By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter
In Lynda K. Smith’s artist statement, she talks of the extreme winters in more than 30 years of Alaska living forcing her, not only as an artist but as a person, to “strive, grow and finally bloom.” I took an art class with Smith probably 15 years ago, and I thought her work was pretty “blooming” good at that point, so it was really exciting to find a whole body of work displayed at the Kenai Fine Arts Center in Gallery One.
Her pieces are exhibited in conjunction with another whole body of work by craftsperson and educator Jenne Long, who has recently moved here from Seward. I have to admit the cluttered effect was startling in an exhibit space I know to be expansive and serene (and yet I must admit to filling that space in the past with a controlled chaos — an installation called “Inner Atmospheres: An Installation in Four Parts” that Theresa Napolitano and I repeated after exhibiting at the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College). It felt like the sales gallery had exploded into the main gallery, which was not at all the effect of the prior mentioned installation, but equally alarming.
Once I relaxed to the altered space, I found piece after piece of original and soulful works by Smith. Her most impressive pieces were framed, and the exhibit space has far too many windows and light sources to gather good shots of large images through glazing.
An apparently highly personal work (and my sense is that basically all of Smith’s work is highly personal) depicting a young boy in karate clothes valiantly fighting and then conquering a large dragon in a neatly combined triptych, shows both her advanced skill at rendering as well as her
search for meaning and playful use of materials. It always pleases me to see an artist with skills in representing naturalism (where the objects depicted really look correct) who obviously agrees that it is what you do with that skill —emotionally, intellectually, intuitively and with originality — that creates good art.
This can be seen in the portrait of another young boy, a pastel called “Really! Rethink That,” that is not only sublimely rendered, but touching and intriguing. In it, the dark-skinned boy in a mustard yellow shirt clutches loose cotton to his chest. He stares through the viewer with calm eyes and a steady gaze full of wisdom well beyond his years.
Equally strong and vibrant, “Transformational Journey Within” is filled with sensual female bodies and thoughtful faces that help to tell a story both individual and collective.
“Emotionally Lost and Alone” is a loosely depicted ocean scene with quiet strength and honesty. “Lotus Within” creates an allegory between the blooming flower and the living, breathing, sturdy mountains, and “Poppy World” is a gauzy paper collage with a few delightful surprises.
Those who like a more traditional slant to their paintings will find the oil painting
“Sage and Time” to be technically advanced as well as sweetly enacted. And although her pottery is not listed as being for sale (actually, it’s not tagged at all), there are a few pieces that are quite exquisite. And her fish table is not to be missed!
Long has a hanging chair that is made of knitting scraps that has tons of personality and plenty of allure. Her earrings are subtle and elemental, and a brown wool shawl that is delicate and quite refined is draped over a stand in the middle of the room and was almost missed by me.
If I could have juried this exhibit, those few pieces of really exceptional pottery, many
of Smith’s paintings and drawings, and Long’s large fiber works could have been displayed in a really striking manner, with each piece really being given its due and space to be presented. As it was, it was not a laborious trip at all, and I was pleased to discover so many little wonderful pieces of art.
Gallery Two had such interesting fiber work that I plan to talk about it, and the other pieces I discovered on a quilting-related gallery walk that will be ongoing until June 23, in my next column. The details regarding the quilts are as follows:
The Quilt Walk, part of Quilting on the Kenai, is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. It runs through June 23. Pick up a passport at any participating merchant. Each shop has a gorgeous quilt displayed and has donated a great prize with a value of $100 or more. Visit each merchant and have your passport stamped, then when it is completed turn it in at Robin Place Fabrics or Quilting on the Kenai prior to 4 p.m. June 23. The drawing for the prizes takes place at the Quilting on the Kenai Awards Ceremony at 4 p.m. June 23. Quilt Walk participating merchants are Trinity Greenhouse, Birchtree Gallery, Frames and Things, Donna’s Gifts, J&H Sewing and Vacuum, Tammy’s Flowers, Dragonfly Gallery, River City Books, Chez Moi, Northcountry Fair, Odie’s Deli and Robin Place Fabrics.
Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.