On Friday, March 9, the Springfield Art Association, along with the SAA Collective in the Hoogland Center for the Arts, combined forces with independent artist group The Pharmacy Gallery & Art Space to participate in a “Passport Gallery Tour.” Each location had an opening scheduled for that evening, and visitors were encouraged to obtain a “passport” at whichever gallery they stopped at first. Art enthusiasts who had their passport stamped at all three locations not only got the chance to see the work of three groups of Springfield-based artists (and fill up on food and drink from three separate spreads) but also got a chance to win a drawing for artwork from one of the artists on exhibit.

click to enlarge “Family Talk” by David Brodsky, part of “Ambience” at SAA Collective.
“Family Talk” by David Brodsky, part of “Ambience” at SAA Collective.

“We were hoping that the merger of the Prairie Art Alliance and the Springfield Art Association in January 2016 [in which the former PAA essentially became the SAA Collective], would be a catalyst for the arts in Springfield to come together,” explained Corrin McWhirter, Collective gallery director. “I had a lunch meeting with Janet Sgro from The Pharmacy and proposed this idea as something we could potentially do. Everyone was very excited.” In the past it has not been uncommon for the different galleries in town to have openings on the same night, which often resulted in increased attendance. “Why not make it happen in an official, coordinated way?” asked McWhirter with a laugh.

Things kicked off at SAA Collective’s H.D. Smith Gallery, with “Ambience,” featuring photography by David Brodsky, paintings by John Hayes and ceramic pieces by Gary Beaumont, combining for a show that is both varied and cohesive. Brodsky’s contributions to “Ambience” are typically striking black-and-white street scenes, filled with anxiety, humor and stillness, depending on the image. “Ladder” shows the inside of a decaying church, giving the viewer an uncanny feeling of the previous activity in the abandoned, once-holy space. In contrast, “Family Talk” provides a wryly humorous, detached perspective on an elderly, bickering couple in a café. Hayes’ work in the show ranges from a pastel landscape completed 20 years ago, to oil and mixed media pieces completed earlier this month. “I’ve done a variety of imagery over the past 30 years, some of it representative and much of it just design and abstraction,” said Hayes. Beaumont’s work is also mixed media and very colorful, combining ceramics and painting, resulting in a variety of expressions, including otherworldly objects he refers to as “space platters,” which would not have been out of place in The Pharmacy’s show (more on that below).

Meanwhile, the M.G. Nelson Gallery at the Springfield Art Association’s main campus at 700 N. Fourth St. hosted a three-pronged show featuring work from the second batch of participants in the still-new Enos Park Residency for Visual Artists program, which provides long-term residencies for artists in all media. In contrast to the more community-focused and interactive work of the first two resident artists, all three current artists produce pieces suitable for gallery exhibits. “Back from the Dead / Hauntology” by Wisconsin’s Ginger Lukas is a collection of colorful ceramic sculptures, both archly witty and visually arresting, giving the viewer a sense of an archaeological dig from a dead society only fractionally removed from our own; Vermont-native Rob Thomson contributed a series of vibrant, evocative paintings under the title “Contempt for a Thin Fever,” which he described paradoxically as representing a “Hero’s-Journey-Away-and-Back-Home, only time is all at once, there is no hero, and there is no home.” More straightforward are the paintings in “Head like a Stone” by Romanian-born, Chicago-based artist Gene Tanta, including a few eccentric portrayals of cairns and “biographical self-portraits of that Romanian 8-year-old boy who knew he wanted to be an artist but couldn’t.”

“Cosmos” was the apt title of the group show at The Pharmacy Gallery and Art Space at 711 S. Fifth St., featuring a veritable galaxy of varied work from its energetic group members. Not all of the work related directly to the loose outer-space theme – although William Crook’s local street scenes are arguably a galaxy unto themselves, Diane DeLeonardo’s colorful clown faces, lizards and frogs have a distinctly alien feel to them and Patricia Myers’ tactile abstracts conjure up a palpable inner space. But work like Timothy Donavan Russell’s lunar-themed “Keith,” Jeff Williams’ various cartoonish-yet-menacing aliens and the otherworldly objects made by Vince Merriman, along with many others, allowed visitors a rare passport to intergalactic regions.

Scott Faingold can be reached at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.

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