While a steady stream of orange-and-blue-clad carousers poured past Boise State's Hemingway Western Studies Center on a recent Thursday afternoon, Visual Arts Center gallery director Kirsten Furlong busied herself inside the cool, quiet space. Sliding information cards into plastic sleeves next to paintings hung neatly on the wall, Furlong readied the gallery for the following night's opening. Though the Faculty Art Exhibition is a long-standing tradition in Boise State's art department, this year marks its debut as a biennial show.
"I proposed two years ago, when we had the 2007 show, that we make it a biennial show," said Furlong. "The reason was that the faculty are doing shows all over the place, and doing big projects for their research. Once a year comes around really, really fast. It seemed to make sense to spread it out so that the artists would have more time."
The show is split into two adjacent galleries, Gallery One in the Liberal Arts Building and Gallery Two in the Hemingway Center. Past a massive pipe organ, which climbs majestically up the walls of VAC's Gallery Two, diverse new works dot the space. Nancy Quinn's swirling, whimsical alkyd tree paintings are an immediate eye-catcher, drawing audiences in to look at more subtle work from local metalsmith Sue Latta and Jim Talbot's chilling photographic portraits of old cowboys and small-town hotel keepers. While pieces from familiar local names like Bill Carman and Francis Fox are sprinkled throughout the exhibit, there are a number of off-the-radar artists represented as well.
"All the full-time faculty and all of the adjuncts and anyone who's teaching in the department can enter up to three pieces," explained Furlong. "So, it's not a requirement, but it's just an opportunity for them to show their work here at the school and to the community."
In addition to their academic research and any classes they might teach, art professors are expected to exhibit regularly--both nationally and internationally. During the last couple of years, Boise State Art Department faculty have shown work in Germany and England, and participated in residencies as far away as New Zealand. But unfortunately, the closing of J Crist Gallery last spring left local audiences with limited opportunities to see work from these artists on a regular basis.
"Since the last faculty show, several of the people showed with J Crist, so their regular gallery representation, or their other opportunity to show locally is gone," Furlong said.
While their methods and mediums may differ vastly, in Furlong's opinion, these artists' day-to-day interactions as colleagues and their shared experiences living in Boise have produced subtle themes that run through much of the work in the exhibit.
"I think it's interesting when you have a group of people who all work together, and are all familiar with each other's work. You see these strands of interest, even if there's a lot of variety in the materials and the approach," said Furlong. "There are always these little threads that I can see running through."
Some of those threads winding through Gallery Two involve interpretations of the natural environment and depictions of the West. Trees are explored in a number of pieces, including Shawna Hanel's photo Haines St. Gum Tree, Quinn's colorful painting Blue Boise Tree and Fox's massive Tinker Toys-esque wooden sculpture. In other work, like Talbot's narrative photos of local eccentrics or Richard Young's three-part Godzilla series, based on work by Caspar David Friedrich, the Western environment becomes the central focus.
"Whether it's conscious or not, a lot of the artists were thinking about place--whether it be the West or whatever it is," said Furlong. "The other thread that I really saw was paper, which was interesting for me because that's something I've really been focusing on, so I was probably really attuned to it."
Furlong, a printmaker and recent resident at the 8th Street Marketplace's AIR program, has a backbone-like column of paper birds hanging in the exhibit alongside a drawing of a spread-eagle bat she's titled Pimpin'. Other paper artists in the show include mixed-media collage artist Stephanie Bacon, graphic designer Jennifer Wood and Tudor Mitroi, a Romanian artist whose work explores concepts of time and place through map imagery. But not everyone sees congruence in the work displayed at the Biennial Faculty Art Exhibition.
"I think it's so divergent. Every time the show comes together, it's a totally different show," said photographer Laurie Blakeslee. "All of our work is so different, I don't know how [Furlong] curates it, because it's all such different kinds of work."
Blakeslee's eerie photographs--like Convenient Time, which depicts a barely clad three-dimensional vintage doll skulking away from a cut-out Montgomery Ward catalog photo of a sheet-stripped bed--push viewers to confront the photographs' often deceptive or limiting nature.
"For some people, when it's a photograph of a photograph, they're scratching their head and trying to figure out, 'What is this I'm looking at?' I think that's a good thing," Blakeslee explained. "They're looking through this viewfinder of my weird, bizarre world."
While it's unlikely that this exhibit will spark the same cooler-toting enthusiasm among students as Boise State football games, it is an excellent opportunity for both Boise State art department students and the Boise arts community at large to catch a glimpse of what these varied and talented artists have been up to the past two years. And that should inspire some school spirit.
"It's really good for our students to see what we're doing, what their faculty does," Blakeslee said. "Not so they can copy it, but just so that they can get a sense of the diversity of work that comes from this faculty."
FREE, runs through Oct. 23, Boise State Visual Arts Center, Gallery One, Liberal Arts Building, Room 170; Gallery Two, Hemingway Western Studies Center, Room 110. For more information, visit artdept.boisestate.edu/VAC.