Saturday, April 22, 2017

Yale Factor: "4 Decades" at the Zhou B Art Center

In the mid 1980s, I was studying Illustration at Northern Illinois University. To my recollection, the program offered two professors with which to work… Jay Paul Bell and Yale Factor. Both were amazing father figures who had high expectations of their students and—as with most children—the students never wanted to disappoint them.

As well as being talented Illustrators, both Jay Paul Bell and Yale Factor were—and continue to be—fine artists. For most of his career, Bell has been producing beautiful large-scale paintings of rural landscape… not too strange considering NIU’s cornfield location. But Factor has moved through numerous subjects of passion—from beautiful graphite renditions of faces, to obsessively complex painted landscape, and personalized still life compositions that play with the viewer’s sense of reality. The work of Yale Factor presents a compulsively detailed exploration of the subject. And for the past five weeks, the evolution of Factor's career has been on display in a retrospective titled “4 Decades” at the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago. 

Yale Factor "Ruminations of a curious mind"

I visited the exhibition last night. It was beautifully staged with a central alter of paintings, which I believe were produced in the 80s. They offered ridiculously detailed, old-world renditions of the acquisition of knowledge… Opened books presenting scientific illustrations accompanied by various lab specimens, or wrinkled roadmaps defining a journey intertwined with unique personalized objects. The paintings are intriguingly unique. 

Yale Factor

But as I explored the room, I found—on an exterior wall—an intimate study of a gasping piranha. I was intrigued with this image: A beautifully rendered powerful animal, struggling to breath…mouth open exposing its razor sharp teeth—body wrenched… searching for the water from which it was taken. The incident takes place against a soft-focus surreal achromatic background—perhaps an oil stained beach or haze induced sky. Conceivably a comment on the current global climate crisis? 

The exhibition closed last night during a “Third Friday” event but the opportunity to view Factor’s work remains. He has a studio/gallery within the Zhou B Art Center, located at 1029 W. 35th Street in Chicago, Illinois 60609. Contact him at:, or by phone at: 815.762.5243

Friday, March 10, 2017

Joliet Junior College: Studio Art Faculty Exhibition

Foreground: Charles Gniech, "Breath" acrylic on canvas 60" x 72"

The JJC Studio Art Faculty Exhibition opened this week in the Laura A. Sprague Art Gallery of Joliet Junior College, located at 1215 Houbolt Road in Joliet, Illinois. The exhibition includes a wide variety of media by thirteen of the fine art professionals, currently teaching at the college.

Exhibition director, Joe Milosevich, organized the compilation of diverse content expressed through assemblage, sculpture, painting and digital media. The exhibition includes work by Terry Adams, Susan Franker, Elise Kendrot, Todd Reed, Steve Sherrell, Lloyd Wassenaar, Ann Blaas, Margie Glass-Sula, Eric Gorder, Joe Milosevich, Gary Schirmer, Garry Vettori, as well as myself.

I am please to be included in the exhibition with two recent works… “Breath” a 60 x 72 inch, 2-panel acrylic painting on canvas [shown above] and an “Untitled” acrylic on canvas painting, measuring 60 x 40 inches, from 2016.

My work continues the exploration of meditative surfaces—inspired by the sacred and mystical stone circles found throughout Great Britain. With nature-inspired color harmonies, the once-fluid media weaves an ornate surface producing a mesh of complex tone and texture. The work has evolved into imagery of trickling formations that encourage contemplative introspection.

As I roamed the exhibition, I found myself drawn to the work of two specific artists… These are colleagues with whom I have yet to encounter. 

Margie Glass-Sula, The Pulpit, Oil on Canvas, 24 x 24

Exhibiting a number of intimate canvases—as well as a floor-standing wooden sculpture—is artist, Margie Glass-Sula. With beautiful forms inspired by nature, her work exudes a sense of peaceful harmony. Presented in quiet tints of color, the abstracted forms seem to be inspired by protective barriers found in nature. The work conveys the essence of seedpods, seashells, hives and nests but not with literal interpretation. The work takes us to another world… a world not commonly seen in our busy urban lives.

