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Tag Archives: galleries

22 Jul 2020

Videos and process behind the artmaking for “It Hits Home”

By Christine A. Holtz and Jessica Witte

In March 2020, this New York Times headline grabbed readers’ attention: ‘I Feel Like I Have Five Jobs’: Moms Navigate the Pandemic. Simultaneously, artists Jessica Witte and Christine A. Holtz were responding to these exact same sentiments through artmaking.

Prior to the pandemic, the two artists were scheduled to hang their show centered around caregiving and parenthood at the end of May. As everything began to shut down, Jessica and Christine were given the option to reschedule for the following year or follow through with their show as the first physical show scheduled since the shutdowns occurred. The second of these two options would pose several unknown challenges for public viewing and the logistics of creating a collaborative show while social distancing. Both mentally and physically exhausted from homeschooling their children and working remotely from home, the artists had to make a decision. Christine called Jessica that evening and said, “I think we should do it. When has our subject matter of caregiving and parenthood been more amplified than in this current situation?” Both of them decided to sleep on it and make their decision the next day. Ultimately the two friends motivated each other to take on the unknown along with making new works, and the exhibition “It Hits Home” was born.

Artist Christine A. Holtz shares her creative process making new artworks for “It Hits Home”

I make all my artwork in my living room — which transforms into a studio once everyone else is in bed. When the pandemic started, I began furiously jotting down inspiration and conceptual ideas in my notebook/sketchbook. My emotions about the pandemic needed an outlet. My dining room table, now a schoolhouse and home office, caused stress just looking at it. To add insult to injury, I would step on Legos at the base of our stairs almost daily (which inspired “One Step from (in)Sanity”).  A huge part of my artistic practice is a reflection of the absurdities endured during my everyday life. The pandemic provided an abundance of absurdities. In the evenings, my husband and I would work out in our living room after the kids were in bed as a way to relieve stress. We often elbowed or kicked each other due to lack of space, but it made us laugh. It helped us stay connected. Exhausted and feeling defeated from the day, my living room transformed from family space to workout room to studio, where working on art provided me with a release for my flood of emotions.

Covid-19 Work Blazer” is a work uniform for the pandemic. The blazer has three sets of sleeves to show the extra arms needed to take on the additional job of homeschooling while also transitioning my job of teaching to a remote format. I plan to wear it this fall while teaching on campus.

two girls kneel inside a canoe made of bed sheets that looks like a face mask
Daughters of artist Christine Holtz sit inside “Up a Creek Without a Paddle”

Up a Creek Without A Paddle” filled up my entire living room floor during construction. It is made from an old set of bed sheets out of necessity and to symbolize the home. Due to tight quarters and the size of the piece, I had to actually sit on the floor and move my sewing machine instead of the fabric to make each of the seams. I needed to make this boat. I needed to do whatever it took to keep my family safe. I know it is absurd — so is the situation. It is also a very raw display of how helpless the pandemic has made me feel.

More people being confined to the domestic environment due to the stay-at-home orders has amplified the uneven division of labor in the home. I wanted to follow through with this exhibition in hopes that the work would resonate with more people right now. I can’t help but wonder if our show would have been received the same way without a pandemic.

Artist Jessica Witte shares her creative process making new artworks for “It Hits Home”

As soon as we made our decision and connected again to talk strategy, Christine shared her idea for a huge mask/boat titled “Up a Creek Without a Paddle.” Her idea was inspiring and could be an anchor for the show’s new direction. Christine added, “I know it will be hard, but I think we will both feel better if we can process this while it is happening.”

With the baseline anxiety of everyone being so high, I definitely felt the stress on my students, myself, and my family. I began hard training again with running to exhaust myself physically as well as emotionally and help me sleep. Even though I have resources and support, every so often the stress of the situation would leak out and emotions would run high at home. “Smoke and Mirrors: everything is fine” captured those moments when small accumulations of stress exploded into outbursts. To create these little bombs, I inserted wicks into wool and laundry lint felt balls. Stabbing the felting needle repeatedly to form the ball and seeing the works take shape was cathartic, (Christine was right, again).

Witte: Thinking of the viewer at the window

Many people would see the show from the windows on Grand Boulevard, so how could we arrange “It Hits Home” to make the artwork most visible from the street? We placed Christine’s embroidery artworks close to the windows so her intricately detailed drawings would not be lost. “Up a Creek Without a Paddle” and her “Covid-19 Work Blazer” were timely, personal, and still humorous so they were close to the title and window. My new artworks needed to attract the eye with contrast and size but be light enough to be handled by myself alone (due to social distancing during install). Once I had spatial parameters in place, I could start sketching ideas.

What did I most want to say about the pandemic? I worried about my Grandma Rose isolated in her nursing home and my sister-in-law undergoing radiation therapy being at high risk for the disease. Encouraging others to realize how their behavior affects some of the most vulnerable (and to see their value) was my aim for the floor works in “It Hits Home.”

I decided to convey the bright, sunny colorful spirit of Grandma Rose — and make her comfortable and safe during this health crisis. I brought out her pile of quilts to inspire me. How could I also convey her vulnerability? Grandma Rose could have visitors through the glass of the lobby but was too fragile to have close contact in the same room. A drawing on the floor would be similar — easily destroyed by a misstep in the room, but safe when viewed from the window. How could I make the patterns as bright as the colorful quilts and clothes my grandma made for my children? Drawing in sidewalk chalk with my kids between teaching, furiously cleaning, and home-schooling helped answer the question.

