Art Review by Roger Durbin
An artist friend not too long ago lost her father. She dealt with the intense feelings she was having by (of all things) making art. It was not just therapy for her; it was also a way to embody the experience, to capture such a monumental change in her life.
That kind of idea informs the current exhibition on display at Summit Artspace (a Knight Arts grantee) called “Transitions.” As Rob Lehr, curator for the display and director of the gallery, notes, the chance to see the two young artists (sculptor Allison Elia and painter Eli Donahue) and their intriguing and important work is now. He predicts they will move elsewhere to pursue their art; in fact, Donahue is apparently in plans to set up shop in New York.
It’s easy to catch onto the title and the impulse behind the exhibition by looking at the titles. Elia takes on transitory moments like “Resolve,” “Within Reach,” “Heal,” and “Deeper Soil,” while Donahue goes toward “Baptism VI,” “Disambiguation,” “Identify Crisis,” “Reordering,” and the like. You get instantly that they are concretizing abstract but real events and feelings in their work.
Allison Elia describes her large figurative ceramic installations as “sculptural snapshots” that capture a single climactic moment before it naturally transitions and fades into memory. She sculpts her figures large-scale in clay, building them solid on armatures, then cutting and hollowing them for firing.
The nine figures in the display are all captured in strongly contorted positions that underline the idea. Her “Deeper Soil” has the figure in a full lotus position but bent over, leaning into whatever feeling, conundrum or issue is behind the work. Although done in stoneware with low fire glaze, there is a splash of purple oil paint – on the figure’s hand and back – as though the figure was working through something.
Colored hands or other body parts speak to the idea of being in the moment of whatever was going on (the use of color also brings the pieces more alive and visually interesting). In her “Resonate,” the figure is afloat on a dark blue/blackish surface as though lulling there. The part of the body (torso) that is above water is light stoneware, while the submerged portions are dark, like the imagined water. The idea of being buoyant, lifted up, and supported seems to get imaginatively to the idea of some sort of gentle understanding.
Taking an abstract approach to transformation, Eli Donahue, on the other hand, creates delicate backlit paintings, which examine the shifts between light/dark, structural/ethereal and flatness/dimension. His inspiration, we are told, began with the concept of baptism and its influence on an individual’s changing of identity. Eli looks at light as a subject, which can illuminate or manipulate how we see structure in the world around us.
Perhaps it is easier to get at the use of light by looking at the titles of the four pieces that use backlit effects – “Baptism VI,” “Disambiguation,” “Identify Crisis,” and “Truth” – for they suggest a eureka moment of enlightenment, or more prosaically put, when a lightbulb went on.
His works are mostly done in acrylic on canvas or in one case, organza, allowing for light to pass through. One work however, “Reordering,” does not use light that way, but more through use of color to suggest change and movement. The work looks like a large, imaginative rendering of a microchip, with rectangular slices of dark brown, beige yellow and white in a telling configuration, giving it all a sense of rewiring, or in his terms, reordering some feeling or event.
Come and see the show and be an early fan of these two talented artists from the area. The works are better in person, especially when dealing with light and finely toned ceramic coloration.
“Transitions” will be on display 12-9 p.m. Thursday and 12-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday through November 15 at Summit Artspace, 140 E. Market St., Akron; 330-376-8480; www.akronareaarts.org. Admission is free.