By Natasha Ala, for the Redoubt Reporter
Creating art is a very personal and introspective process of exposing ideas about how one sees themselves and their place in the world. For an artist to take the next step and share this tactile manifestation of their ideas can be a gut-wrenchingly painful experience, leaving many artists feeling venerable, particularly to public scrutiny.
Yet 28 local artists — some emerging and others well established — braved baring their souls in the Kenai Peninsula Art Guild’s judged “Biennial Exhibit,” which is now showing at the Kenai Fine Arts Center.
Submissions for the “Biennial Exhibit” were judged by seasoned artists Marion Nelson and Becky Holloway. Nelson is an exhibiting encaustic artist who has practiced art her entire life.
“The creative process is endlessly fascinating to me, no matter the medium or discipline. I love artistic problem-solving, often giving myself assignments such as a limited color palette,” Nelson said.
Holloway is an accomplished potter.
“Using texture and exploring its interaction with slips and glaze has been a focus in my work. Recently, altering forms — changing them from the round, wheel-thrown shape — has become a new direction to explore,” Holloway said.
Nelson and Holloway studied all 28 entries and selected a handful for notable awards. Entries were divided into categories based on medium, including painting, watercolor, pastel, photography, graphite, clay, sculpture and fiber. One overall distinguishable award was given for best of show.
The best of show award went to James Adcox’s oil painting “Raven Man.” This is a stunning masterpiece that could be exhibited in any reputable gallery or museum around the world. Well composed and extremely well executed, the subject of the painting is mysterious and intriguing.
Adcox’s painting demonstrates an extremely advanced level of skill and craftsmanship. “Raven Man” is a portrait of a Native man wearing a raven mask who could be walking into, or out of, a corner. The imagery is very enigmatic, leaving the viewer to pondering the backstory leading up to a young man being in a corner wearing a mask.
According to Adcox, the painting was inspired by King Island dancers he observed while living in Nome. Adcox said that he incorporated a few modern items, such as Carhartt’s and a heat register, to give the painting a contemporary setting. Adcox used multiple light sources to cast shadows that give a Alfred Hitchcock dramatic effect.
Another stunning, award-winning piece is John Morton’s “Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing.” This ceramic sculpture was cast using authentic carcasses, Morton said. Morton made casts of different animal parts and then used a clay slip to bind the separate components together before firing them all as one unit. The figure resembles a decomposing sheep with prominent horns protruding from its skull; however the figure has paws like a canine, not hoofed like an ungulate.
The piece is unexpected and slightly morbid in a way that makes you want to keep looking.
On a lighter note is a quintessentially Kenai watercolor by Paul Tornow entitled “Hibernation.” It depicts fishing boats dry-docked for the season and is another well-executed composition that viewers will want to take home for their private collection. The artist may have personalized this piece further by detailing the names of the boats in the painting.
The elaborate framing of this watercolor becomes part of the artwork, which slightly competes with the painting for the viewer’s attention. “Hibernation” received the well-deserved title of first place in the watercolor category.
Congratulations to all the artists who bravely shared, with potentially fickle viewers, their perceptions of truth and beauty in the “Biennial Exhibit,” on display through the end of March.
Natasha Ala has a bachelor’s degree in art and serves on the board of the Kenai Peninsula Art Guild. Ala also is the executive director of a Kenai Peninsula nonprofit organization.