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A Silent Guide: Works from the River North Openings

Yolanda Green

“That’s interesting,” a woman standing next to me said to her friend. We were at one of the many gallery openings that took place last Friday, staring at two sculptures. “It’s funny that your eye is drawn to this sculpture while I’m more fascinated by this sculpture over here.”

For art lovers, one of the fun aspects of going to gallery openings is having those interesting conversations about the pieces that grab our attention. Sometimes you can just walk into a gallery, scan the area, and one piece just jumps out, grabs you, and lures you in. It might be that one painting all the way in the back of the gallery. On Friday, there were quite a few works that did that for me and as I observed them, I began to wonder what techniques made those pieces stand out from all the others. Of course, I couldn’t just settle for “because it’s pretty.”

I imagine each artist is, on some level, very aware of the audience that views their work. That isn’t to say that they always “cater” to an audience in the way that some film makers or theater producers do. Rather, they understand what catches the eye and what aesthetics draw people in. This was applied to all of the artwork I saw on Friday, ranging throughout many genres. Sometimes it only takes a glance, a second, for something grab a viewer’s attention. In the following pieces from a few River North galleries, the artists were successfully able to guide the viewer through different aspects of the work almost in an instant, mainly by the use of color and form. This enables us as viewers to feel certain tensions within the piece – the very thing that grabs us when we see the piece from across the room.

Leeah Joo

“Old and Blue” – Leeah Joo at the Andrew Bae Gallery
The first thing a viewer sees is the curtains and of course, the curtains are beautifully and realistically painted. With the white and blue patterning that appears on both the curtains and the cup, the eye simultaneously is guided towards the center and downwards. Another fascinating thing about this painting is the fact that the patterns on the curtains are parallel and seem to point in opposite directions. This makes the gap in the middle that much more disrupting. I suppose it would have a much different effect if the pattern went in a vertical direction instead of horizontal.

Now that the eye has been guided to the center by the white and blue, usually the viewer would feel that the artist is trying to lead them into looking outside of the window. The artist takes advantage of an assumed perspective that viewers often have – being an outsider that is looking into a piece of work. But once the viewer sees the hands above the tea cup, this assumed perspective makes a dramatic shift. In an instant, the viewer is no longer removed from the painting, but a part of it, simply realizing that the woman in the reflection has the same perspective as the viewer. The small darkness in the gap of the painting placed against the light color of the curtains and the arrangement of the blue and white patterns achieves this very quick, but effective process that moves the eye when this painting is seen a gallery.

When I finally looked at the title, “Old and Blue,” I began to unpack meaning. It’s very sad that the woman in the window is the last thing the viewer notices, the colorful curtains and patterns hide her within the darkness. When the viewer sees her, it’s only then that they realize that they are observing from the woman’s point a view and that they are not an outsider. If we are not outsiders to the world of this woman, why is it that she is the last thing we see? The guided scan of many aspects of the painting made the emotions of the work resonate even more. I was more aware of the journey that the painting provides. It is less of a stagnant image and more of an image that moves and the viewer moves with it.

Trevor Bell

“Anther” – Trevor Bell at Lydon Contemporary
There is a certain aesthetic that goes along with abstract art and even though my eye isn’t drawn to abstract paintings, this piece by Bell caught my attention. The way this painting hung on the wall, bold and bright compared to the other paintings in the gallery, lured me in. However, the dark colors seem disrupt the light, almost ripping through the painting. Something about that disruption made this painting beautifully uneasy to observe.

Once I took a closer look, I recognized more clearly that the colors weren’t uniform.
However, every color is working together in this piece. The dark becomes darker as the eye moves to the left and light becomes lighter as your eye moves to the right. Also, below the line of darkness, all the colors are lightly intertwined, which is why everything seems so disruptive. The dark colors cause a change in the painting.

This painting isn’t just a splash of vibrant color, but it captures the attention with eye-popping yellow and gold, forces your eye to travel with the gradually changing hues all around the painting, and invites you to wonder about how these colors work together. Some how, the colors seem extremely solid, bright, bold, and completely separated. But what creates that uneasy disruption of colors is the fact that everything blends together. The yellow hue blends into a darker orange, and then into the darker greens and blues towards the bottom of the painting. There is a light green that touches the yellow. It morphs from dark blue and purple into black. It almost functions as a playful wheel of primary colors, creating an illusion from far away and guiding the viewer in for a closer look.

Mira Maylor

“Cover 2” – Mira Maylor at Habatat Gallery
Because of the unique dark atmosphere of this venue, the color of Maylor’s piece really stood out. The artist uses geometric shapes along with color in order to guide the viewer’s eye. For instance, the sculpture is tall and elongated. A good portion of the sculpture is a deep, rich red and framed in a long rectangular shape. The darkness of the gallery works to the advantage of the piece since such a rich red against black helps to grab attention. However, even with out the dark lighting, the piece is framed on the sides with black.

Inside that black frame, the eye first sees the red rectangle. This rectangle contains a triangle, semi-completed by the arms of the figure. The peek of the triangle contains a circle – the head of the figure. Like a road map, the shapes drew my attention to certain aspects of the sculpture, step by step. While I observed the sculpture, I began to see only the color pattern – black, red, white. Dark to lighter to lightest.

Since my eye was eventually drawn to the face, I saw that the wrinkles in the curtains were exaggerated. What kind of curtains were these? They seemed to drape and wrinkle so effortlessly around the sculpted body. Then I realized that these wrinkles match that of the skin. This led me to believe that this work could be a commentary on body image. Even though the woman’s body is covered and her face is somewhat hidden by her hands, the very imperfections that she seems ashamed of are still out in the open. The colors and form bring this interpretation to life, guiding me through the different details of the pieces just in one glance.

After noticing these things about many pieces from the River North galleries, I began to appreciate the skill and beauty of art even more. There is undoubtedly a universal language that can be achieved with something as simple as color and an unspoken conversation between an artist and a viewer that occurs when every piece of work is observed.