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israel davis/katherine sullivan

Ceramics by Israel Davis and Paintings by Katherine Sullivan

January 9th-February 6th, 2004

De Pree Gallery

Opening Reception, Friday, January 9th, 5:00-7:00, with artists' talks at 5:30.

On Images and Objects.

Both Sullivan and Davis are true modern artists.  This is so not only because they are   working in the 21st century, but also because both of them think of images as objects. 

Prior to the modern period, artists conceived of the canvas or panel on which they were painting as a transparent window into another reality.  The viewer was intended to suspend disbelief by erasing the art object, and focusing attention on the distant reality that the artist had cunningly recreated.  Thus, the pre-modern viewer of art looked at images in much the way that we watch television.  That is, we ignore the television as an object and focus on the drama.  In pre-modern art, canvases, stretchers, frames, and panels disappear into insignificance in deference to the contrived world of the image.

For modern artists, artworks became art objects, whether they were images or not.  Modernist artists went to great pains to focus the viewer's attention on the artwork itself, rather than on another world beyond it.  Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) painted pure geometric patterns, and even developed a new form of frame to prevent the canvas being understood as a window.  Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) splattered and threw paint on his canvases to make viewers think about the paint hitting the surface in front of them, not about any image.  One of the most positive contributions of the 20th century is the evolution of the artwork into an object, not just a transparent screen.

We see this in Katherine Sullivan's paintings, especially in her choices of color.  Although her subject, the human figure, is ancient and academic, the startling combination of, say, vermilion and aqua turns the pieces into insistent objects in our environment.  This development came, for Sullivan, from exposure to Abstract Expressionist paintings by artists like Mark Rothko and Clifford Still.  Although she was not tempted to replace her figural themes with pure abstraction, she could not avoid the imposing presence of these mid-century works as objects.  So, she adopted expressive approaches to color.  Her paintings become a hybrid of a traditional figure studies, (images) and assertive objects in the viewer's environment.

Davis' work crosses more than one boundary.  To begin with, it blurs the distinction between decorative art and fine art.  The tradition of painted ceramics has a long and distinguished tradition, of which Davis is a 21st-century proponent.  The fact that the objects are not functional, and moreover hang on a gallery wall make them fine art objects, illustrating the inadequacy of the distinction in the first place. Davis also blurs the distinction between image and object.  These are images printed, not on traditional surfaces such as canvas or wood, but on clay; large slabs of clay.  These hefty pieces of earth, with the their rough edges and curved surfaces, remind us constantly that we are dealing with an object first, and an image second.  This physical presence makes them harder to ignore. 

We are presenting, then an exhibition of objects, not just images.  The visitor in the gallery will enjoy a true encounter with art objects, an experience not accessible through reproductions.

John Hanson

Israel Davis received his B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa.  Honors include the University of Iowa Fine Arts Council Grant and a scholarship from the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts.  He has exhibited in group and solo shows in Iowa, Virginia, Illinois, and North Carolina.  He has taught in Iowa City and in Chicago, and has now joined Hope's faculty as a visiting instructor.

Katherine Sullivan received her B.F.A. from the University of Michigan, and her M.F.A. from Boston Univeristy.  Among her many distinctions are the William J. Branstrom Prize for Academic Excellence (University of Michigan) and the Richard Ryan M.F.A. Award (Boston University)  She has exhibited widely in both group and solo shows in Michigan and Massachusetts.  After teaching in both Boston and Philadelphia, she joined the faculty of Hope College as Assistant Professor of Painting in Fall, 2003.

The De Pree Gallery is located in the De Pree Art Center at the corner of 12th Street and Columbia Avenue.  Regular Gallery hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 am until 5 pm, and Sunday from 1 until 5 pm.  The Gallery is handicapped accessible.  Admission is free.  For more information, call (616) 395-7500.