What connects the cacophony of a basement punk show with the solidity of geometric shapes? Or a young suburban woman with thick green clouds of smoke? Seductive pastel nudes with gold coins? Matt Maniscalco, Jennifer Cronin, and Ian Mitchell Wallace all manage to harmonize these seemingly disparate concepts in “Embody,” a display of contemporary figure painting at Black Cloud Gallery.
Upon arrival, a quick survey through the window promises a wide spectrum of technique and medium. The gallery’s door is held open by a rolled up pair of baby-sized pants, and, while not part of the show, it seems like a statement on the part of the gallery: all who enter are free to leave grown-up pretensions outside. The exhibit has as much room for whimsy as it does contemplation; at the opening, everyone was smiling and chattering like old friends.
Maniscalco, working in oils, combines the vibrating energy of punk shows with calm, unwavering geometric shapes and nature scenes. He works from photographs taken in the basement of his old house, where his friends’ band often practiced and local punk bands came together to host shows. He offsets these loud and shadowy images by positioning large, brightly colored shapes in their center. Some paintings include images of nature within the shapes, such as the rolling waves of Lake Michigan. “The act of balancing has always intrigued me,” his statement reads. He admits that much of the time he is “experimenting,” attempting to see whether he will eventually tip the scales.
Cronin uses oils to create dream-like pseudo-self portraits reminiscent of fantasy and science fiction movies. The woman in each painting seems to be searching for, or on the brink of discovering, something unknown; the artist’s statement describes it as “an intermingling of worry, mystery, wonder and fear all jumping up and over itself. Was it space? Was it beauty? Was it memory?” One painting shows a woman in profile who stands in jeans and socks in a sparsely furnished room; the entire scene glows pink as the open door she is facing emanates a pink and white light speckled with paint of like colors. In another, the same woman peers up into a closet that emanates an opaque green cloud. “I’ve always been very interested in psychology,” Jennifer says, elaborating that UofI at Champaign would not allow her to triple-major in painting, art education, and psychology as she’d wished.
Wallace’s nudes combine seduction and quirkiness, using watercolor and gold leaf to create mysterious and sensuous portraits with humorous titles like “Da Golden Pedestal.” The artist himself mans the DJ table; he is a small and unassuming blonde whose handle is “Posedown” (after the tie-breaking round of bodybuilding competitions in which contestants strike various poses to show off their muscles). His initial shyness contrasts sharply with the honesty and openness of his models. A recent graduate of Lawrence University, Ian tells me that five of the pieces in his collection were created for his senior exhibition. He explains that this collection juxtaposes gold and nudity to emphasize the alluring qualities of both wealth and sex. One piece, which his statement explains is modeled after Klimt’s “Danae,” recreates this gold-embellished oil painting with watercolor. Most of his collection depicts women, with only one male nude shown–a self-portrait, he informs me, to “make myself vulnerable.”
Dana and Lauren, two of the gallery’s co-owners, inform me that the director of the gallery, Clarke, cannot be in attendance because he is away in New York. But after about an hour, Clarke arrives. He explains that he and Dana opened the gallery after a bad experience buying a painting, hoping to create an atmosphere that would be comfortable for students and art collectors alike. Wallace’s willingness to make himself vulnerable, as well as the familiar interactions between patrons, artists, and owners, are testaments to the fact that they have succeeded in this goal. Grinning and chatting with artists and patrons, Clarke says: “I wouldn’t miss opening night.”
Black Cloud Gallery, 1909 South Halsted. AprilÂ 1-30; Friday April 13 6PM-10PM, Mondays 10AM-3PM, Wednesdays 11AM-6PM, or by appointment. Free.