A night's journey: From the Stutz to the April Show 

The Stutz is such a hodgepodge, with so many different painters, photographers, designers, that you can say anything you want about the Stutz Open House and find justification for it later. When it comes to the Stutz, I feel like a preacher with a bible in hand. And yes, when I visited the Stutz Open House on Friday, April 24, I had some of the verses, as it were, already picked out. That is, I planned on, at the very least, visiting the studios of the Stutz Resident artists. (I was on a whirlwind tour for reasons that I’ll get to a bit later.)

But I wanted to leave some room open for surprises. And find some surprises I did when I entered the shared studio space of Julie Perigo and Martha Vaught.

“We met at Herron,” Perigo says. “We were both going to Herron at the same time. We had a work study job together. We started talking and before you know it we were doing things together and we’ve been friends ever since.”

When you walk into their studio space you can see that their friendship has had an influence on their art. These artists deal with serious subject matter, but from different angles, each with a strong narrative element, and they complement one another artistically.

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Julie Perigo’s acrylic and mixed media painting “Three Spring Maidens” has a style reminiscent of Art Deco and Art Nouveau with its brightly colored backdrop providing a striking contrast to the three nude female figures in the foreground, figures the color of clay. Some of the decorative, 3D aspects of the work were formed out of computer cables and conduit, and these will be part of the forthcoming “Obsolete Artifacts” exhibition opening at the Raymond James Stutz Art Gallery starting May 1. (Artists participating in this event “are given license to construct art pieces out of recycled tech parts,” according to the Stutz web page).

If it were just a painting it would be intriguing enough and beautiful enough on its own. But there are hand-painted computer keyboard keys here that resemble tiles in a mosaic. Such 3D touches hint at Perigo’s work as a sculptor (also on display in this venue).

When creating this work, however, Perigo was also thinking about some recently uncovered murals in Cincinnati.

"They had covered all of these murals," she said. "And then they forgot about them. In these buildings they started tearing down the drywall and these beautiful murals were behind it. People realized that they were treasures. And here we have obsolete art turning into something much different than the computer keys they once were.

Now, when I tried to get her to elaborate, she couldn’t recall if this in fact was the Charley Harper “Space Walk” mural covered by drywall since 1987, currently being restored at the Duke Energy Convention Center, but hey, maybe it is. The story’s certainly worth looking up.

At any rate this work made me think a little about Pompeii and how computer keyboards, like Pompeian mosaics, one day might be uncovered from the ashes of our civilization.

Like Perigo, Martha Vaught had quite a number of impressive paintings and prints on her side of the wall, but it was “Rage, Snap, Barb, Flip” that really captivated me. The center of gravity in this painting is the hub of a wheel spinning around: imagine that this wheel is floating in space creating its own gravity. And imagine then that there are horses running along the surface of this planet-like wheel chased by a farmer driving a John Deere tractor.

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There's Cubist influences in this painting but there's something else going on as well. This depiction not only plays with, but distorts the laws of gravity. I recall seeing it as the “Cold, Dark, Unsecurity” show at the Stutz Art Gallery back in February and I recall being impressed by it. The main theme of this show was violence and this painting certainly fit the bill. Perhaps the gravity in this painting is the heaviness of dwelling in thought on an act of violence — long after it has receded into the past.

“I grew up in the horse world,” Vaught told me. “Some people can treat horses very horribly. This was based on an actual event. It was an act of cruelty there was no reason for. I was just exploring the idea of why somebody gets in a rage and just going round and round and just getting more and more angry...Horses should never be kept in barbed wire because they cut themselves on it. Horses are not aggressive animals on the whole.”

Vaught changed some of the facts, but in this painting it is very hard to tell what exactly the act of violence it was specifically being referred to here, and where exactly the ground is. But the feeling that violence inflicts on a victim is, after all, a feeling of natural law being violated.

So then I was off to the studios of the Stutz Resident artists. The Stutz residency program is an underappreciated aspect of the Indianapolis art scene. Since 1996, the Stutz Artists Association has been granting free studio space to two local emerging artists per year. The monies raised by ticket sales to the Stutz Open House are what fund this program. The synergy that you find here between the Stutz Business Center and the sponsor Raymond James & Associates and the Artists Association is but one example of how business and non-profits (as well as local government) working together help drive an arts scene.

It was because of this program that I first came across the art of Cheryl Lorance, who’s definitely got a whole lot of art going on in her studio. Egg-tempera as well as oil painting, mixed media sculpture, print-making. (She even sells a brand of soap in her studio.) Some of her paintings, such as “Spilling the Tea” recall Paul Gaugin and the work of other French Post-Impressionists with its bold coloration and its stylized portrayals but she is also perfectly capable of an uncanny realism when she feels like it.

This particular painting, though, has a sinister edge all its own: you see the huge tea pot and the woman carrying it to the table — in a red dress — and the faces of the tea drinkers. You can also almost see the scalding red burns that are about to be doled out.

