Catching up with WSG Gallery's "Blue," "Winter Show," and "Something About the Light" exhibits


Takeshi Takahara, Out of the Mud II

Takeshi Takahara, Out of the Mud II, multiple color intaglio and woodcut with mica printed on Japanese paper. From the WSG Gallery exhibition Something About the Light.

Since its launch in late May, WSG’s online gallery has hosted seven exhibits, six of which are technically “over."

But they are all still available for viewing on the online exhibitions information page, a benefit not available to latecomers to the gallery's offerings when it had a physical space at 306 S Main Street, which was shuttered in May 2020 when WSG lost its lease.

WSG Gallery's three most recent exhibits offer meditative spaces, addressing the color blue, winter, and light as themes. 

Blue, the exhibit featured from November to December 2020, presented works of 14 WSG Gallery Artists and is described on the website as ranging from:

... cool blues to warm blues, from blue-greens to ultramarines to ice blues to cerulean blues to night blues…. to blues of the stars to gray blues to blues of nature… to ocean blues to sky blues to blues inside and outside… to all the world’s blues… to the blues of the universe… to blues of joy to blues of loss. ... [E]ach artist uses blues in their own way to calm to seek to feel. ... Blue, beautiful as itself in abstraction, present over and on the Earth.

The color's calming presence is a clearly evident thread throughout the selected works, though approaches and subject matter vary widely. Barbara Brown's Blue No. 1 and  Blue No. 2 are multimedia works that combine elements of printmaking and book arts, and these two pieces employ pastel blues layered on top of neutral reds. Elizabeth Schwartz features three vibrant works that incorporate contrasting or complementary hues of red, yellow, orange, and green, all with varying abstract and formal approaches.

Elizabeth Schwartz, Red's Allure, No. 2

Elizabeth Schwartz, Red's Allure, No. 2, acrylic on canvas. From the WSG Gallery exhibition Blue.

Landscapes are a common subject Blue, represented in varying degrees of abstraction, seasons, and color palettes. Karin Wagner Coron’s serene landscape Blue Dawn, for example, introduces cool-toned blues and an abstracted forest scene. Sara Adlerstein Gonzalez’s oil pieces on masonite pair her observations as an aquatic ecologist with her art practice, creating dreamlike underwater scene-scapes. 

Nora Venturelli, also a lecturer at the University of Michigan, contributes a quiet yet dreary-blue landscape view of West Bay in Traverse City as well as one of her signature figural works, In Synch, No. 2, where a nude figure poses in a Muybridge-esque repetition, captured in shades of gray-blue. 

A consistent challenge with virtual exhibits is the imagination of size, or perhaps how the paintings or other media sit on their substrate. Michelle A. Hegyi’s works The Day’s Beginnings and The Shape of the Sky do not require any imagination as to their scale—they are digital pieces created with a virtual tablet and pen. (Though there's “a small limited edition” of archival pigment prints available, too.) Blue Bird Chain, a sculptural work by Valerie Mann, is a 3-D installation that's represented on the website by two photographs showing a wide-angle shot and a detail. Sculptural works are often assumed to be the most lost in translation when taken from a physical to a virtual space, but the photographs of Blue Bird Chain, with their inclusion of shadow detail, offer a close second to real-life viewing. 

WSG Gallery's annual Winter Show debuted virtually this year. While the exhibit officially ended on January 31, it's available online. While Winter features works by the 14 WSG artists seen in Blue, this exhibit veers away from the serenity and meditation of its predecessor and focuses on the bleak brutality of winter.

Adrienne Kaplan’s Road Kill series, in particular, comments on the disruption of perceived gentleness. Kaplan describes the works by saying, ”Struck by animal death on the roads of this gentle, peaceful college town.” Kaplan’s array recalls the Window Strikes Series by Valerie Mann in the Blue exhibit; both are odes to premature death caused by manmade obstructions to wildlife. But Mann’s sculptural contribution here, Birds Wearing the Clothing of Women Known and Unknown, offers a lighter alternative to the beautifully foreboding Blue Bird Chain from the previous exhibition.