Researching the work further, I found Glass-Sula’s artist statement. It reads—in part, “My work explores the quiet simplicity of things….”.

Steve Sherrell, String Theory, Acrylic on panel, 36 x 24

Another standout in the show is a painting by Steve Sherrell titled “String Theory”. Drawn into the beauty of the interconnected organic cellular forms—created with both transparent and opaquely layered wet media—I was reminded of the sculptures of Jean Dubuffet. But Sherrell’s 2-dementional painting has greater depth then the 3-dementional work created by Dubuffet …clearly two artists with dissimilar intent. Sherrell presents a complex collaboration of flat shapes with loosely outlined quivering edges. Neutral tones with quiet hints of color, present a unique organic structure that seems to float—yet connects to distant forms of similar structure.

I looked down at the identifying label to find the title “String Theory”. Now, the study of physics is not my strong point but I have a recollection that string theory defines minute particles—not as we think they are but as vibrational energy. It’s the scientific version of new age thinking of the 1990’s. Steve Sherrell’s “String Theory” is a beautiful though-provoking piece.

The JJC Studio Art Faculty Exhibition is well worth the trip out to Joliet. The Laura A. Sprague Art Gallery is located at 1215 Houbolt Road, Joliet, IL 60431. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 8am to 8pm. The exhibition continues through March 31st.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Importance of "Breaking Criminal Traditions"

Foreground image by Joyce Polance, Background image by Charles Gniech 
Installation view from the Breaking Criminal Tradition exhibition at The Human Rights Institute Gallery of Kean University

Following is a wonderful article by Elana Knopp of the Union News Daily. The article discusses the importance of the "Breaking Criminal Traditions" exhibition, which has been on view at The Human Rights Institute Gallery of Kean University in Union, NJ since June 2016. The exhibition closed eariler this week.

‘Breaking Criminal Traditions’ exhibit 
calls attention to human rights abuses 

By Elana Knopp 

An exhibit highlighting human rights abuses around the globe, “The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions,” opened this month at Kean University’s Human Rights Institute Gallery. The fine art exhibition, featuring the work of 24 artists from around the country, calls attention to the ongoing ancient rituals that kill or maim millions each year, yet are not considered crimes.
The Human Rights Institute Gallery at Kean University is located at 1000 Morris Ave., Union. “The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions” runs through Dec. 16.

The exhibition debuted in 2013 at the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and brought topics such as honor killing, child marriage and acid violence into public consciousness and into public debate. The exhibit continues to expand and evolve, with a unique presentation designed specifically for Kean’s Human Rights Institute Gallery.

Cheryl Jefferson, executive producer of Breaking Criminal Traditions, said that when she first learned of the scope of these human rights abuses, she was driven to learn more. “This resonated with me so fiercely,” Jefferson told LocalSource during a phone call. Jefferson [said] that since 2013, the exhibit has evolved. “With each show, we try to add more layers,” said Jefferson. Curator Chuck Gniech chose approximately 50 pieces of fine art in a variety of mediums.

Gniech, curator at the galleries of The Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago, told LocalSource that his background in creating exhibits benefiting nonprofit organizations such as Heartland Alliance and Worldview Education and Care was a good fit for the project. “My history as a curator — creating shows with underlying human rights themes — and the numerous artists with which I’ve worked — made my inclusion in the project a perfect marriage,” Gniech said.

Gniech said that once Jefferson defined each of the human rights topics addressed in the exhibition, he searched for fine art pieces that alluded to the issues at hand. “With a unique version of the exhibition presented at each new venue, I explore the human rights topics conceptually,” Gniech said. “This is a conscious choice. There is plenty of very dark and horrifying work that many would assume would be perfect for the show. But my intention is to present approachable work with multiple levels of symbolism and meaning. The work becomes a jumping-off point for discussion — the means to begin a dialogue, expanding awareness and promoting change.

According to Gniech, all of the criminal traditions represented in the exhibition are still practiced today — in various cultures — although sometimes by another name. “Here in the United States, honor killing is simply referred to as murder,” Gniech said.

Some of the criminal traditions showcased in the exhibit include acid violence, bride burning, breast ironing, circling, blind stitching, female genital mutilation, child marriage, child soldiers, war, guns, stoning, and human trafficking.

