Curatorial Interview: Turn the Other Eye

By: Amy Haddad, Arts Journalist

April 15, 2016

Rebecca George—artist, adjunct faculty member at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The University of Chicago and founder and Director of The Art House—opened her one-night solo exhibition, “Turn the Other Eye,” at Arts on Elston Galleryon April 15. In addition to seeing nearly 75 pieces of art, guests enjoyed food and drink, along with music by Shaun Zimmerman and Matt Woodhead of Windy City Classical Guitarists.

The interview that follows, which provides details about George’s newer works and the exhibition, includes comments from art historian Virginia Voedisch, who wrote the show’s catalog essay; the show’s designerBeth Borum; and curators Christine Connor, Mary Dorrell, JoAnn Hayden, Arthur Connor and Ken Hogrefe.


Rebecca George’s “Turn the Other Eye” exhibition at Arts on Elston Gallery.

Q: Virginia Voedisch, you write in the catalog essay: “Coinciding with the animal-themed works are lush, figural paintings that more deeply probe the issue of identity and transformation.” In eeping with the ideas of identity and transformation, the exhibition takes place during the spring—a time associated with rebirth and renewal. 

In your opinion, how does this transformational theme relate to George’s exhibition overall and to her newer works in particular?

A: Transformation plays an essential role in the exhibition. The show examines themes of transition between life and death through George’s animal works. It also reflects a personal transformation for the artist herself: the relationship with her animals as mother, guardian and caretaker.

Being an artist is to be immersed in transformation. In part this means transforming an idea into a visual image. It also refers to transforming as an artist—not only creating, but also learning how to manipulate your tools of expression. At the same time, there is the idea of bodily transformation: how we see our physical selves at different stages of our life; and determining whether our physical selves help or hinder us from our accessing our spiritual selves.

Q: Why is it important for some of George’s earlier rabbit pictures to be exhibited in conjunction with her newer works? How does this pairing advance the exhibition’s theme?

A: “Turn the Other Eye” is about George’s identity as a painter and person, according to Hogrefe.  The souls she shares her life and space with are going to creep into her work. Dorrell shares a similar view, acknowledging George’s exploration of identity and connection to her animal companions are not separate experiences.

Both Hogrefe and Dorrell recognize how the artist’s incorporation of animals has evolved. George’s last show, “Have Many Rabbit,” was more straightforward, whereas the current show integrates animals into a larger narrative. “Reveal Thyself,” for example, is a meditation on the passing a particularly loved rabbit, Ollie, where Rebecca recasts herself in the funeral pose of her companion. Moreover, Dorrell adds that visitors will find companion rabbits or cats woven into the canvas of George’s figural paintings.

Q: Beth Borum, how do you envision visitors moving through the space and experiencing the exhibition?

A: Arts on Elston Gallery feels like you are walking through someone’s home. There is a sense of intimacy as you weave from room to room, viewing George’s work. Each room is anchored with work that confronts the visitor, albeit gently. The closeness of the walls where the art hangs offer solace and privacy as visitors look, interact and experience the George’s work.

Exhibition shot of “Turn the Other Eye.”

Q: Given the variety of subjects and media making up “Turn the Other Eye,” how is George’s work organized within Arts on Elston Gallery?

A: Dorrell explains the exhibition's organization from the visitor’s perspective. Upon entering, Dorrell describes, visitors are introduced to Rebecca’s recent transitional and lush figural work, along with her large, transformative abstract ones. Visitors are then guided through George’s rich collection of paintings, prints and drawings in the remainder of the gallery. These pieces document her love and loss of animal companions, as well as a continued revelation of self in her figural paintings, Dorrell summarizes.

The five curators focused on the stylistic and emotional relationship in George’s work during the hanging process. Hogrefedraws a parallel between curating art and the act of painting on a canvas: in both instances “you look at what's happening and decide, based on what the painting is telling you, what the next move should be.”

Q: Arts on ElstonGallery consists of several small rooms—some of which have decorative accents, such as crown molding. The overall space looks and feels different from a “white cube” gallery. To what extent did the space influence your curatorial decisions?

A: Arthur Connor, Director of Arts on Elston Gallery, says the several rooms making up the gallery work to the show’s benefit. This is because each room offers a different feeling or sensation, thereby telling a different story. Hogrefe also comments on the space, noting that Arts on Elston Gallery offered a sense of discovery and opportunity for surprise.

Exhibition shot of “Turn the Other Eye.”

Q: Five curators were involved in this show. How did the curatorial team work together? 

A: Christine Connor and JoAnn Hayden both comment how the idea of community brought the curators and the show together. While the curators worked collectively and by consensus to curate and hang the show, Hayden explains there were also individual responsibilities. Hayden secured the musicians, for example; Christine, who is quite familiar withArts on ElstonGallery, offered expertise on lighting and the use of small spaces.Borum designed the invitations and exhibition catalog.

Q: Arthur Connor, some of the furniture you made is seen throughout Arts on Elston Gallery. How did you organize the furniture within the gallery, and how was it used?

A: The furniture pieces, such as small table-like pieces, work well in the gallery because of their neutrality and functionality. They do not take away from the artwork, but add something to the space itself: making the space more inviting. From an art perspective the furniture is like a still life, but it also served a purpose: as a gallery bench, for example.

Q: Ken Hogrefe, when curating “Turn the Other Eye,” how did you decide which artwork to include? 

A: George has been on a mission to reinvent her practice continuously over the past ten years; she has been almost relentless in exploring who she is as a painter. That said, it was foremost in everyone's minds to document George’s artistic evolution. Visitors can see the dialogue between personal meaning and expression countered by technical experimentation and expression in her painting style.

The show also has a number of smaller, more intimate pieces of art. These works round out George’s personality as an artist. Many of them are representational and exquisitely executed. These smaller works frequently depict details of George’s life with her companions—the rabbits and the cats. You feel a deep sense of love and gratitude for her "family" circle. It feels right to present both of these sides because, more than likely, you don't have one without the other.

Amy Haddad is a writer atVeritas Health. She also writes about art and technology on her blogs, Art DiversionsandTech Diversions, and contributes articles to Sculpture Magazine, Newcity and Create Hub.