Figural Allusions

By Daleen Cowgar

The Malone Art Gallery, or the MAG as it’s affectionately called by students, is featuring new artwork by contemporary abstract painter Justin Brennan and potter Andy Thomas in an exhibit dubbed “Figural Allusions.”

Michele Waalkes, the MAG curator, was responsible for selecting the artists to be displayed and decided to put the paintings and pottery together.

“My inspiration was to create a fresh and lively exhibit incorporating artwork by abstract artists working in completely different mediums that complimented each other well,” Waalkes said.

Brennan is a self-taught contemporary abstract painter and mixed media artist. His aim, according to his artist statement, is to “express raw emotion via spontaneous creativity without analytical prodding.” He focuses on everyday interactions while “the subjects of these interactions are portrayed with ambiguity and anonymity.”

Aside from the MAG, Brennan has also been mentioned or featured in “CAN Journal,” “The Cleveland Plain Dealer,” “Scene Magazine,” “The Sandusky Register” and “Canvas Magazine.”

Thomas, Malone’s ceramics instructor, grew up in an artist-filled family. His grandmother was a watercolorist and had taught ceramics during the Great Depression. His father is a world-renowned taxidermist with animal mounts in museums across the country. 

“I make objects that are able to arouse an experience, a feeling or a memory from within the viewers,” Thomas said in his artist statement. “To me, the vessel has the ability to hold memories and experiences just like the body does for us.”  

Thomas’ pieces have been showcased in shows in Missouri, Indiana and Ohio. In addition to Malone University, he has also taught ceramics at Kent State University and Ohio Ceramic Supplies.

“I discovered Andy Thomas’ sculptural works when he started as the new ceramics instructor at Malone,” Waalkes said. “I was impressed by his figural works that were abstract, yet suggestive of the human form. I wanted to pair his work with an artist that worked abstractly in a different medium, yet had the same elusive quality. 

“I immediately thought of Justin Brennan’s abstract portraits,” Waalkes said. “Justin and Andy’s works complement each other so well in how they allude to the figure, but leave so much to the imagination.”

To visit the “Figural Allusions” art exhibit, you can stop by the MAG in the Johnson Center Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment. “Figural Allusions” will be displayed until March 30. The gallery is free and open to the public, though face masks and social distancing are required. 

If someone has never been to an art gallery before, Catherine Martinez, senior fine arts major, offers these tips:

“The MAG is a really good place to start … because usually you can go in and be the only one there and really take your time,” Martinez said. “There’s [not] pressure to move quickly or to understand. You don’t need to go there with an understanding of art. 

“You don’t need to go with any pre-preconceived notions of what you’ll get out of it,” Martinez said. “I try to go to art exhibits for the pure enjoyment of looking at something that someone created … Any piece of art is something that someone thought of and contemplated and then made into reality.”

Waalkes wants students and gallery visitors to slow down when they view the art and look closely at each piece. 

“Look at Justin Brennan’s dynamic brushstrokes, use of color, and how he captures the essence of each portrait with such efficiency,” Waalkes said. “Observe the large-scale ceramic vessels by Andy Thomas with their elegant curves suggestive of the figure, their nod to classical pottery with an abstract contemporary flair, and the varied textures created by different processes and types of clay. What similarities do you see between their abstract approaches? What differences?”

Martinez highlights other aspects of the art collection.

“The pottery and the paintings in this particular exhibit are really interesting … the paintings are kind of obscuring identity,” Martinez said. “It’s a little bit confusing at first, looking at them. But I would encourage people to take in every aspect of it, and look at the texture, look at the feelings in the lines and enjoy it, whether you necessarily understand it or not.”

Stop by the Malone Art Gallery before this exhibit is over, and take the time to sit with the art and learn something new about yourself, and how to see the world. You might find that you like art even more than you think.

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