Self portrait oil paintings
Best in Show "Self-Portrait" (oil on linen, 48 x 53 in.) by Maria Huang

A partnership with the Aristides Atelier at Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, Washington, will bring realist paintings to Maryhill Museum of Art through July 18, 2021. The works will be on view in the museum’s M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust Education Center.

“Searching for Beauty: Artist Views through the Lens of 2020/2021” features work reflecting each artist’s personal experiences during the pandemic. While the 40 paintings on view are realist works, on close inspection, viewers will find layers of meaning and mood as expressed through subject matter, brushwork, and color.

Artist’s Statements

Shown at top: “Reflections of 2020” (oil on board, 18 x 24 in.) by Danika Wright

To say 2020 has been a challenging year would be an understatement. It has been a year filled with mixed emotions, new and unresolved challenges. I’m sure like most people, my thoughts have been occupied by the pandemic, concern for family and friends, the much needed BLM movement, sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the effects and ever pressing deadline of global warming.

My heart breaks when I hear how these issues have and continue to turn peoples lives upside down. The pandemic has touched all of us, either through the death of a loved one or friend, illness or loneliness. In my neighborhood, more and more tent cities appear, revealing how the pandemic has left so many homeless. The boarded up windows of downtown Seattle echo the fight against an injustice that has been going on for decades.

And amid all of this, the abundant wildfires, dying coral reefs, and increasing extinction rate reminds us of the urgent actions needed to avoid more climate catastrophes. With these things at the forefront of my mind, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disheartened. However, this feeling is eased when I see the individuals and communities coming together to stand up and give a powerful voice to these issues. People taking action to remind us all how precious life and our planet is. It’s these people who inspire me and give me hope for our future.

***

Contemporary realism paintings
“Split Screen” (oil on panel, 26 x 32 in.) by Juliette Aristides

“Split Screen” (oil on panel, 26 x 32 in.) by Juliette Aristides

This is a painting of my studio window at Gage Academy of Art, where I have spent so many hours and years of my life. At the start of the pandemic we sheltered in place while schools, churches, and museums sat empty. Eventually I went back to school to paint in the building – alone.

At first it was eerie and disturbing but I was grateful to leave my house and have somewhere to go. I was disciplined about painting and the routine helped me through the summer. This studio is about one mile from the location of the CHAZ, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. It felt like being in the eye of a storm.

***

Best in Show (shown at top)
“Self-Portrait” (oil on linen, 48 x 53 in.) by Maria Huang

Working during the pandemic took on a claustrophobic feel for me. I felt as though all day, everyday, all I did was read news, look, listen to the news on the radio, draw, watch my children, be a mother, partner…and think. Think of hope, think of doom, think of a world spinning fast out of control, and into great and amazing change…I hope, I hope.

Yet, I am in my head all day long trying to capture this moment in paint, learning, seeing, hoping. My studio space is tight and I felt like all my books, implements, paint, brushes were calling to me with their information, ideas, and potential. All the things do, while time stands seemingly still, yet moving faster than light. I felt like I couldn’t move fast enough as the atmosphere was/is so thick. I am hoping I can catch all these feelings in this portrait: in the paint, the real and the unreal, the light and shadow, the thoughts of looking…at me …looking at me and seeing me.

***

Oil painting of American flag
“United We Stand” (oil on linen, 24 x 36 in.) by Leslie Kiesler

First Place
“United We Stand” (oil on linen, 24 x 36 in.) by Leslie Kiesler

The last year tore through the world like a monster leaving devastation and upheaval in its wake. Being asked to meditate on the year 2020 and create something that represents my own experience was challenging to say the least.

It was a year that felt as though I was sitting on the sidelines in lockdown watching the world wail through a collective trauma. Yet at home, in America, we fought more than just a virus. 2020 was a year marred by sickness and death, racism, gun violence, white supremacy, obstructive political division, nationalistic terrorism, and more. Lives are changed forever, many are gone.

The flag represents more than freedom to so many Americans. It is such a beloved symbol that some are reviled at its defacement. Our family waved it proudly outside our home as I was growing up. This was a symbol of freedom and opportunity and unity and so the past year decided in me to challenge that image.

