It's hard to

speak of visual artist Emma Overman without mentioning children.

Her work

abounds with iconic images transported from a familiar fairy tale or book into

a painting where they often take on a unique, even quirky appeal. But they also

acquire a decidedly adult emotional complexity.

"Emma's

work is simple but complicated," says Joanna Taft, executive director of

Harrison Center for the Arts. "I think to many it's like a naïve fairy

tale but to others there's a dark side."

Like many,

Taft is intrigued by the complexity of Overman's deceptively childlike work and

admires the resulting ensemble. "She's able to pull polar opposites

together until it becomes a cohesive show."

The Harrison

Center hosts Overman's upcoming solo show, Carousel:

A Gilded Memory of Books, Movies and Animal Crackers, which opens

First Friday on March 4.

Overman's

work is increasingly familiar in Indianapolis. In addition to her solo shows at

the Harrison and AV Framing Gallery, she's also a 2009-2010 Creative Renewal

Fellow. She's illustrated four children's books, and her work was just

published in Edgycute: from Neo-Pop to

Low Brow and Back Again, by Harry Saylor. Her paintings have been exhibited

in numerous galleries nationwide since 2007 [see sidebar].

Taft isn't

the only admirer of Overman's work. Among her many other fans is my six-year-old

daughter, Naomi, who has accompanied me to the Harrison for my interview with

the artist.

The Overman

painting that my daughter Naomi is most familiar with is entitled

"Loss" (acrylic on canvas). In this painting, you see a ladybug

looking up at a wide green sky where a single red balloon floats heavenward

(probably thinking that it's another ladybug). A postcard-sized image of the

work, in fact, hangs in my daughter's bedroom. One night, when putting her to

bed, I asked her why she liked it.

My daughter

replied, "I like it because it's funny and a little sad."

Overman says

that she considers this painting, composed in 2005, to be one of her finest.

"That was the first fluffy sky I ever did and people always seemed to like

the fluffy sky where it's just a great big sky with a little something in the

corner. I think that's the best sky I've ever painted."

"Loss"

is an example of Overman's now dominant color palette: greenish and/or sepia

tones throughout an entire composition. Sometimes there is only one little dash

of bright color — say, a red rose held by a little girl — in

an entire painting.

It's a

radical change from her earlier work as illustrator of the children's picture book

Chumpkin, (written by Lisa Funari

Willever and Lorraine Funari, Franklin Mason Press, 2001), the story of a sad

pumpkin.

In general,

Overman used a much more colorful palette back then and her characters had a

distinctive visual personality, a far cry from her current style.

"Chumpkin was my second book," says

Overman. "It's my favorite. My work has evolved quite a bit since, but I

love the story and liked that the writer gave me freedom in creating the

illustrations."

The highlight

of the book's career thus far:

Sitting atop the pile in a Christmas sleigh at the White House Christmas Tour.

Emotional content

It wouldn't

be entirely wrong, considering Overman's child-friendly and fantastical

imagery, to peg her as a children's illustrator. But upon second look, you

might see that Overman's characters are not all based on the fantastical. Many

of her paintings have an emotional element that seems to transcend the genre of

children's illustration.

"Pig in

the Woods" portrays a classic Overman character, a pink pig with a red

button for a nose, holding a handkerchief as a tear rolls down his cheek.

The pig is alone in the dark green woods with no one to comfort him.

A second

painting, "Lift," features a ladybug crying while sitting on a branch

— the tears are flowing down from her antennae — while a red beetle

approaches with a handkerchief and butterflies flutter around.

The animals

and little children Overman depicts — as well as her adult humanoid

characters — convey complex emotions. But the emotional content wouldn't

resonate without Overman's ability to depict what's going on in her head and

heart on canvas with an extraordinarily confident line.

"People

are always asking 'How did you get to this?'" says Overman, who was born

in Sete Lagaos, Brazil and raised in Union City, Tenn. She spent hours of her

childhood in "drawing time," an effective babysitting tool that took

place of a sitter. "Instead of having a sitter they would cart me near

where my dad worked and the lady that worked for him would be working at the

table, just saying 'Draw a dog,' and that would keep me busy for hours."

