By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter
I was immediately captured by the large painting on the back wall as I entered the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus recently. Judging from the flyer I thought the show might be comprised mostly of torn paper collages, and I was fretting about having very little to say in response. But to my delight, I was wowed in a way that only truly successful abstract work can nail me.
It was maybe not as earthshaking as when I met my first Picasso in person, almost 30 years ago in the Albright Knox museum in Buffalo, N.Y. In that scenario, I had been bemused by his work and had thought his contribution worthy, but I was not bowled over. When I saw the piece from across the long hall, I had no idea who the artist was, but my skin prickled with every step I took toward it. It was a very early piece, entirely abstract, and within it I felt a power I could not describe, and the moment somehow defines me, even today.
Jessie Hedden’s large abstract took my breath away a little, and I was pleasantly reminded of good experiences with Kandinsky’s work and especially with deKooning’s. Her pieces very much come from some of those places. Hedden’s work is not as wispy as Kandinsky’s could get, and not as “dirty” or “messy” as deKooning’s could be (my favorite attribute of his work — I can feel his struggle as he passionately wrestled with the paint). But it is solid and moving and well-enacted.
“Red Still Life” is lively, expressionistic and the composition is sturdy. “Mountain Study” is devoid of color but filled with imminent energy. “River Breaking” is mostly torn paper but has an edgy, earthy flavor, and “Shifting Ground,” a mixed-media piece like “Mountain Study” and “River Breaking,” is more like a flute solo than the jazzy chords made by the other mentioned works.
Occasionally, Hedden allows some “naturalism” to come to the forefront (although it seems funny to call it that, as all of these pieces feel “natural” to me), mostly in the form of mountain landscapes. “Tangerine Mountain” is perhaps the most literal, though “Angel Rocks” is the one that steals my heart. An acrylic painting in black and white and grays, Hedden reminds me of times I felt I was included in nature, not simply a spectator of it.
Other wonderful things to take in around town before the month is over include art from Sterling Elementary School students at the Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway, where Mrs. Brendtro’s first-graders created a gorgeous set of wall hangings using sea salt watercolors, Ms. Ussing’s fifth- and sixth-graders cleverly enhanced a guitar, and other students used copper sheeting, eggshells, paper and paint to make all sorts of beautiful works of art.
The colorful repetition as I looked around the coffee shop was delightful, and felt very much like the art displayed at the Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk done by 17-year-old Alyse Haynes, who has autism and clearly loves to draw, and draw, and draw some more. Kudos to the kids, and to those who encourage them! Nicely done.
Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.