As provocative as the exhibit is, said Gniech, the works are approachable and thought-provoking. “There is nothing visually shocking or gory,” Gniech said. “I would want the viewer to understand that — perhaps, other than the work created by Richard Laurent, Teresa Hofheimer and Zoria Miller — the art that they are experiencing was not actually created by the artists to represent the criminal traditions.”

James Deeb, "Silent Witnesses"

Gniech cites as an example a work by artist James Deeb entitled, “Silent Witnesses.” “It is a Monotype that was developed from James Deeb’s interest in medical and dental x-rays,” Gniech said. “I found it appropriate for inclusion in the exhibition due to the implied content — the use of figurative abstraction with an emphasis on the bone structure of the mouth. Deeb has created a graphic image that alludes to the silencing of the repressed. But the tortured mouths seem to scream with tension.”

As the exhibition’s curator, said Gniech, it is his interpretation of the work that ‘implies’ the issues on exhibit. “The works are a representation of the traditions used to begin a discussion of human rights issues,” Gniech said. “It’s a daunting task, but bringing awareness to these global issues is the intent. We believe that awareness is the first step toward change. And I believe many of these issues are coming to the forefront of social conscience.”

Janice Kroposky, director of the Holocaust Resource Center at Kean U., told LocalSource that she worked closely with Neil Tetkowski, director of Kean University Galleries. “We use a two-pronged approach to exhibition selection,” sais Kroposky. “First, we look for work that reflects both the mission and goals of the Kean University Human Rights Institute. Second, we identify exhibitions that lend themselves to the creation of programmatic opportunities for discussion. Art has the power to introduce difficult issues through an alternate lens.”

Kroposky said that the pieces selected for the exhibition offer a portal of interpretation that ultimately leads directly to critical discussion of the issues represented. “Those of us who work in the field of human rights education do know about the issues,” Kroposky said. “However, to the first-time viewer, the topics addressed can certainly be disconcerting. The acts, taken as a whole, are perpetrated globally, including some occurring in the United States.”

According to Kroposky, educating the broader community is the first step in raising awareness. “Many of the issues represented in ‘The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions’ that affect humanity globally, also occur in the United States,” she said. “When these issues occur in the United States, they may not be recognized as the same. Therefore, educational opportunities provide the framework for sparking activism. There is no way to predict if an individual might be motivated to advocate for change, but the art gallery provides an opportunity to ignite the spark.”

Kroposky asserts that the exhibit looks at practices that are accepted in some cultures, while not accepted in others. “The traditions examined in the exhibition have been, and continue to be, monitored by major human rights groups because they pose physical and emotional harm. Judging other cultural norms can be a dangerous thing, therefore, it is imperative to support individuals or groups who are advocating for change within the practicing group.”

The vision of the Kean University Human Rights Institute, Kroposky said, is to promote understanding and tolerance across ethnic, racial, religious and other barriers, as well as to inspire action.

One of the works in the exhibit that stands out to Kroposky is a piece called, “Holiday in Fallujah,” by artist Dominic Sansone. “I interpret the work as a call to recognize that regardless of where we live or who we are, we share the common bond of humanity,” said Kroposky.

Jefferson, a participant in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, noted that the global reach of these complex human behaviors extends to the United States. “The exhibit allows us to take the first step toward change and to support the legal evolution that can only come from within other cultures and our own,” she said. “We forge ahead. I really believe we can keep hammering away at this.”

For more information, visit, or call 908-737-0392. For more information on “The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions,” visit

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Cairn & Cloud at the Oak Park Art League

Opening tomorrow—along with the "Behind the Wall" exhibition at the Oak Park Art League—is an installation directed by Corinne D. Peterson. The installation—referred to as the Cairn Project—focuses attention on the collective expression of trauma transitioning to hope. Created within workshops directed by Peterson, the participants consisting of adults, teens and children, produce "rocks" and "cloud pieces" during Shaping Life Workshops. The concept is to create clay rocks incorporating memories of trauma and porcelain tokens to represent the inner light. The installation presents the two formats together as metaphor for the transition and transformation of experiences as a collective healing. The imagery is beautiful.