Overman says

that it wasn't until high school that she started toying with the idea of

illustrating children's books, but was held back by her own inhibitions.

"I didn't have a style for children's illustrating," Overman says.

"This really didn't develop until after college, and it's greatly evolved

over time."

College for

Overman was undergrad work at Hanover College, where she received a Bachelor of

Arts in in 1997. She completed a post-baccalaureate program at the Maryland

Institute College of Art a year later, where most of her time was focused on

painting. "I was around other artists," Overman says of school.

"I liked a little bit about what this person did and a little bit about

what this person did. So it all had to simmer like a soup."

She didn't

like taking part in anything she felt was extraneous to her painting while in

art school. Rather than take in her Baltimore surroundings on field trip

excursions, she preferred to paint the images she saw in her head.

"I

didn't really have any particular style at all until about 1999," she

notes. "And I really think it was around 2005 that my work improved. And that's

when I met Michael."

Fanciful evocation

While

Overman takes my daughter on a tour of her studio, introducing her to some new

characters she's created over the past several months, I sit down with her

husband Michael Krisch. Hanging above us is a painting that was inspired by

their marriage, entitled "A Woodland Wedding."

In this

fanciful evocation of Overman's 2009 wedding to Krisch, the mouthless,

oval-faced bride and groom are set against a forest backdrop. The bald groom is

resting his cheek against the bride's head while a chipmunk officiates the

ceremony.

Despite the

subdued tones of the composition, in black and white and shades of gray, it

doesn't feel somber because the affection expressed between the two characters

seems so strong.

I ask Krisch

how they met. "I was living at Wheeler Arts at the time," he says.

"She just walked into my studio one night for an art show." She

showed him slides of her artwork and it happened that he had tools that would

help her frame her pictures and cut boards that she would paint on to her

specifications.

Krisch

showed her these tools hoping that she'd come back to use them so he could see

more of her. One of these tools was a miter saw.

"She says we

fell in love over the miter saw," Michael says.

Overman and

my daughter Naomi come back into the part of the studio where we are sitting

and she shows my daughter one of the recent sculptural pieces she's completed

recently. It's a golf-ball sized ladybug that sits smug in the palm of her

hand.

Recently,

says Overman, she's been extraordinarily busy putting together her March 4

show. "I asked Michael the other day," she says, 'I wonder in the

last couple of weeks how many hours I've been working per week.' He said, 'Oh,

seventy to eighty.'"

The end

result may be Overman's best show yet. There will be paintings relating to the Wizard of Oz, Heidi, and to Alice in Wonderland - book and movie

titles that colored her childhood. But she also has fond memories of certain

brand names reminiscent of childhood like Mr. Bubble, and of course, Animal

Crackers.

Of all the

paintings that will appear in this show, the one that engages me the most is

"A Journey with a Porpoise" (acrylic on wood), a painting inspired by

Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

In this painting you see a mock turtle driving a Model T with a porpoise in

shotgun while an enormous yellow sun sits on the horizon behind them.

"My

favorite character in Alice in Wonderland

is the Mock Turtle," Overman says. "I like his use of language at one

point... He says, 'If a fish were to tell me he was going on a journey I would have to ask him, with what purpose?'"

Overman

herself is embarking on several creative journeys after her Harrison show in

March, and children are once again a central theme.

She's also planning

a children's book with Indianapolis writer Maurice Broaddus about a little girl

and her imaginary friend, Invisible Dan, both of whom have made appearances in

Overman's paintings.

"Painting

is kind of like traveling," she says. "You don't know exactly where

you're going and then you have a goal and an idea of where you would like to

be. But when you set out on a trip you don't know what restaurant you're going

to find or if you're going to get a flat tire... If you know exactly where

you're going before you get there, what's the point in going?"

0
0
0
0
0

Arts Editor

Dan Grossman is NUVO's arts editor.