Lorance not only channels the tradition of European painting but the power of myth and metaphor. And then her sculpture, about which I’ve talked about before, is by and large more abstract, but equally metaphorical and the titles, like her sculpture "Either/Oar" intriguingly play with sculptural form as well as with words.

I was also pleased to see Marna Shopoff get the nod this year from the association: I’ve been a fan of her work since I first saw it in the 2010 Herron undergrad exhibition. The direction her painting has taken has been increasingly abstract over time, but there is always at the heart of it a love of architecture; how it’s possible to take comfort in the solidity of certain buildings in a frenzied world where time itself is fractured and commodified. But there was nothing solid about her depiction in her as yet untitled behemoth three-panel triptych (measuring 9’x5’) showing her architecture-inspired abstract meditations going off in a more florescent direction.

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The bright color in much of the depiction, as fractured as sunlight coming through a pane-glass window, is quite a contrast to some of her earlier work, such as “Drive by Night.”

Admittedly, I was doing something of a drive by: I had to be home by 11 p.m. and I still had another venue to visit: the April Show. Why? Because the Stutz, as vast as it is, does not begin to contain all of the various forms of art going on in Indy.

When making my rounds at the Stutz Open House last Friday, however, I was a little surprised that most of the artists I talked to had no idea that the April Show — a one night only showcase for artists facing challenges — was also occurring on this same night. Although the April Show venue, the hallways and rooms of an unassuming house at 322 Arsenal, was a thousand times smaller than the Stutz, I think it’s equally important as a venue.

When I arrived at the address, the home of one David Hittle — the owner and the founder of the April Show — it was jam-packed with people. The Stutz had perhaps attracted some five thousand people that evening. It seemed like the same number of people were packed into Hittle’s House. Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a bit, but there were enough people inside to make me wonder if the ground floor might collapse under the pressure of so many people on the floorboards.

The walls of the house were equally packed with paintings and drawings from floor to ceiling. (Hittle had told me that one time he had considered showing work on the ceilings of the house but they had not gone to this extreme, at least not yet, not this year.)

Most prominently displayed was the work of Jerome Neal, whose depictions ranged from abstract compositions to elephants in the African savanna to dense cityscapes to trains: a whole wall downstairs was dedicated to his work, mostly in oil on board. Among the trains depicted was Thomas the Tank Engine, revealing a playful, exuberant side of his work. If there’s one word that might describe his compositions it's dense: heavy with expressive detail and different colored paint in layers, one on top of the other. And it's fun to rub your hands across the rough textures of his compositions.

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His cityscapes are particularly dense; heavy with mind-blowing detail, like a scene from the wildest night in Jazz Age Gotham City. And details — the work of an amazingly-talented artist — are everywhere in his work despite the muddiness of some of his compositions. I say muddiness, but I don't mean muddled. I mean mud as the color of the earth, because it is there mixed in with other colors; bold greens and yellows, the color of living breathing things. Neal's is an earthy, primal, visionary art.

Neal is one of the oldest in the April Show, born in Chicago in 1941. He has worked many of jobs over the years — drove a cab, worked in steel mills, and even served in the Air Force. But he is now, finally, supporting himself through his art.

The youngest this time around is 24-year-old Alex Perry, exhibiting his work for the first time at the April Show.

His watercolor on silkscreen work depicts hundreds of different thimble-sized characters. I caught up with Perry in the upstairs hallway where a number of his works were on display. He describes himself as having been an extremely shy child who submerged himself in video games. And his childhood passion became his subject matter when he became a student at Herron School of Art and Design.

“The characters I thought of based on inspiration of video games,” Perry told me. “They are games that I either had or don’t have. It’s a lot of characters up in my head. They’re mostly platforming videogames.”

After talking to Perry, I step outside, my last stop of the night. I caught up with Brian Duff, a 34-year-old Fountain Square resident; I hadn’t seen him since 2009 when he had a solo show at the now defunct AV Framing Gallery.

Duff was living in a homeless shelter then, and he has had to contend with various psychological disorders in the past, but I was happy to hear that he is doing better now.

His work struck me then, as it again struck me at this show, with its bold expressive color, its interesting choice of subject matter; in this case it was a violin on a pool table and in the background you could see a scene out of Van Gogh, a starry night.

And as Duff and I talked, it was nice to look up at the stars and feel the cool breeze blowing through my shirt. It had been a whirlwind tour, but I felt that I had seen what there was to see on this night. There was much work (i.e. writing this blog) to do, between shifts working as a manager for Goodwill Industries and caring for my daughter, but that could wait until another day. I was simply content to listen to Duff talk about his painting that he was clearly so passionate about, despite only receiving modest economic benefit from it (so far).

There was struggle in Duff’s art — struggle that I’ve so frequently found in my writing as a journalist and a poet — but there is also exuberance.

And it is those exuberant moments we live for.

“I did a series back in ’06 of fifteen paintings of a billiard table,” Duff said. "It seemed a pretty good time to revisit that. As far as having a compelling image, I thought the more I revisited, the better it would be.”

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