In Becky Fehsenfeld’s painting “Shandong Sunset,” an electric sunset, nearly concealing the presence of a shadow figure, feels both ancient and new. China is like that: a place of contradiction, where ancient and timeless wisdom exists alongside political repression and socialist control. Fehsenfeld, in her exhibition Outside Looking In: A Traveler’s Perspective, on view at the Indianapolis Art Center as part of the larger effort Two Worlds, One Language Through Art: Art from the Land of Confucius (which Fehsenfeld instigated), focuses on the beauty of the place while ignoring the darker aspects — or at least casting them in shadow.
Fehsenfeld has earned numerous awards for her flawless, globe-spanning images of people, places, flora and fauna, drawn and painted with an expert’s use of color and an uncanny ability to play light to its fullest potential. The only darkness is, literally, in the shadows. It’s as if the world is a utopian paradise where life is a beautiful journey for every traveler.
Fehsenfeld’s paintings “work” in the sense of being expertly composed: There is no wasted space, and even an expanse of a solitary or nearly solitary color serves the painting’s overall scheme. These are sweetly conceived portraits of the world as Fehsenfeld sees it, which is to say, with a childlike sense of wonder at the beauty she chooses to focus on.
In “The Traveler,” a rickshaw carries a woman and a load of straw; the scene is perfect, and perfectly lovely. Bicycles are seen in the distance, and an even more distant gate seems as much a portal of light as a passageway, reflective of the light that envelops the city scene. Even the trees peeking over a high wall seem to emerge from light. When her subjects are viewed up close, their expressions are blissful and content — a reflection, perhaps, of the artist’s way of seeing the world. And by Fehsenfeld’s account, it is, indeed, a beautiful place.
Outside Looking In is on view through Aug. 28 at the Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St. Call 317-255-2464 or visit www.indplsartcenter.org for information.