Since its percussive opening on April 14, artist and teacher Mathias “Spider” Schergen has showcased his work at the Beverly Arts Center in a show entitled “Neo-NaÃ¯ve.” a reference to the “naÃ¯ve,” seemingly untrained style the Chicago native works in.
Describing the naming of the exhibition, Schergen (or “Mr. Spider,” as his students at the Edward Jenner Academy of the Arts address him), says that “it is an attempt to acknowledge the aesthetic link my work has to naÃ¯ve art without it being that kind of art…. Even after getting my BFA at the School of the Art Institute, my work remained true to the aesthetic I developed as a child.”
That childlike aesthetic is evident in many of Schergen’s mixed-media works, which are constructed from found objects like doorknobs and wires. On opening night, percussion echoed through the halls of the gallery, animating pieces like “The Ant,” which seemed as though it was dancing to the music, or crawling up the wall. Characteristic of Shergen’s work, the mixed-media piece was constructed from thick, black plastic found under the hood of a car, with tiny stones lining the exoskeleton.
“Most of what I make comes from stuff I find in curbs, alleys, railroad yards, and anywhere else I walk,” says Schergen. “Some materials are purchased in thrift stores and junk shops. The basic materials, such as stones, sand, glue, plywood, staples, and such are purchased at Home Depot.”
A piece called “Ron’s Flea Market Box” elicited further explanation from Mr. Spider. The viewer can see a rusted spring, the faceplate of a doorknob (sans knob), and an electrical wire dangling in limbo. But this appears to be just the top layer of Ron’s box.Â “Due to their compositional proximity to one another, the materials in ‘Ron’s Flea Market Box’ have some dependency on one another. They are a random assortment of objects that came together as the piece was assembled. The piece itself is a tribute to my best friend, Ron, who passed away a couple years ago. He and I were avid flea marketers for many years. Ron tended to purchase collectible objects while I tended to collect what I could from the ground and dumpsters on the outskirts of the flea market. We often joked about our divergent ‘junk’ collecting tendencies.”
“To me,” Schergen says, “the piece somehow glorifies the objects it is made from. It represents the kind of ‘junk’ you might find in a box under a flea market table with a sign ‘everything 10 cents.’ Yet the border is made from upholstery fabrics that have a classy look to them. The piece reminded me of a reliquary of some sort, a place where these objects are remembered for their usefulness, even if they are useless in their current state.”
So how does a full-time teacher, who has been recognized by the Golden Apple Foundation for outstanding teaching, have time for creativity outside of class? “I have a disciplined studio practice that requires me to make art for at least one hour per day.Â On weekends, days off, and school breaks I sometimes work 4-8 [hours] in the studio. When my mind is not focused on other things I often think about my projects and what I will do when I return to the studio. Making art is a way to decompress and clear my head. It is also an activity that allows me to think about the events of the day and find solutions to the challenges I am facing as a teacher. When I am making art, I do not think linearly; my mind works differently. I choose to make art instead of other activities. I don’t watch TV, I don’t use the computer unless it’s necessary for specific types of communication, I’m not a big reader, and I’m a bit of a loner when it comes to socializing and hanging-out. The amount of time some people put toward these activities is redirected in my life toward art making.”
Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St. Through May 6. Monday-Friday, 9am-9pm; Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 1pm-6pm. Free. Hours subject to change. (773)445-3838. beverlyartcenter.org