Review: Abstract Workhorses
April 29, 2017
By: Amy Haddad
“Energy and motion made visible—memories arrested in space,” Jackson Pollock expressively wrote. On April 29 similar themes emanated from the exhibition, “Abstract Workhorses,” at Arts on Elston Gallery in Chicago. Visitors were immersed by Ken Hogrefe’s mural-sized painting, “On Arriving,” which contained rapid brushstrokes of paint; relished the dance of color in Christine Connor’s “Untitled;” slowed to contemplate Rebecca George’s “Atmung;” and grazed on the refreshments placed upon pieces of furniture made by Arthur Connor. The show underscored that art is not just about what you see, but what you feel.
“Abstract Workhorses,” comprised of abstract painting and furniture, featured four artists with decades of art practicing experience among them. Rebecca, who in 2012 founded The Art House, a professional studio school, has been painting for more than 30 years. Ken, a consultant and industry expert for DuPont, is a lifelong artist and Artist in Residence at The Art House. Christine has exhibited work in several group shows in Chicago and is also an Artist in Residence at the Art House; she has more than 25 years experience as a practicing artist. And Arthur began his art practice as a painter; now he makes furniture—an art medium in itself. Their experience gave credibility to the works displayed.
Start with the front gallery, where Ken’s “On Arriving” commanded visitors’ attention by size alone: it spanned an entire gallery wall. Energy emanated from swift brushstrokes of yellows, blues, and reds, with large white swathes atop; it was also visible in the canvas itself. Instead of laying flat against the wall, small folds throughout the canvas mimicked a gentle wave-like motion.
Adding to the conversation were several paintings by Rebecca and Christine that hung on the opposite half of the gallery. These pieces were smaller, but the effect was just as powerful. Some paintings, including Rebecca’s “In Congress with Myself,” confined the vitality of abstraction with a frame. Most notably, though, was her painting “Clandestine.” Its mostly darker color palette, exposed medium, and modest size proved to be the perfect complement to Ken’s painting. Together, they created a welcomed visual tension.
Progressing through the exhibition, the side gallery contained several abstract works that required deep thought. Here, visitors found canvases with thicker and darker strokes of colors. An aptly placed couch was an invitation to sit and think about this work.
Visitors were richly rewarded in the hallway, as they traveled between galleries. Here, two contributions from Christine stopped people in their tracks. “Untitled” was visually arresting: a framed painting contained staccato movements of pink, yellow, and black colors with a hint of glimmer. “Burgeon” was similarly composed. A soothing dialogue resulted between them.
The back gallery offered an amalgamation of abstract paintings by Ken, Christine, and Rebecca. Moreover, sprinkled throughout the show were pieces of Arthur’s furniture, including a bench and chest. Several pieces were intentionally abstract, Arthur said, and influenced by artists from the 1930s, such as Ben Nicholson and Louise Nevelson.
Arthur’s furniture served a crucial role by making abstract art relatable. Traditionally, people struggle with abstraction. It can be challenging to make sense of lines, drops, drips, or strokes of color on canvas. That said, mixing his furniture with abstract paintings created a home-like feel: visitors could picture living with abstract art.
The show’s abstract theme was helped by a plurality of voices. Individually, each artist conveyed their notion of abstraction differently, be it through color, medium, or scale, and thus gave visitors a breadth of interpretations of nonrepresentational artwork to consider. Collectively, however, they conveyed the power of abstraction: engaging the viewer to have their own personal experience.
The event was punctuated by two very talented guests who contributed their own art form to relate to the show: Amy Hogrefe of Maggie's Daughter catered the exhibition with inventive and delicious abstract artist-themed appetizers and desserts, while cellist Teddy Rankin-Parker graced attendees with a powerful and emotional performance. Clearly the hard work of all paid off as the show turned out over 100 guests during its five hour reception.
Amy Haddad is a writer at BigTime Software. She is also a freelance writer and blogger. Read her blog, Art Diversions, at artdiversions.com. And follow her on Twitter at @amymhaddad.