Two artists on the rise in “TRANSITIONS”

Art review by Anderson Turner

Allison_elia_8Ohio is a rich state. Its wealth can be measured in many ways, but the strongest is its history and culture. It’s an embarrassment of riches really; museums, educational institutions, symphonies and cultural nonprofits not only call this state home, but they also teach others around the country and the world how to survive and foster cultural growth and change in their own communities.

It should be no surprise, then, that the nurturing place we all live in is also an excellent location for an artist to begin a career. Indeed, the opportunities to learn, grow and experiment abound here. The current exhibition at Summit Artspace, Transitions, which features the ceramic work of Allison Elia and the paintings of Eli Donahue, is an exciting example of what young artists are doing in our community.

“The origin of Transitions began when I had the opportunity to view Allison Elia’s latest ceramic sculptures earlier this year. The concept of pausing moments in time before they can transcend really resonated with me,” states curator Rob Lehr in the exhibition’s didactic information.

“Every object in the gallery is inviting you to contemplate and investigate your own relationship to transformation. How does your life experience shape your world and viewpoint? Does the integrity of your memories influence your identity?”

Elia’s sculptures depict memories that are in some ways mystical and even defy gravity, and in other ways are deeply contemplative and emotional. Each one is intensely made, and that intensity is easy to sense.

It is possible to compare these sculptures to the effect photography has on our lives. Frozen moments of time, captured and sometimes shared a million times over, can be contemplated in new and powerful ways, much like our memories. Thanks to technology we can manipulate and look at photos of people, animals and landscapes, and take a viewpoint that goes beyond what we can see from standing in front of an object. We can look around it, over it, behind it. Like our memories, we can manipulate that image to form a narrative.


The narrative Elia’s sculptures offer is an emotional “externalized” sharing of her past experiences. In her work Resonate, a woman is depicted in a dancer’s pose with part of her torso just breaking the surface of a body of water. It’s a scene that almost anyone who has ever gone swimming can relate to.

The sculpture is held up by a metal armature. It does an effective job of holding the work up, but may also connote something more. Regardless of its meaning, it’s a piece with a strong visual impact and invites the viewer to contemplate the artist’s intentions with the work as well as how the piece was made.

Another sculpture of Elia’s, Repair, depicts a figure that is carrying a heavy load and clearly working to take something somewhere or to get something done. The strength of this piece is that it’s completely relatable. Who hasn’t had to schlep stuff of gigantic proportions at one time in their life?

These sculptures are fun to be able to walk around, and the way in which they are displayed invites the viewer to see all sides of them. They are memorable because of their form and scale, but also because they depict unidealized nude figures doing various activities.

Gallery2Donahue’s paintings follow the theme of transitions in that they are abstractions of structural/architectonic “snapshots” that also work to manipulate light, literally through the use of lights in some cases, but also through technique.

Like Elia’s sculptures, these works feel deeply contemplative. There are layers upon layers that the artist worked to create and share. It’s as if we are witnessing the “spirit” of a structural space being exposed, perhaps for the first time.

Two of Donahue’s most effective pieces, Identity Crisis and Reordering, offer keen insights into the skill of this painter. Identity Crisis is made with organza as the painting surface. This makes the work somewhat see-through and helps bring light into every corner of the piece. It’s an extremely effective way to show the layers of structure that weave their way through all of Donahue’s painting.

Reordering on first glance seems rather flat and without the profound feelings that all his other works portray. However, with patience and some time spent with the artwork, deeper layers and forms begin to unveil themselves. It’s as if the artist has stripped his vision to its essential elements, like a visual “binary code.” It’s a piece that keeps drawing the viewer back. Although the colors are muted in tone, the painting feels very joyful and hopeful.

What is most exciting about this exhibition is it offers you an opportunity to get to know two artists who both got their undergraduate degrees at the University of Akron and who both are “transitioning” to new opportunities. Places like the Summit Artspace and the role it plays in the broader community are some of the best parts of living in northeast Ohio. We have these important cultural resources to tap into and see the artistic research of the people we live near.

We should all take the time to go and see shows like Transitions and remember this period of work for both these artists. If they stay focused on working, it won’t be the last exhibition memory either of them create.

Exhibit closes November 15, 2014. The gallery is open Thursday 12pm-9pm, Friday & Saturday 12pm-5pm.

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