The Tory Folliard Gallery’s current exhibit, Nature Morte: An Exhibition of Contemporary Still Life, is a modern look at the genre of still life, from glass sculptures and stoneware carvings to surrealistic oil and vividly-colored, Impressionistic acrylic paintings.
On display through September 7, the exhibit showcases works in different media by more than 30 artists, many of them Wisconsin-based: Mary Bero, Chris Berti, Craig Blietz, TD Brenner, Derrick Buisch, Robert Cocke, Marion Coffey, Laura Dronzek, Beth Edwards, Andy Fletcher, Ron Isaacs, Beth Lipman, Dylan Martinez, Lon Michels, Mark Mulhern, Katie Musolff, Dennis Nechvatal, Michael Noland, Todd Olson, Melanie Parke, Guzzo Pinc, Jeremy Popelka, Bill Reid, Jeffrey Ripple, Jim Rose, Jan Serr, George Shipperley, T.L. Solien, Fred Stonehouse, Paula Swaydan Grebel, Stephanie Trenchard, Mary Alice Wimmer, John Wilde, and Janica Yoder.
Still life is one of the oldest art forms, dating to Greek and Roman times. Western Renaissance artists, among them Netherlandish painter Bruegel the Elder and Italian painter Caravaggio, helped popularize the genre, which became extremely popular, especially among art collectors.
“Still life painting has incredible staying power as a genre in art. The idea that we should reflect on the transience and ultimate vanity of existence has a particularly modern, even existential appeal,” Stonehouse is quoted as saying.
Many may consider still life to be paintings of fruit bowls and flower vases. But while some contemporary artists employ traditional themes and styles in their works, still life as a genre goes far beyond that. Nature Morte features works in diverse media, such as oil and acrylic, blown glass, repurposed steel, birch plywood, silverpoint drawings, carved limestone and sand castings.
Although many Nature Morte subjects portrayed are inanimate objects—Wimmer’s “Remains III (Skull), a silverpoint drawing of an animal skull, Andy Fletcher’s “Beers of My Fathers,” (an oil-on canvas painting of vintage beer cans) and Jim Rose’s patchwork-like steel cabinet, for examples–the exhibit bursts with life, evidencing that still life as a genre is anything but static and boring.
Artists such as Melanie Parke, Mark Mulhern and T.L. Solien incorporate breathtaking colors in their paintings of flower vases, household items and geometric objects. Solien’s eye-catching “Theorem: Liar’s Paradox,” a vibrant medley of fruits, household objects, and shadows in a style reminiscent of graphic arts, hangs on the wall behind the gallery’s reception desk.
Fred Stonehouse and Robert Cocke’s surrealistic paintings (especially Stonehouse’s crying vegetables) add a dreamlike fantasy element to the exhibit. Jeremy Popelka and Dylan Martinez’s exquisite glass pieces highlight the artists’ incredible skill and patience with such a volatile medium. Popelka’s purple floral piece is lovely, and Martinez’s works depicting plastic bags filled with water are amazingly realistic. Stephanie Trenchard’s “Nature Morte Sur Les Tetes,” which appears to be paper cutouts of upper torsos of 1920s figures encased in sand-cast glass, and Chris Berti’s stone-carved vegetables are exciting departures from the traditional portraiture genre. Rose’s steel cabinets demonstrate the artist’s resourcefulness and ingenuity in creating objects out of discarded items.
Still life was once unfairly regarded as a “lower” art form among critics. Tory Folliard’s delightful, richly complex exhibit proves that this is certainly no longer the case.