motion-activated sensors and infrared light to take photos, resulting in images rarely seen during the day. Mangion’s color and composition choices enhance the sense that we’re seeing something not normally meant for humans.

And over at Hatch Art House, animals, as well as neighborhoods, abstract scenes and letters of the alphabet all take vibrant form as the Willy Street gallery showcases work by Polka Press, a local printmaking collective. The show is up through the end of July.