Westconn exhibit challenges viewers to engage

The Western Connecticut State University will present “neither here nor there (or And),” as its 2019 winter exhibition, to be held at the WCSU Visual and Performing Arts Center Art Gallery on the university’s Westside campus in Danbury. The exhibition will run from Jan. 31 through March 3.

“The Department of Art decided it was important for us to create and make public a call for exhibitions to increase the diversity of artwork and also the number of proposals we would review,” said Melissa Ralston-Jones, WCSU’s curator of the art gallery. “This exhibition was chosen based on its unique theme, the quality of professional artists included in the exhibition and its ability to communicate new ideas, and also serving as an educational resource for the student body.”
The exhibit will feature six critically acclaimed United States-based artists — Samantha Bates of Tacoma, Wash., Gideon Bok of Camden, Maine, Rachel Hellmann, of Terre Haute, Ind., Sam King of Fayetteville, Ark., Matthew Murphy of Boston, Mass. and Stephanie Pierce of Brooklyn, N.Y.
“The theme of the show is a presentation of simultaneous ideas, visions and movements within and across "painting,” said Murphy, who also serves as a curator of the exhibition. “The show is a selection of work by six painters working in different ways. It is, in some ways, a spectrum or cross-section of painting from observational to non-objective or abstract painting.”

The six artists were assembled based on the way that each relates to the central theme of the show and on how they relate to one another. Murphy said each of their paintings reinterprets familiar imagery and concepts in ways that will challenge viewers to engage actively in response to their creations.
“I wanted to see if I could connect different kinds of painters and make a coherent show [out] of it,” Murphy said. “The work I chose was work that I think challenges a fast read. Work that uses nuance to ask the viewer to slow down and spend time with the paintings. By doing so I hope the work opens up to the viewer and presents simultaneous readings or directions to explore.”
Since graduating with an MFA in painting and drawing from the University of Washington, Murphy has appeared in 28 solo and group exhibitions and has earned numerous honors, including the Assets for Artists Grant from Mass MoCA and the Pace Gallery, John A. Johnson and David Berger awards from the Massachusetts College of Art.
In his work, Murphy said he often starts with a set of assumptions about what the art is, and the paintings that come out of those assumptions leads to paintings that come up to the line of sculpture, but the world of color and illusionistic space seems to deny or contradict the purely sculptural.
“Their development is not linear but integrated. By working through similar ideas in different modes, I can keep the work open and find new ideas within the work,” he said. “When I paint, the infinite possibilities of color can be overwhelming but exciting for a point of balance, tension or dynamism.”

In her work, Bates uses repeated marks, such as hundreds of thousands of dashes, lines, dots and holes to create art, often inspired by her experiences in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, she describes in her artist statement as “pathways are found, details discovered, surprises emerge, while time is made tangible, quantifiable and visceral.”
Bok’s paintings depict figures at rest, work or play, while Hellmann’s sculptural pieces on wood and paper play on the link between the fictional and the real.
Pierce’s art comes from observing things in her immediate surroundings over long periods of time. Murphy called King’s work with color, gesture and narrative “engaging — and perhaps antagonizing — our instinct for recognition.”
Art that lets its viewers explore their imaginations is important in the art world, and it’s something that Murphy has always felt was vital to the enjoyment of those looking at his work.
“Paint on a canvas doesn’t literally move, but a painting in front of a good imagination will. An imagination needs to be engaged. Somewhat ironically, I think the imagination wakes us up and it helps us see clearer,” he said. “The way in which a painter wrestles with issues is hard to pin down. There is no ever-reliable solution. A painting depends not just on the painter, but also on the imagination and willingness of the viewer.”
For that reason, Murphy hopes people walk in with open eyes and expect they will walk out thinking it was worth the effort.
“It is important to the art gallery mission that we continue to seek out artists and exhibitions that invite our audience to embrace new ideas and perspectives and inspire and develop an appreciation of art in all its forms,” Ralston-Jones hopes said.