Not all is bleak in Winter Show though as shown through the bright weavings by Cathryn Amidei, who bases these vibrant compositions on previous drawings made with oil pastels on paper. In Bright Flower, an abstract composition hints at botanical life while exploring the space of the loom through texture and movement. 

Connie Cronewett, White Small Barn

Connie Cronewett, White Small Barn, pastel painting. From the WSG Gallery exhibition Winter Show.

Connie Cronewett’s pastel paintings offer two approaches to depicting a winter day. First, White Small Barn appears as a ghostly apparition, almost floating in the picture plane, creating a sense of foreboding loneliness and dark, sunless days. But Barn with Tree Shadows shows a white outbuilding on a clear winter day, which offers an antidote to the dreariness of winter.

Sometimes there is beauty to be found on a clear, bright, sunny winter day. Other times, it is best to imagine a warmer day, as depicted in Nora Venturelli’s Choppy Waters. Karin Wagner Coron includes a piece from her Woods Series, depicting the bare trees of winter with bright, lively oil pastels, and Finding Emerald Bay, with yellow branches signaling future life. Michelle A. Hegyi also seems to combat the winter blues with bright, vibrant yellows contrasting with subdued pastels. 

The current iteration of WSG’s online exhibition series, Something About the Light, opened February 2 and officially runs through the end of the month, followed by the March show Silence and Breezes. Of course, both exhibits will remain online past their closing dates. For Something About the Light, WSG’s 14 artists come together again with a new selection of works centered on the idea expressed in the exhibition's title.

The first work shown chronologically in the virtual gallery is Takeshi Takahara's Out of the Mud II, a “multiple color intaglio and woodcut with mica printed on Japanese paper.” Takahara’s print illustrates the form of a lily pad contrasting against a drab backdrop, with two smaller green forms in the foreground—suggesting, optimistically, life coming toward the light out of the muddy earth. In his work Out of the Mud XIII, the lily appears again as a small detail amidst a landscape of abstracted earth, sky, and water. 

Lynda Cole, Lancaster Sound - Sphinx III

Lynda Cole, Lancaster Sound - Sphinx III, photograph, pigment ink on rag paper, 10”h x 21”w print size. From the WSG Gallery exhibition Something About the Light. 

While Takahara’s works explore life and light springing from the earth, Lynda Cole’s painting Aurora Borealis explores her experience in Arctic Canada. The dark backdrop is layered with lighter hues and tinted whites, creating an experience that might seem less colorful than the iconic Aurora Borealis suggested by classic computer screen backgrounds. Cole’s photograph Lancaster Sound - Sphinx III depicts an austere scene in Arctic Canada, its limited color palette reminiscent of Cole’s painting above it. 

Francesc Burgos is a multimedia artist working in sculpture and functional ceramics, installation, painting, photography, digital artwork, and graphics. In previous exhibits Blue and Winter, Burgos contributed sculpture, jewelry, and one digital painting, 4. Variation in Blue. In a continuation of his color series composed of digital paintings, which look as if they could have been created with pastels, Borgos includes the warm, earth-toned piece 46. Gray, Yellow, Green. Its composition seemingly references dappled light on a bright, sunny day. In another digital painting, 47. Black, Blue, Yellow, a similar effect is achieved, perhaps depicting light piercing through a dark evening with a deep blue-black backdrop.

In the Winter exhibition, Ted Ramsay contributed two references to classical sculpture and style, with both a 3-D circular fiberglass relief sculpture and a study of an unnamed museum piece in carbon and white pencil. Ramsay’s choices for Something About the Light include one of his Visual Symphony paintings, Visual Symphony Mendelssohn | Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 "Italian”—two of which we saw in Blue—and the figurative work Model with Cell Phone. Ramsay’s Visual Symphony paintings nod to abstract expressionism and the process of creation, while his figurative paintings contain elements of abstraction, pattern, and dramatic light sources, in keeping with the theme of the exhibit.

While WSG Galley's main space for exhibitions now is online, it has also partnered with the Ann Arbor Art Center, which is hosting Something About the Light through February 27 in its upstairs gallery for those adventurous enough to view the art in person.

Elizabeth Smith is an AADL staff member and is interested in art history and visual culture.