Scenes from the 2012 Stutz Artists Open House 

Mike Swolskys copper and steel The Stutz
  • Mike Swolsky's copper and steel "The Stutz"
When I arrived at the Stutz Artists Open House Friday night, the event was already well underway and the ground floor was packed with revelers. Singer Cynthia Layne was on full throttle in Bearcat Alley and other musicians on all four floors were doing their thing. Barbeque was on the grill and wine was a-flowing, but I successfully suppressed the urge to indulge my palate until I had the opportunity to soak up some artists' palettes, as it were.

My first destination was the One Piece Show at Stutz Art Space where a variety of Stutz artists' works were on display. I wanted to get some sense of direction, in what proves to be a difficult event to encapsulate in a short piece of writing because of the sheer number of artists displaying work.

Stutz Art Space, by the way, is a great gallery to visit during First Friday evenings because of the innovative curatorship by Andy Chen, a Stutz-based photographer, who has done a number of themed art shows, the most popular of which, Exposing the Art Nude, took place last November.

The success of these themed shows surely has something to do with the subject, of course. But it's also due to Chen's not being bound to pick from a palette of only Stutz artists. Being able to put out an open call for entries raises the bar for the Stutz, and it raises the bar for everybody.

It must be said that not all Stutz artists are interested in making the kind of work that fits in a cutting-edge gallery setting (you know; the kind of art gallery that art critics like to write about). Some are professional portrait photographers; some fancy themselves as Impressionists, or work in the tradition of the Hoosier Salon landscape. These folks have their fans and their clientele and that is fine.

It didn't surprise me that the artists' work that impressed me were the artists I'd heard of before. Joseph Crone's colored pencil on acetate "Age of Innocence," almost a wallet sized drawing within the confines of a handmade frame, portrays a young woman in a dress looking back at you from what looks like an ivy-covered university campus. There's a slightly indistinct quality to the work that comes across like a faded, and irretrievable, memory.

Crone is one of the Stutz Residents this year - and I made it a point, then and there, to pay a visit to the other Stutz Resident, Emily Budd, as well. Her bronze sculptures, many of which fit in your palm, remind me of the H.R. Giger-created creatures for the Alien series of films.

I also wanted to see something completely new and unexpected. If say, Travis Little (in Studio B-420 at the Stutz) had started on a series of staid portraits of Catholic priests at their altars - his subject is usually the female nude - I might be disappointed, sure. I have to confess, however, that I'd find this interesting to write about.

Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James, presents a check to Stutz for their Saturday educational programming during last weeks open house.
  • Daniel Axler
  • Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James, presents a check to Stutz for their Saturday educational programming during last week's open house.

I wandered up and down the staircases for a bit - I didn't really care to take the crowded freight elevators from floor to floor - until I found Joseph Crone's studio. While I wasn't blown out of the water this time (because I'd seen much of his work before and knew what to expect), I enjoyed checking out his studio and seeing the way he composes his pictures on a more or less vertical surface.

(You must wonder how artists deal with arts writers who are continually craving new experiences like five-year olds craving candy or crack addicts ... you get the idea.)

I passed by Michael Swolsky's "The Stutz" wall-hanging sculpture (copper and steel), which I didn't maybe appreciate it in the original context I saw it in at Stutz Art Space, but I love the way he depicts the old repurposed auto factory bulging out at a corner and the adjacent corners receding towards vanishing points as if depicted on a two-dimensional canvas. This was interesting but, again, I'd seen it before. Janett Marie's colorful paintings of happy cityscapes were lovely, but I'd seen them before... ...

This déjà vu stuff kept recurring for a while; I was losing my bearing like Odysseus in his boat being swept up in the whirlpool Charybdis. I was on the second floor when I ran into Susan Mauck, who used to be a Stutz artist before starting up her French Bleu Gallery on Carmel's Main Street.

"You have to go up and see Jim Gerard," she told me. "He's got this huge drawing up on the wall outside his studio and he's got paintings by his mother and father and students up. It's the most amazing thing. You have to see it."

Now, I recall talking with Jim Gerard before, during "Exposing the Art Nude," and I recalled his work, but somehow I had never made it up to his studio. But Mauck's recommendation had its effect, and I made my way - doing my best to avoid distraction - up to his studio on the fourth floor.

The first thing I saw was the larger in life self-portrait, in graphite on paper, by Gerard, outside his studio. Gerard had portrayed himself - this self-portrait was from 1972 - as a skeleton seated in a chair. (Topping the skeleton is the flesh-and-blood face of Gerard himself, presumably in his twenties.)

Inside the studio, there were sketches up on the wall by Gerard, and by his students. And every square inch of the wall-space seemed to be covered, salon style, by portraits in the nude, from life. (The Gerard Studio offers classes in painting, drawing and sculpture, and according to the brochure, "Is dedicated to art based on the human figure.) But there were also landscapes by Gerard's mother Allee and modernist paintings by his father Jerry, who ran a shoe store in Warsaw, Ind., during much of the 20th century.

The quality of the student work up on the wall by people of various professional backgrounds was quite good, including the work by one Chris Delaney. The work on the wall surrounded a bouquet of roses and a quote from Delaney herself from April 12, 2012, shortly before she succumbed to cancer: "It is foolish to mourn those who have died rather we should thank God that they lived."

This particular memorial to Delaney seemed appropriately to thank, rather than to mourn, and it echoed the sentiment that Gerard seemed to express towards his artist parents by displaying their work.
"Most people find my dad's work the most pleasing in here," Gerard told me. One painting on view by Jerry Gerard was a sort of surreal cityscape with hints of de Chirico and Escher and Dali. In it you see parallel sets of handrails eerily visible through the columns that block their view in what looks like an empty train station. In its strange stillness it reminded me of my favorite movie of 2010, Inception.

It was at that point, I guess, that I felt that I could finally indulge my palate while indulging my palette, as it were.
A loyal Gerard portraiture student was tending bar and he insisted that I could have a Guinness and veggie wrap. I did, and I figured that I would have to write about it too.

After getting out of the Gerard Studio, I wanted to see more. But it was late, and I was soon directed to the exit by a security staffer.

And then I realized, I hadn't yet made it to the studio of Emily Budd! Too late, I guess. May I live another day to see it.

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