us being u.s.
June 2nd through July 29th
Opening/Artist Talk: June 2nd 6-9pm
Artists: Wendy Chidester, Ben Steele, and Kimberly Witham
We Americans have a long-held devotion to our “things,” those objects with which we surround ourselves, populating our cocktail tables, curio cabinets, and bookshelves. We dust them, reposition them, we show them off to visitors. They recall our special occasions, travels, and milestones. Our “things” are three dimensional portraiture. Through the lens of representational art, us being u.s. explores our relationship with “things.” Simple objects, portrayed in a realistic manner, appear to be nothing more than what we see, which is actually a good thing, because, in this way, representational art offers us a common language. When viewing the work of artists Ben Steele, Kimberly Witham, and Wendy Chidester, we will all agree upon what the eye beholds: a box of crayons, a cluster of grapes, a fan, a toy car, etc. From there, however, this art provokes a more probing conversation. Do these images offer a sense of security in a time of uncertainty? Are they part of a common currency used to reconnect with those around us? Can this visual language facilitate our understanding of the past, present, and a complex future?
Not many artists can compress multiple periods of art history into a single work with the skill of painter Ben Steele. Steele’s remarkable ability to reproduce styles ranging from Grant Wood to Gerhard Richter, Georges Seurat to Pablo Picasso, enables him to create impressive homages to history’s most venerated artists. Steele’s “American Crayons” rewards the viewer with a conte “drawing” of American Gothic on the front of a crayon box, set against a Grant Wood 1930s-era landscape, a fastidious combination of American Regionalism and Pop Art. Steele responds to Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans with a photorealistic version, based on Millenium Park’s Cloudgate, titled “Park and Bean.” Ben Steele’s collection in us being u.s. was inspired by the city of Chicago, and identifies Steele as an artistic chameleon. It is tempting to pigeonhole him as one thing or another, but his multifaceted ability defies labeling. One thing is certain, however, Steele’s work appeals to our sense of self-reverence. Everyone wants to feel that they are making a contribution, that they are a part of something unique and important. During the 2016 presidential campaign, we were made to realize how vital this component of identity is. When it is absent from our personal or professional life, we often look to our civic membership: Our Cubs finally won the World Series; Our Bean is one of the most popular public art works; We sent a president to the White House. In Steele’s work, we are cast with the likes of Picasso, Warhol, and Seurat, and we shine in response. Steele makes art of who we are, and we swell with satisfaction in knowing we are worthy. Ben Steele is a Washington state native; he relocated to Helper, Utah, to work with recognized artists David Dornan and Paul Davis, where they have developed an artists’ outpost of immensely talented people. Steele’s work is represented in galleries from California, to New Mexico, to Massachusetts.
4839 N Damen Ave Chicago, IL, USA
4839 N Damen Ave Chicago, IL, USA2
Artwork by Benn Steele
US BEING US EXHIBITION
When Kimberly Witham produces a Vanitas photo image, replete with over-ripened produce and taxidermied roadkill, its lushness and precision lend it the peculiar fascination of a Frans Snyders’ still life with dead game and produce. National Geographic says “The photos she takes…look so quaint that you might not even realize that those peaceful-looking animals in the center are dead.” Her meticulous choreography of each grape and vine, the gentle placement of taxidermied animals, reveal her reverence for the natural world. Witham’s work addresses the inherent tension between humans and those natural “things” they wish to control and possess, like a dog toted inside a designer handbag, appealing to our desire to bestow affection upon another living thing, while having it literally fit into our perfectly manicured aesthetic. Because animals, plants, fruits, vegetables—the stuff of her work—are all perishable, we cannot avoid pondering our own mortality when viewing her tabletop arrangements, which uniformly objectify animal, vegetable, and mineral. Remind me, again, who placed us at the top of the hierarchy? To view Witham’s work is to also acknowledge her mastery of the photographic form. The quality of her images are startling in their clarity. She has a painter’s eye for texture and color, and she often stages her still vignettes on absolute black or absolute white, which focuses our attention, and pulls the scenes from their 16th century origins into the now. Kimberly Witham earned her BA from Duke and her MFA from UMASS-Dartmouth; she has been featured in publications, including National Geographic Online, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wired.com; she has earned numerous awards, recognitions, and fellowships; Witham has an extensive exhibition record around the country; her work also graces the cover of several books
Artwork by Kimberly Witham
In her oil portraits of ordinary objects, Wendy Chidester presents an antique typewriter with the quiet beauty of a Rembrandt self-portrait. Chidester’s chosen objects, many of them culled from our collective past, hold for us a memory of yesterday which we rightly romanticize. An antique typewriter was the mechanical equivalent of an iPad when introduced by Sholes & Glidden in 1874. To view Chidester’s “Underwood Standard” is to recall the pre-Apple era when there was no doubt that we were more intelligent than the tools we used, enabling us to take pride in both mastery and machine. Her toy car, “Nellybelle,” painted in shiny red, white, and blue oils, stands out against a jet black ground, reminding us of the physical exertion required to propel the car, and the imagination we exercised to create a narrative for our journey; no assistance from X-Box or video games, which now offer a virtual driving experience more vivid than most peoples’ real lives. With those memories, comes the knowledge of the inevitable obsolescence of the things we cherish. The notion of progress imbedded in Chidester’s work requires that we retain these precious objects in memory only--a painted rendering--for they must be replaced by the next iteration of themselves. And, only in discarding them, can we remain contemporary in the true sense of the word. So too, the challenge of creating these objects in a manner that suggests timelessness. From a distance, Chidester fools the eye into believing it sees photorealism, only to reveal, up close, visible brush strokes and a sparseness of paint that has been scraped, chipped and rubbed to convey age. Chidester engages the immaculate style of Northern European still life painters of 1600-1800. However, she aligns with the modernists in never allowing the viewer to forget that her work is but the interpretation of an object, by a painter, whose viewpoint is unique to each creation. Chidester’s work has yielded a long list of private commissions; she has also garnered numerous awards; her work can be found in prominent galleries around the U.S.; she is frequently featured in American Art Collector Magazine.
Artwork by Wendy Chidester