4 up-and-coming artists to watch in 2016 

Young artists to watch in 2016 from the Dirty Fingernails Exhibition at Indy Indie

click to enlarge Taylor Dickens with For the Bell Commands it (to left)
  • Taylor Dickens with For the Bell Commands it (to left)

I couldn't have picked a better place to go than Indy Indie's Dirty Fingernails show on New Year's Eve.

The guiding principal of this exhibit seemed to be a lack of one. Indeed the show seemed to be comprised of whatever curator Aaron Booe, with help from gallery director Bobbie Zaphirou, could fit in the Indy Indie gallery space.

Or as Booe explains, "I love the clash of different styles and opposing ideas of what art is and to me the show is like one gigantic sculptural collage."

I found work by Herron students, faculty, professional artists and by artists just starting out. Four of them caught my attention, not because of their elevation above the rest of the show necessarily, but because it's more than likely that you haven't heard of them yet.

Not that some of the 68 Dirty Fingernails artists aren't well-known, at least in Indy circles. Others hold teaching positions at Herron and IU-affiliated schools, but might not be familiar to local art patrons. And then there are students (and former students) from Herron.

Let's start by talking about one who just graduated.

click to enlarge Danielle Pugel at AMACO
  • Danielle Pugel at AMACO

I first encountered Danielle Pugel's work at the College Invitational Exhibition at the Indianapolis Art Center in December, 2014. Pugel — who graduated Herron in 2014 with a BFA in sculpture and ceramics — won the Best in Show award in that exhibition for "Encounter," a mixed media work that took the form of a rabbit-like being that appears to have leapt out of a Japanese manga comic strip with its birdlike purple feathers and antennae.

Her work in Dirty Fingernails consists of three ceramic balloon-shaped pieces that refer to her dreamlife.

"In dreams, whatever building you're in, that's you," says Pugel, about the meaning of these works that have designs painted into their surfaces depicting houses and ladders.

But Pugel doesn't just use her ceramics skills to express her inner life these days. Her skills pay the rent. She's the social media coordinator for the massive American Art and Clay Company (AMACO) complex on Indy's west side. Pugel's position allows her to take advantage of free AMACO materials (while at work in free studio space), when not answering questions online or otherwise engaged in customer service.

One of her former professors, Lesley Baker, associate professor of ceramics at Herron, also has work in Dirty Fingernails.

Her "Oh, Suburbia" seems at first to be just a decorative plate, the kind you might find in the collectibles shelf at your local Goodwill. (She used a recycled plate to create this particular "rework," as she calls it). First thing you'll notice is a depiction of a house and a spacious suburban yard on the surface of the plate. But then you see the huge monster's foot in the yard, one that might represent the manifold fears of any 21st Century home dweller.

You may have seen Baker's enlarged digital print "Secret Sub" that was placed on a billboard during the kickoff 2013-2014 round of the Arts Council of Indianapolis's High Art Billboard project. And you might've also seen her work in group exhibitions around town — at the Tiny Show at Gallery 924 for example: But because Baker hasn't had much in the way of solo exhibitions in the Circle City (not counting Herron exhibits), she's an artist that you might not know much about.

But you should. Her work encompasses not just ceramics but mixed media, like "Bull in a China Shop" which was made mostly from wooden shipping pallets. Representing a bull, and addressing issues of both art and commerce, this sculpture was part of the 2012 Turf exhibit. It was a sculpture that seemed aware of the fact that China is the world's largest exporter of manufactured goods, goods that travel on shipping pallets.

As it happens, Baker got to witness Chinese methods of ceramics production in her residency at the Pottery Workshop, in Jingdezhen, China in 2014.

It's possible to discover new creative pathways not just by being a student, but by teaching. Such is the case of Rachel Bleil, adjunct professor at Herron, whose distinctive "Teddymorph" stoneware sculptures combine teddy bear imagery with themes of yearning and spirituality.

click to enlarge Portrait Bear by Rachel Bleil
  • Portrait Bear by Rachel Bleil

Bleil, like Baker, has been a part of group shows in Indy, but she hasn't had any solo shows in Indianapolis outside Herron.

Baker, who had a chance to see Bleil teaching students at Herron, noticed an evolution in her work — an evolution that occurred while she was teaching a wheel-turning class.

"Her demonstration actually ended up coming in and changing how she worked because she wasn't working that way," says Baker. "It allowed her to find a new way of expressing everything."

Taylor Dickens' way of expressing himself seems to involve throwing everything under the sun into his printmaking work. In one such mixed media work on paper on display at Dirty Fingernails (an untitled work), Dickens uses mezzotint to portray a human face in grayscale, Xerox transfer to depict three men being hanged, and silkscreen to depict three bonfires. It's clear that some kind of struggle is going on here, one involving aspects of spirituality, in a work that seems torn from some illuminated manuscript.

Dickens, a native Texan and now a junior at Herron, says of this work, "My influences would be my own gender identity, my sexuality, and my own familial experiences and how they all correlate."

And there is more great art to talk about in this exhibit, of course. In this exhibit with its exuberant embrace of having no guiding principles, however, it was necessary to limit the discussion to four of them.

But maybe, just maybe, there are some guiding principles in there somewhere.

"With Dirty Fingernails I seek out artists for the show by going to studios, art schools, galleries, anywhere there is art," explains Booe. "In that way I enjoy going to the artists directly in person and meeting them and talking with them about their work. All of the time and effort that I put into the show is out of love for the artists. Everything else is secondary to the artists because without exciting new art the show won't be able to continue on. In the end if I was to try to constrain the show to a particular idea, theme, or taste it would keep the show from growing."

Dirty Fingernails
Jan 15, 12-6pm or by appointment
Indy Indie, 26 E 14th St

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