Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Familiar Images

I always find it intriguing when artists take on plants and animals as their subject matter. Such imagery may seem benign initially, but on so many levels they are chock full of history and symbolism.

Do all artists think of the Garden of Eden or fertility when they paint a scene of flowers? Does a depiction a horse or bear always call to mind the countless cultures that have painted them for thousands of years? Probably not. But for me, these histories become part of the subjects’ contexts.

This month, two separate shows in two different galleries take on these themes.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens presents paintings featuring flowers and other botanical imagery in Five Painters in the Gardens. The five local artists—C.K. Chang, Bonnie Johnson, Donna Miller, David Scheifel and Mary Diman—all have a penchant for color and nature, as well as painting in the realist tradition. They met up more than two decades ago and have exhibited together for the past six years. Yet each shares his or her own impression of flowers, through individual uses of color, medium and style.

The show begins June 8 and continues through September 21. It’s open on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

At Artisan Gallery in Paoli, a group show called Contemporary Animal Imagery tackles animal subject matter in surprising, beautiful, fun and extremely varied ways. It’s an exhibition of paintings, sculpture, photography and ceramics, but all of the fifteen-plus artists involved explore animal imagery as used in contemporary art.

There’s Randy Richmond’s collection of digital prints combining animals and manmade objects: a swan on a seesaw, a cow approaching a piano; both in moody, almost eerie nighttime settings. Or Audrey Christie’s vibrantly hued hand-colored woodcut of a rooster. Both of those are stark contrasts to Laura Zindel’s ceramic bottles, upon which she presents scientifically precise depictions of snakes, insects and spiders. The show offers so many thought-provoking ways of looking at beings we see almost daily.

The exhibition runs June 27 to August 3, and hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Artwork top to bottom is by Mary Diman, Donna Miller, Randy Richmond and Laura Zindel. 

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

Sheryl Crow makes a stop in Madison tonight at the Alliant Energy Center as part of her summer Detours tour, while Ingrid Michaelson plays the Barrymore on Saturday. Also that night, The Kissers offer their final show at the High Noon Saloon.

And festival season is in full swing this weekend, starting with the Isthmus Jazz Festival running Thursday through Sunday at the Memorial Union Terrace. There you can enjoy a century’s worth of jazz styles.

Saturday brings the Clean Lakes Festival at Olin Turville Park, as well as Folk on State, the annual folk music concert series held Saturday afternoons on State Street. And Parade of Homes offers its yearly showcase Saturday through June 22 in four Madison-area neighborhoods.

Also on Saturday, American Players Theatre in Spring Green kicks off its outdoor theater season with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which runs through October 5.

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