Art Seen: Flowery felt

Clayton and Juanita Hillhouse have a joint exhibit going at the Kenai Fine Arts Center this month, showing concurrently as they have for many years now.

My first impression upon entering the gallery is that it is so crowded I am daunted by the task of taking it all in. I manage to look at each of the 46 pieces, as well as the 26 small “Pictures in Felt for Refrigerators” by Juanita. Clayton’s work is all digital photography; Juanita has chosen to mix in a few watercolors with her large offering of images in felt.

In her watercolors she seems to be going for a similar effect as she manages to get with most of her felt works — filling the space edge to edge. The approach is much more successful in the felt pieces, which on the whole seem to be better composed and have more natural rhythm. The wonderful texture of the felt material adds a sensual element that is quite unique.

“Basil,” labeled as sold, shows an uprooted plant floating in an organic box. The design is graphic and archetypal in its simplicity, and is rendered in muted, subtly varying hues.

Overall, her landscapes are more successful than her flowers, which tend to crowd into the frame. In “Autumn Color,” colorful, braided-looking trees reach to the sky through stratified layers of poofy felt, feeling somewhat akin to watching a sunny Tim Burton daydream evolve.

“Denise Lake in Winter,” a horizontal image similar to “Autumn Color” in its stratification and up-reaching trees, is much more somber and serene. It really evokes the feel of a quiet winter landscape, without being obvious or trite. I would love to see more of the landscape variety, but much larger, so I could really get lost in the cozy wonder of the luscious felt.

Clayton’s works are all photographs, and are united in an effort to describe Alaska flora with a whimsical, digital approach. Whether he simply allows the digital quality to be an element in the piece, or purposefully alters the image in Photoshop, his playfulness comes through.

Particularly pleasing are “Dandelion in Winter” and “Autumn,” which both feel like intimate portraits of the plants, and have similar extreme blurring in the dark background.

Once again, I feel the pieces crowd each other, and it takes effort to view every one. If I could jury this show, I would remove a third of it, and would find a complete exhibit remained, promoting the adage “quality over quantity.” I happen to know they were given less time than is customary for putting together an exhibit, and the KFAC space is a large one to fill. I applaud Clayton and Juanita for rising to the task.

Next month’s offering at the guild will be the Biennial Judged Exhibit. Any adult Kenai Peninsula residents are welcome to enter up to three original pieces between Feb. 26 and 28. All pieces ready to display will be exhibited, and there will be cash prizes for winning entries. The artist reception is planned for 6:30 p.m. March 6.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

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