Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Eyes of the Beholder

An annual art exhibition at Boise State's Women's Center

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On March 10, as part of Boise State's celebration of Women's History Month, the Women's Center unveiled their fifth annual National Juried Art Exhibition. Melissa Wintrow, a former coordinator for the center, was largely responsible for organizing the exhibition, together with the Women's Center Advisory Board, and the first vestiges of the show were developed around 1999. By 2001, it was a regular event. Successive exhibits have broadened and thrived, pulling in creative output from women all over America. Originally, the show was regional, but since 2003, women artists from across the United States have been invited to participate.

Jenna Clark, program assistant for the center, attributes the freshness and individuality of the shows to new voices in each annual judging process. This year, the jurors for the Boise State Women's History Month Art Exhibit are Julie Clemons and Jennie Myers. The 2006 exhibit received 142 submissions by 44 artists. Thirty-five pieces by 26 artists were selected by Myers and Clemons. (At a March 17 reception, awards were announced. Vacuum by Kathleen Edwards and Exposed by Barri Lester tied for best in show. The second runner-up was Self Portrait Bound (#3) by Josephine Topholm.)

Clemons has a strong background in design. She told BW that she immediately looks for composition, balance and flow in a piece of art. Her personal forte is colorful, bold, abstract landscapes. When observing art, she wants the art to compel her and draw her in, but looks for the balance of the work to support the drawing element. She appreciates emotional use of color and value and looks for three-dimensional pieces that are interesting from a variety of perspectives. She believes the value of art is in the thought and emotion it evokes of the observer and claims this year's collection includes social statements, visual pleasure and subtle humor.

Clemons has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Boise State and has been working in the Boise area for 15 years. Her entry for the 2005 exhibition was selected as a winner, and she later donated the work to the Boise State Women's Center. Currently, her art is shown locally at Art Source Gallery and the Gallery at Hyde Park.

Myers, also a Boise State graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, has been involved with the Women's Center for six years. She, too, places strong emphasis on composition and balance and appreciates artists who step outside accepted standards to take risks. Myers believes successful art combines technical skill with concept and offers insight into the artist's life experience. She expects a quality piece to elevate or challenge perspective. Much of what Myers expects of superior artwork, she also expects of herself. Her activities and professional life are centered on social change, gender justice and human rights. She indulges her passion for these endeavors enthusiastically and says she is gratified to be able to mesh her values with her career. She has received several awards as well as local and national recognition for her design projects.

This year's exhibition is truly diverse. Abstract, photographic, sculptural, metal and glass works appear in the show. A clay piece entitled Pigs and Fishes by Sue Rooke, for example, is a whimsical piece that contrasts with the many pieces which are more serious or abstract.

Many of the pieces are for sale, but The Silver Spoon Diet by Margaret Ratliff is not. Ratliff's work is a thought-provoking set of four spoons--whose design might make dining a challenge. The craftsmanship of the spoons is impressive, their placement precise, and Ratliff's message subtle.

Eyes of a Stranger, an acrylic by Gail Lapins, is one of the exhibit's larger paintings. Bright colors have been aggressively applied to the canvas depicting a shapely, vibrantly red nude woman sitting with legs spread, dangling willowy appendages covered in harlequinesque, white and black striped hosiery. There is a see-no-evil monkey in the left of the picture. The colors are extraordinary and highly effective in moving your eyes through the painting's composition. The painting commands attention and there is no way to stroll past without gazing at it.

Both jurors' passion for color is proven by the number of pieces making bold use of the spectrum in a variety of mediums. Barbara Michener's sculpture Courage hangs by itself on the outer edge of the exhibit. It radiates molten gold and orange hues. Although it floats against the wall it occupies, it does so with a distinct, almost contradictory heaviness. Its mass and surface texture articulate the artist's feelings about the substance of courage. She has shaped it with strength and beauty and it glows. You move instinctively towards it and you wish to touch it, as if to confirm whether it is truly giving off the heat that it appears to.

There are entries displayed that might be considered controversial. Exposed is a fiercely imposing painting of a heavy-set woman drawing up her shirt to expose her breasts. Although you begin by staring at her chest, your eyes move downward across her naked stomach until you are startled by a glimpse of what appears to be a sexual device strapped to her groin. The tip of the woman's head is cropped at the top of the canvas, and the intriguing attachment she wears is cropped at the bottom edge. Just shy of being totally revealed, it catches you completing the scene in your mind while you ponder whether it really is what you think it could be. This painting invites a flood of questions: Why the subject matter, why a female figure of such negative sensuality, why such an imposing piece? The canvas is large--a mountainous landscape of flesh tones. The image is a carnivorous, sense-consuming spectacle, devouring the wall that supports it and feasting on the viewer's nerve-endings. Barri Lester, the artist, is obviously talented--she has managed to hold the viewer hostage with this shocking portrait. She has taken artistic risks and her product evokes response, whether the viewer wishes it or not.

Each artist represented in this exhibit has used her life experience and prepared a gifted offering indicative of her sense of power, hope, sorrow, anger, determination and humor. Myers says that the artist and the audience enjoy a unique exchange in the artistic dialog and that the range of this exchange is infinite. It can be complicated and uncomfortable. "Art is communication," she says, "but it's not universal communication."

The exhibit will be available for viewing until April 5 in the Student Union Gallery, 1910 University Drive (off Lincoln). Call 426-INFO (4636) for more information.