Two Pagosa artists in Farmington national show, Pagosa SUN, May 11, 2006

Photos (clockwise, left to right): Linda Echterhoff and her Honorable Mention ribbon next to “Seed Pod”; “Cherries Under Ice,” by Janet Collins, First Place; “Immigrant,” by Barbara Giorgio, Second Place; “Missed Fortune” by Veronica Day, Third Place; “The Passage,” by Gil Bruvel, Best of Show

Pagosa Springs artist Linda Echterhoff received an honorable mention in the “Gateway to Imagination” National Juried Art Competition at the Farmington Museum and Visitor’s Center at Gateway Park. The $50 award was for her mixed media work, “Seed Pod” an organic floral structure made of cardboard, fiber pulp and packing tape.

Juror Jill Chancey, curator of the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, Miss., said of Echterhoff’s sculpture: “I like this because it is a floral, but it’s scruffy. It’s sturdy, not delicate. I like the contrast between subject matter and material. It’s very clever.”

A Ph.D. candidate, the soon-to-be Dr. Chancey completed her dissertation on the abstract expressionist painter Elaine De Kooning. Her interest in abstract expressionism explains why Chancey selected another Pagosa Springs artist – Kathy Steventon. Steventon’s oil painting of a cow, “Standing Gaze,” was chosen for it’s strong, visceral texture and painterly technique. “How can you not love a picture of a cow?” Chancey said.

Surprisingly, Chancey chose few other works that could be considered abstract expressionism for the Gateway show. However, my personal favorites in this vein were both works by New York artist Ha Rhin Kim: “Rotte Tree 2005-11” and “Rotte Tree 2005-03.” These abstract figurative works are black and white with shades of gray; only the black is almost purple. The work is acrylic painted on white Mylar. The Mylar provides a vitreous quality to the opaque areas of paint, which contrasts with the crisp, fine lines of organic forms that look like the veins of leaves.

The Gateway to Imagination show is all over the place. It features traditional landscape painting, plein aire work in big gilded frames, contemporary painting, quite a bit of different photography, some digital prints, some bronze and ceramic sculpture, some pottery, a fiber quilted wall hanging, some metal art, a piece of silver jewelry and a lot of diverse painting from figurative, to abstract, from oil to pastel to acrylic and water media.

“Not everyone is going to agree with my choices,” Chancey said, but then added: “The prize winners are of such clear quality that anyone would have picked them.”

Quality? Yes. I’ll agree with her on that point. But as I walked around viewing the work, considering what Chancey told me about her selection process. I found myself disagreeing.

Chancey made 105 selections from 342 submissions based on her belief that a successful work of art has two components: an interesting idea and successful execution. She said she was looking for “aesthetic quality and some evidence that the artist was thinking about something when creating the art. Good art represents an aesthetic resolution.”

More than that, she deemed work to be most successful that expressed the idea of the past as part of one’s present identity, of ancestor’s traveling with us as we move forward. “The U.S. is a nation full of immigrants and their descendants; several artist refer explicitly to their immigrant heritage, while other draw on Native heritage,” Chancey wrote in her statement.
I agreed with her selection for Best of Show: “The Passage” by Gil Bruvel of Wimberley, Texas. Bruvel’s work is highly skilled. “The Passage” is a bronze sculpture of a female head representing the ocean and atop her head is a boat and in the boat is an armored man riding the waves. The patina is a gorgeous blue and the face is exquisite. This sculptor has not only mastered technique and aesthetic, but explores ideas and communicates those ideas to the viewer. As Chancey said of Bruvel’s work:

“He has such a unique vision. I’ve never seen anything like this and the execution is excellent.”

Bruvel’s other sculpture, “Mask of Whispers” is a stainless steel female head, bound with other faces cut out and protruding from windows in the forehead and cheek. Bruvel manages this without stimulating the grotesque. The female face is beautiful, but bound by susurration.

I also liked her first-place winner: “Cherries Under Ice” by Janet Collins, Sedona, Ariz. The detailed colored-pencil drawing looked more like a photograph or a pastel painting than colored pencil. And the light glinting off the melting ice, dripping off the cherry is very nice. But this was a straightforward drawing of cherries covered in ice. I didn’t see the artist pushing any boundaries or exploring any interesting ideas. It was simply masterful execution.

“Cherries Under Ice” did not fit in with her other top picks, which all expressed the idea that the past is always a part of one’s present identity.

Her second-place winner, “Immigrant,” by Barbara Giorgio, Selma, Ind., and her third-place winner, “Missed Fortune,” by Veronica Day, Morris, Conn. both explore this theme using photographic techniques. Giorgio’s work is a digital print while Day’s work is a palladium print.

I found myself drawn to diverse works. In color photography, I loved “Fish Wanting to Fly,” by Jefferey Jue, Oakland, Calif., a playful, yet thought provoking and brilliantly executed photograph. For movement and texture I liked “Annexation of Control” by Jennifer Peel, Tyler, Texas, graphite and latex paint on paper mounted on canvas. For whimsy, David Edgar’s “Bluetail Reef Cruiser” and “Goggle-Eyed Swallow Tail,” fish made from recycled plastic containers. I found myself transfixed by the aboriginal detail and maze-like paths in “Satellite 781,” an acrylic and ink composition by Julie King, Nacogdoches, Texas. And I kept coming back to “Unified Theory of Forces” by Nancy Pollock, Santa Fe, a layered canvas of oil paint with a tree in a box on the left side of the canvas and mathematical formulas peeking through layers of paint are.

The Gateway show is an interesting collection of work from 85 artists in 28 states. I suppose, given the name of the show, “Gateway to Imagination,” I was hoping for more works that challenged existing concepts and ideas, for works that pushed the boundaries. I think that is why I liked the work of Ha Rhin Kim – because I’m not exactly sure how the artist achieved the technique.

However, I felt Chancey’s focus on immigration, a hot political issue, influenced her choices more than the aesthetic resolution of the work. Perhaps immigration is on many artists’ minds, or perhaps in the difficult challenge of trying
to rank diverse works of art, she grabbed at a theme and used it to award prizes.

Gateway to Imagination is on display through July 15, at the Farmington Museum and Visitor’s Center at Gateway Park, 3041 East Main Street, Farmington, N.M. (505) 599-1174. Hours: are Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

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