Art Seen: ‘Up and Coming’ — Developing local artists hone skills, perspectives

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

“Filling” by Claire Rowley is on display along with work by Ben Hastins and Joel Isaak at the  Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center through Feb. 15.

“Filling” by Claire Rowley is on display along with work by Ben Hastins and Joel Isaak at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center through Feb. 15.

I was given the opportunity to present an exhibit of my own choosing recently at the  Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, and was thrilled to invite three young artists who I’ve been watching for some time now. These three, Claire Rowley, Ben Hastings and Joel Isaak, stand out as artists who are producing consistently, exploring their respective mediums bravely, and presenting work that is able to really speak to others, both aesthetically and conceptually.

In “The Russians,” Claire Rowley has drawn and watercolored on vellum sandwiched with Plexiglas so that the effect has depth and added structure. Four male figures smile out at us or look on with a sort of happy indifference. The stenciling behind calls forth the feeling of both old wallpaper and jungle forests.

She has repeated some motifs in her “tribe” imagery — the folded arms and cozy groupings of its members giving a very intimate sense of the subjects while also suggesting the universality of the groups that define us.

In “Filling,” the subject appears to be the artist herself, holding her hands out both receptively and in a gesture that reads as “it is what it is.” In the background we see writing that declares, “That which fills your heart, fills your life,” and the subject’s heart is in fact in the very center of the frame, causing us to get only a glimpse of her neck and chin, rather than her whole portrait.

When I told Hastings that I was interested in including his work in this show, he brought by a whole body of work

An original illustration by Ben Hastings.

An original illustration by Ben Hastings.

that he was in the middle of producing — small watercolor illustrations for a book his brother was creating. They were intriguing and quite appealing.

It was his perceptive acrylic landscape paintings that had originally caught my eye, and he has offered a number of these for exhibition in this current show, but none of the illustrations he had first shown me. Instead, he headed to Fairbanks to intensively create a whole body of work inspired by the Book of Genesis. These are a series of 22 intricate and gorgeous renderings that show that his impetus was much more than simple aesthetics, and obviously portrays a subject dear to his heart. These have been especially popular so far, and all but four of these ink drawings have sold, as have a few other works in the larger exhibit.

Joel Isaak seems to want to mimic nature, as well, but in an entirely different way. His clay pieces look entirely like

“K’eljeshen (Dancer)” by Joel Isaak.

“K’eljeshen (Dancer)” by Joel Isaak.

leather, skin or fish, or great suns as in “K’eljeshen (Dancer)” which hangs in suspension like our own spectacular orb. His fish-skin bags or baskets feel inspired, authentic and almost holy, as well as entirely practical for carrying various items. They also hang in suspension, gently swaying at the slightest air movements.

Probably my favorite of Isaak’s pieces (and perhaps of the entire show) is “Pain Without Love,” a cast bronze sculpture of modeled backbone vertebrae. There is a wonderful balance of patina with the glowing brass hues, as well as with the rough and highly textured areas with smooth and shiny ones. It is as if the story of a being could be told by just a few critical body bones, and the piece feels ancient and raw.

Isaak will often place his art pieces on top of his busy wood stove for long periods, allowing them the alchemical space to become fuller versions of themselves, which I find to be an apt metaphor for life, really. It is generally easy to spot those people who are willing to give the time for refinement — a refinement that often comes from both extreme and difficult conditions and a patience that includes an acceptance of the way things are.

The exhibit, “Up and Coming,” will be up until Feb. 15.

Zirrus VanDevere is the exhibits and cultural coordinator at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

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