Back to the drawing board 

Visual Arts

Cave Paintings
Ardis Harsche
Stutz Art Gallery; through Sept. 24

The world is a palette of possibilities when it comes to finding artistic inspiration. When something on the outside enlivens something on the inside, an artist has found his or her subject — and the artmaking follows. What, though, would inspire an artist to mimic the cave paintings of so long ago? Indianapolis painter (and Stutz studio artist) Ardis Harsche has done just that — recreated Paleolithic dramas on canvas — in her exhibit Cave Paintings, now on view at the Stutz Art Gallery. Harsche depicts the ancient scenes miraculously preserved on cave walls: the hunter’s prey, dispersing wild game, herds of horses on the chase or, perhaps, fleeing from some unknown prehistoric danger.

It may be too simple to believe that these early cave paintings were the precursors to today’s art, the first markings of expression for the sake of expression — a loftier form of communication than the imagined grunts of what we think of as “cave people.” Harsche may be tapping into this universal, or primal, need of humans to create things of visual beauty, and our equally universal need to believe in its greater, or deeper, meaning.

The paintings themselves are beautiful, even if our imaginations are not entirely suspended: We know, as viewers, that Harsche has taken on this exercise to contrive something for the straightforward purpose of recreating it, while appreciating anew its simple beauty. Even the regenerated mineral content of stone adds an authentic sparkle. But the aesthetics here run far deeper than the images of animals scrawled gently into the textured surface as if they were, indeed, the ancient markings of cave dwellers. Harsche uses charcoal, dry earth pigments, sand and encaustic (beeswax derived) in oil paint to recreate the surfaces of cave walls, adding her own interpretation with the use of pigment and paint — pumping up the volume of these ancient, textured images.

Numerous paintings fill the display area of the Stutz Gallery, contained inside the high-ceilinged space of Print Resources, who runs the not-for-profit gallery. While there’s a look of earthy sameness to the show, a closer look at the artist’s efforts reveals a careful eye and focused vision. It’s as if Harsche, like so many artists, has something in mind she’s trying to access, and only by pursuing the general image in numerous variations will she find the answer to her aesthetic and/or intellectual question.

As such, no painting is out of place here. From the horizontal cave-like format to the vertical versions and even the smaller pieces, all engage a theme that is worth exercising. The spare and lovely “Walking Deer” (see photo at right) is a perfect example of when Harsche’s vision is most vividly conveyed: A single deer emerges from the sandy surface while spontaneous scratchings seem to imitate the gesture of the antlers, suggesting that our earliest known artists also pondered questions of form and abstraction.

The Stutz Art Gallery is located at 1005 N. Senate, phone 833-7000 or visit While the exhibit is open now for viewing, the official opening takes place Sept. 10 from 5:30 to 9 p.m.

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