Witte: Selecting and learning a new medium

I made lap-blanket-sized powdered chalk drawings into bold quilt patterns. The chalk came in vibrant colors and with the thick application could catch a viewer’s eye from the street. I had a tight timeline to learn how to use this new material, as my previous floor drawings were in seed, with a limited color range. I tested various chalk brands and how to grind and apply a consistent dusting. I made small laminated paper and foam-core templates to quickly stencil and layer the colors.

I dedicated “Targeted Treatment” to my sister-in-law Lori and her fight with breast cancer. I interviewed friends and family who had battled cancer about symbols that best represent their treatment. Caretakers and patients mentioned a new sense of time after a cancer diagnosis. The pattern has seven columns and four rows like a calendar page. A ring of cancer-awareness ribbons surrounds crosshairs in each block. Bullseye targets are peppered throughout the “calendar page” of the pattern to make one think about being an easy mark for the virus.

You Are My Sunshine” is patterned in bold blue and yellow sunburst shapes centered around archery target centers. I left every other square bare except for the center target highlighting the isolation of the residents of nursing homes.

Please wear a mask in public, reach out to your neighbors and loved ones, work out, get sunshine every day, and be kind.

Related: “It Hits Home” virtual exhibition

01 Aug 2019
close-up of textile pieces arranged on the floor of The Gallery at The Kranzberg

As four striking exhibits recently proved, visual art can be both deeply personal and challenge viewers’ perceptions.

By Melissa Meinzer

Even during the most challenging times, art has a way of speaking to our society, of reflecting a certain resilience of the human spirit. To embody that spirit, The Gallery at The Kranzberg is hosting a year-long, five-part series on chaos.

The gallery’s first exhibition of the year, The Riot Show, explored historical and contemporary Civil Rights struggles. The theme’s long been a focus for artist Michael Faris, whose collage-like images were paired with the poems of Unique Hughley, a spoken word artist from Kansas City.

three black frames hanging on a wall for "The Riot Show" at The Gallery at The Kranzberg
works from “The Riot Show” by Michael Faris and Unique Hughley at The Gallery at The Kranzberg

“My childhood in the 1960s was filled with images of Civil Rights workers being beaten by cops, bitten by dogs, and sprayed with pressure hoses,” says Faris, an assistant professor of art education at Northwest Missouri State University. “Then Ferguson happened, and it occurred to me that things might not have changed.”

Faris worked closely with Director of Galleries Diana Hansen and other employees to create a show that spoke to both the past and present.

“There are many curators who will not show my work,” he says. “Censorship is based on fear and chauvinism. Consider a world without The Kranzberg. Imagine a place with only oppressors and cowards. There are places like that, but we need to keep our space free.”

This spring, artists Saj Issa and Kiki Salem addressed another form of chaos with their exhibition Back Home in Our New Home (pictured above). Using traditional tapestries and ceramic dinnerware, the first-generation Palestinian-Americans explored the human cost of struggle in their homeland. “We didn’t withhold presenting any vulnerable details about our third-culture identity as Palestinian-Americans,” says Issa. “The Kranzberg was so kind and generous to allow us to be as provocative in our own creative ways.”

Issa was pleasantly surprised by the community’s warm response, including from a local doctor who dedicates his summers to improving medical facilities in the West Bank. “It was so wonderful for someone to take the time and effort to reach out to me,” she says.

a woman standing against a textured background wearing a crown of flowers
work from “Astigmatism” by Victoria Donaldson at The Dark Room

Artists often challenge viewers to see the world in a new light—literally. Take, for instance, two recent exhibits at The Dark Room, inside the historic Grandel Theatre.

Victoria Donaldson is the co-founder of Sonic Arts United, a nonprofit that addresses issues of gender and race inclusion through education, technology, and the arts. This spring, though, she displayed her own art in her first photography exhibit, a process that she describes as nerve-racking.

“A lot of my photography is very intimate portraits—and when I say intimate, I mean not just in the sense of closeness of the person or figure that’s in it. I mean the subject matter as well,” she says. The strikingly personal photographs included Donaldson’s friends and family, as well as her colleagues in the music industry and people she’s met while traveling.

Even the show’s name, Astigmatism, was personal. “Even though I’m a photographer, I have astigmatism,” she says. “Sometimes my shots come out clear or they don’t come out clear or they have something that isn’t quite right about them. Astigmatism is so common.”

Photography exhibition at The Dark Room
works from “I am there” by Orlando Thompson at The Dark Room

“Photography is kind of a spiritual practice for me,” she adds. “This is what I see—this is literally my eye and my vision of who I am.”

For Orlando Thompson, photography is also deeply personal. His exhibit last December, “I am there,” incorporated large-scale prints of photographs from his travels. “Traveling is interesting to me because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but it’s not something that always felt available to me,” he says. “In some ways, having black skin sort of bars you from these places—not physically, but in my mind I sort of bar myself from some places. There are all of these places that are shown in the images, and it’s like I’m not supposed to be there, but I’m clearly there.” Thompson’s 35-mm, half-frame cameras mean every photo is a diptych, with two images in every frame, creating haunting, wry, beautiful juxtapositions.

“You don’t always know what you’re going to get until you lay them down,” he says, “but there’s a story in all of them.”

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