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Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 12:09 am

Arts weekend in Springfield

A piece from Tom Burtonwood’s “Opposites Attract,” currently on view at DEMO Project.


This past weekend saw four separate, unique art events happening in Springfield at four different venues, each with its own flavor and focus, featuring artists working in multiple media, from this region and from elsewhere, some professional, others therapeutic.

On Friday, the SAA Visual Art Center’s M.G. Nelson Family Gallery hosted “Morphology,” a collection of three-dimensional works created by acclaimed Girard-based artist Benjamin Lowder. Specializing in refashioning remnants of abandoned wooden structures and metallic signage into playful but structurally formidable objects, Lowder has gained renown in the larger world of art outside of the region, with some of his work currently on display at a Los Angeles gallery having garnered notice from the Huffington Post.

The material in “Morphology” – which ranges from an evocation of Miles Davis to free-standing postmodern totem poles to a depiction of Adam and Eve being tempted by Apple technology – will remain on display through Nov. 25 in the M.G. Nelson Family Gallery and Lowder will be presenting an artist talk at the SAA main campus on Thursday, Nov. 16.

Also on Friday, the nearby DEMO Project continued winding down its four-year existence (the gallery’s long-mandated demolition to make room for new SAA facilities is scheduled for early 2018) with a three-artist extravaganza. The work of Tom Burtonwood – born in England and currently based in Chicago – took up residence in the front gallery in the form of an exhibition entitled “Opposites Attract.” The work was made specifically for this showing, consisting of  what a press release for the show described as “sculpture and installation working directly from 3D scans of the DEMO Project house and other architectural source material,” meaning that the work was based on the structure in which it was being displayed.

The limited (not to say cramped) space of DEMO’s smaller, rear gallery was well-utilized by Thad Kellstadt’s paintings which make up his “The Land and People” exhibit. Kellstadt’s vibrantly colorful work is often painted directly on discarded wood, with a decidedly sunny pop-art energy and indeed, the Milwaukee-based artist has described his process as “a cross between playing with building blocks and fitting together a puzzle.” As a bonus for visitors to Friday’s show, an outside wall of DEMO was being used to project Wisconsin artist Jesse McLean’s video, “Climbing,” a hypnotic and clever piece that combined landscape photography with personal computer iconography.

Across town at the SAA Collective’s H.D. Smith Gallery, located inside the Hoogland Center for the Arts, presented a very different show. “Opening Minds Through Art” displayed the results of a 10-week course offered to “people with memory problems and their caregivers.” The program was put together by SAA in conjunction with SIU School of Medicine’s center for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. “Opening Minds Through Art” began at Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University, which describes it as an “art program for people with dementia that is aimed at promoting their social engagement, autonomy and dignity through the experience of creative self-expression.” While in the case of work like this, the process is certainly more important than the results, the work on the walls at the gallery was colorful and enjoyable to look at and the atmosphere among the visitors and artists was joyful and upbeat, with live folk music to match.

The following evening, the Pharmacy Gallery and Art Space hosted the second in a series of interactive multimedia events dubbed “Musical Chairs.” Not a typical concert, the program consisted of four different performers in various genres – including Pharmacy-member and long-time NIL8 frontman Jeff Williams – switching off playing brief sets while visitors were encouraged to draw the proceedings using easels and materials set up by the organizers.

These four very different shows prove once again that Springfield has a vibrant, varied and active arts community, should anyone want to experience such things.

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


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