The famous phrase, “United we stand, divided we fall”, also drove me to this controversial picture. We are a nation divided and we are failing each other more each day, to the point of death. Our flag is a symbol, a representation of the United States of America, yet we are not united. The very fabric of what makes us call ourselves Americans is unraveling and continues to do so.

My intention for this image is to serve as a reminder that unless we stop sowing division and come together, the stained, unraveling threads will soon be pulled to pieces. I want this symbol to become whole and bright again, but that can only be done together. The hope of a greater future exists as long as we stand united. The flag still holds together and can be mended as can our hearts and relationships.

***

Contemporary realism still life painting
“Fade to Black” (oil on linen, 24 x 36 in.) by John Rizzoto

Second Place
“Fade to Black” (oil on linen, 24 x 36 in.) by John Rizzoto

The year 2020 tipped the scales of endurance for everyone I know. Brazen displays of sanctioned hate, unfathomably corrupt and deceitful politics, profound racial injustice, and a global pandemic all bearing down on us at once put a dent in the spirits of even my most optimistic friends.

Underlying this and making all other concerns inconsequential by comparison, is climate change and our planet’s now irreversible spiral downward. Daily we add species, grand and small, to the extinction list.

“Fade To Black” gives visual voice to one aspect of the climate change crisis, ocean acidification. Well underway now, acidification is causing a net decrease in the amount of carbonate ions available in ocean waters, making it more difficult for marine calcifying organisms to form biogenic calcium carbonate, or CaCO3.

These marine organisms include anything that builds a shell; all mollusk (seashells), shrimps, corals, crabs, lobsters and perhaps most important, krill, the basis of the oceanic food chain. I have spent my entire life in close proximity to the ocean, walking the line between the sea and shore. The thought of future generations beach combing for beautiful bits of wave-washed plastic and urban waste seems like an unsatisfying comparison to the world of wonder contained in a pocket full of shells.

***

Artwork and paintings of 2020/2021
“Alison” (oil on linen, 19 x 23 in.) by Will Dargie

Third Place
“Alison” (oil on linen, 19 x 23 in.) by Will Dargie

Alison, my mother, died on September 7, 2020. She did not die of Covid, but Covid was nevertheless responsible. When the pandemic came, it took from my mother her friends and community and her joy of life. She was alone and isolated. She would not eat. She was afraid to go out, to get food, to go to the doctor.

Determined to fight, she went into denial. She ignored the symptoms of oncoming cancer because she could not separate her physical pain from her emotional one. By the time she finally agreed to go to the doctor it was too late and she died, in hospice, soon thereafter. Other than myself, visitors were not permitted. It’s customary to say she was at peace, but she wasn’t.

***

Contemporary realism figurative art
“Self-Portrait Contemplating Infinity” (oil on linen, 24 x 32 in.) by Josh Langstaff

Curator of Education’s Choice
“Self-Portrait Contemplating Infinity” (oil on linen, 24 x 32 in.) by Josh Langstaff

The pandemic forced me into a lot of introspection. My mind turned to thoughts of mortality and the cycle of life and death. One thought I kept coming back to was the concept of infinity. Since the only model I could work with was myself, I decided to do a self-portrait on the theme. In the portrait I hold a painting of myself that is the same image as the overall portrait. Theoretically, it repeats itself infinitely within the portrait. The background further explores the concept with the infinite expanse of the cosmos. Though the pandemic seems interminable, in the grand scheme it is but a blip on the infinite cosmic scale.

***

Artwork and paintings of 2020/2021
“Reflections of 2020” (oil on board, 18 x 24 in.) by Danika Wright

Terri Jordan, Curator of the Customs House Museum in Clarksville, Tennessee, juried the exhibition and selected several works for special recognition.

“With each of these pieces I could see what the artist was portraying even before reading their statements,” says Jordan. “While different, these works all had a strong sense of composition and form.”

Visitors to the museum will be invited to select their own favorite painting for the People’s Choice Award.

At a Glance:
“Searching for Beauty: Artist Views through the Lens of 2020/2021”
Maryhill Museum of Art
Through July 18, 2021
marhillmuseum.org


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