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Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 12:10 am

Artists in motion

A blurry group show in Springfield, a sharply focused photography exhibit in Jacksonville and a significant farewell

Work from “to Home” opening Friday at DEMO Project.
Last weekend, the Pharmacy Gallery and Art Space presented “Blur,” its most recent show featuring work by its member artists. Several of the items on display seemed to take the show’s title literally, including enlarged and deliberately smeared onstage portraits by Jeff Williams of Pittsburg-via-Springfield band Looming and striking work by Diane Schleyhahn in which faces seem to emerge uncannily out of visual obscurity. However, the dominant impression from the show is one of almost overwhelming variety, ranging from Wendy Allen’s dense multimedia cloth-and-bead textures to newest Pharmacy member Vince Merriman’s appealingly whimsical anti-utilitarian sculptures fashioned from found objects.

When viewed alongside the pieces by other Pharmacy artists working in more traditional forms – including William Crook Jr.’s loving pen-and-ink renderings of area locales (recently collected in his book, see p. 8), Janet Sgro’s ever-evolving approach to the colorful exploration of her spiritual and horticultural themes, and Patricia Myers’ pulsating and vital figure drawings – the experience of the show becomes a blur of alternately clashing and complimentary work from a crew of Springfield artists bursting with talent and creative zeal.

One of the Springfield area’s most gifted and impressive artists is Ukraine-born photographer David Brodsky, whose current solo exhibition, “Perceptions,” at Jacksonville’s David Strawn Gallery, is not to be missed. Brodsky’s quasi-street photography often manages to somehow feel both uncannily candid and perfectly composed, quite an achievement in itself.  This aesthetic mastery, combined with an innate sense of narrative (every picture quite literally tells a story, some funny, some eerie, some poignant, some all three) makes the treasure trove of images in “Perceptions” a joy to behold. The Strawn Gallery itself, an elegantly maintained multi-story house donated in 1915 to the Jacksonville Art Association for use as a gallery, is worth the drive for those who haven’t had the pleasure.

While venues like the Pharmacy and Strawn Gallery continue on, Springfield is poised to lose one of its most reliable sites for innovative art as DEMO Project prepares to host its final monthly exhibit’s opening reception this Friday evening. Founded in 2013 in a small bungalow on the campus of the Springfield Art Association, DEMO Project always existed on borrowed time – the SAA had earmarked the space on which it stands as the site for a new ceramics facility and agreed to allow its directors to use it as a gallery focused on contemporary art until the time came for it to be demolished. That time is now nigh, with the building slated to come down sometime in January. There will be a farewell exhibition/party announced shortly before the wrecking ball swings.

“When we started DEMO I had no idea what we were getting into,” said DEMO managing member Allison Lacher, who also manages the visual arts gallery at University of Illinois Springfield. “With shows turning over every four weeks, oftentimes artists would stay with me and my husband. I learned that to do something like DEMO you really have to live it.”

People’s eagerness to get involved was the thing that was most striking for managing DEMO member Jeff Robinson. “We’d approach sometimes even bigger name artists and tell them, hey, we’re this grassroots effort in Springfield, Illinois, and we don’t have any funding or any method to support you other than our own enthusiasm – and they were so eager to get involved and show their work and support the space.”

This Friday’s opening will feature two exhibits, “Outside Jokes,” a humorous show with work by 24 artists put together by Chicago-based Jesse Malmed, who prefers the title “MC” to that of the more stuffy “curator”; and “to Home,” a collaboration between Colorado’s Jade Hoyer and Tennessee’s Tatiana Potts.

“This is an ending,” said Lacher. “Right now we don’t have any plans to start a new space – it’s certainly not off the table. After a rest, which we all need, we may start a new project, but it won’t be DEMO, which is very specific to that space. It’s surpassed every expectation I could have ever imagined. But it’s time to say goodbye.”

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


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