Almost every artist inevitably uses his or her medium to consider the unknown, to achieve a sharper grasp on the nature of being. Whether it’s a greater understanding of self, society or sublime, the road taken by the artist to achieve understanding is the greater understanding in and of itself. In keeping with the sense of yearning for knowledge through creativity, Art in Bloom Gallery’s latest exhibit, “Pathways to Understanding,” features a range of paintings by Joanne Geisel and new pottery work of Brian Evans. Each piece on display represents the footsteps in each artist’s enlightenment, with every brushstroke and thrown pot.
Both artists found themselves in North Carolina after honing their respective skills in college; Geisel hails from New York and Evans, from Pennsylvania. Fostered by the coastal environment, both artists’ creativity surged. Each took up art as a full-time gig, whether actively creating or teaching their crafts. In keeping with the theme of “Pathways to Understanding,” Geisel and Evans focused on the ways their art led them to purpose. Wilmington’s coastal setting helps their various inspirations. In particular, Geisel explores the nature of humanity by painting realistic and immaterial vantages.
“These paintings are pathways to understanding our purpose in the universe to the source—God, or whatever you want to call it,” she explains. “Just recently I completed the series about man’s relationship to the universe. The paintings begin with lines and shapes, and then colors are added. All elements have meaning. You can see by the titles ‘Evolution of Man,’ ‘The Big Bang,’ and ‘Choices of the Cosmos.’”
Geisel’s paintings display a particularly adept hand, equally competent in the realms of realism and abstraction. Her landscapes range from bold, impasto brushwork, to evoke heavy waves crashing along the coast, to carefully controlled applications of tones and shadows that breathe life into a marsh at sunset. Colors range from subdued grey shades to luscious blues and vivid yellows of sun-scorched Cape Fear as the sun sets behind it.
But landscapes aren’t the only sights to behold. The exhibition marks the first showing of Geisel’s abstract work. Her reliance on color places her abstracts slightly more toward color-field than abstract-expressionist; still, her work remains unique in scope. Square canvases are coated entirely with fragmented planes of flat colors, and integrate with one another in fractured shapes that eschew representation and focus on interactions between symbolically-charged colors. The chance to fully imbue her work with symbolism is what led Geisel to take up abstract painting despite her love for landscapes.
“It’s because of the message I wanted to portray,” she offers. “There’s more symbolism in in the lines, shapes and colors. Gold represents God, green represents plants and animals, and violet represents mankind. The shapes and colors all have meaning.”
Geisel’s attention to color becomes clear when many of the same hues in her landscapes are on heightened display in her abstracts. Suddenly, interactions between colors take on a whole new meaning—violet shows up as subtle shadows in her rivers and skies and again in her abstract representations of mankind fractured within (and sometimes fracturing) its color-field surroundings.
Geisel’s notion of color theory, as well as range of painting techniques, comes from her training in art education—a specialty before she dedicated herself to painting. she continues to teach painting as a faculty member at Cameron Art Museum, and through occasional workshops at Hannah Block Community Center and Leland Cultural Arts Center. She adores plein-air painting—unsurprising, given the vivacity of her landscape paintings. Aside from its air of freshness, values within the discipline challenge her.
“It’s always fresh and new because everything changes,” Geisel exclaims. “The light and colors change as you’re standing out there. You only have two hours because, after things start changing too much, you work small and fast. The work that one does outside helps you in your studio work, and vice-versa. When you work in the studio, you have more time to contemplate, experiment with colors, and layering of colors. But outside it’s really more immediate. You have to act quickly, plan quickly, and get your values right.”
On the more tactile side of “Pathways to Understanding” are Evans’ ceramic vases and bowls. Anyone acquainted with Art in Bloom’s past exhibitions should be no stranger to Evans’ stoneware. He’s known for unique glazes often mimicking familiar coastal sights of salt-encrusted surfaces and natural seaglass. However, his new work plays equally new tricks on the eyes, with vases that seem impossibly made. At certain angles there appears to be cubist paintings of vases rather than anything explicitly tangible. It is most notable in a series of bisected vases that seem to be sliced cleanly apart, with each section slowly sliding away from the other. Other vessels appear as a conglomerate of disassociated organic forms, with cellular gaping holes perforating clay textures that fold in upon each other. They seem simultaneously seamless and distinctly take shape as a vase only in afterthought. Perhaps questioning the nature of reality, as well as art’s place in reality, is another pathway to understanding in this exhibit.
Don’t miss the show at Art in Bloom Gallery, which hosts a closing reception during Fourth Friday Gallery Walk on June 22. Among festivities will be a raffle for one of Geisel’s paintings, with proceeds going to New Hanover High School’s band program, to help kids who cannot afford to participate in music.