Join me at the Opening Reception, tomorrow from 7-9pm. The Cairn & Cloud installation will be on view through November 4th. The Oak Park Art League is located at 720 Chicago Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois. Learn more about the Cairn Project at

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Behind the Wall at the Oak Park Art League

Chloe Beltran “Haunting Sensations”

When I was asked to act as Juror for the Behind the Wall exhibition at The Oak Park Art League, I knew that I would be confronted with some difficult choices regarding the content of the work. With a history of creating various approachable exhibitions addressing human rights atrocities, I was eager to explore the entries alluding to the specific topic of domestic violence. I found a variety of work filled with raw emotion and ultimately made selections that would speak to a diverse audience—work that would tell a story through emotion, generally without the use of a specific narrative. These pieces teeter at the edge of a subject that is difficult to publicly address and challenging to visually represent.

As I repeatedly reviewed the submitted imagery, I found deeply emotional mark making, tortured surfaces and fragmented figurative forms. The powerful visual elements of dripping pigment, with scratched and scared veneers—imply physical and mental abuse in a way that words can’t approach.

“Haunting Sensations” by Chloe Beltran is a wonderful example of the conceptual use of raw emotion through the layering of aggressive marks, surface manipulation and wet media dragged down by gravity. In this beautifully constructed composition, a figure emerges from darkness created by layers of scraped and scratched oil. The complimentary color palette only seems to add to the abrupt drama of the arrangement.

One of the most literal images in the exhibition, “Victim 3”, is a distressed photographic image of a child, produced by Beverly Poppe. The image presents the cold and emotionless face of a child—a witness to the atrocities of their environment. There is sorrowful honesty here—a pain that the child will carry throughout their life… a pain that may never be verbalize.

The submissions included imagery that focus on confidence, survival and empowerment. Sheila Ganch offered a multi-figurative sculpture titled “Diversity”. The piece presents a group of eight majestic female forms standing together in unity. Made of ceramic stoneware, aluminum and limestone, the figures are scared and distressed yet stand poised and confident.

Kathryn Scott’s “Her Spirit Never Leaves Her” is another example of hope. This beautiful black & white photograph presents the silhouette of a woman strolling along a waterway… emerging from shadow into the sunlight. The water flickers with glistening reflections, evoking the idea of rebirth.

The most amazing works of art have multiple interpretations as to their content. This idea holds true for all of the works included in Behind the Wall. Each piece—in some way—references the personal horrors of domestic violence, yet a positive interpretation can be construed in each. The viewer holds the key.

The exhibition opens this Friday October 14 from 7-9pm at The Oak Park Art League located at 720 Chicago Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois. The exhibition continues through November 4th.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Debi Cornwall at the Filter Photo Festival

The 8th Annual Filter Photo Festival took place this past weekend in Chicago. Attracting fine art photographers from around the country, the event offered a variety of workshops, artist lectures, portfolio reviews and social programming. Participating periodically since 2010, I was again asked to take part as one of the event’s portfolio reviewers. I spent this past Sunday meeting some amazing artists, discussing various visual concepts and exploring some wonderful imagery.

The event organizers sent each reviewer a list of the photographers who had scheduled a time slot to meet with them. From the very beginning of my participation, I found this helpful. With the use of the Internet, the list offered me the opportunity to review each artist and the history of their published work—providing me a bit of insight… an extended context to review the work. During my research, I found that many of the artists had been creating work focused on human rights issues. I was intrigued since these atrocities have been my curatorial focus for the past decade.

The imagery of one artist is still seared into my mind. That is the work of Conceptual Documentary Artist [and Former Civil Rights Attorney], Debi Cornwall. Debi Cornwall’s work documents life at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. Cornwall’s project, “GITMO at Home, GITMO at Play” explores the grim absurdity of life for those displaced to Guantanamo Bay after 9/11, as well as the soldiers who guard them.

Sixty-one men are currently being detained at Guantanamo Bay—many of who were cleared for release years ago. They are being held as “unprivileged belligerents.” Cornwall’s conceptual photographic documentary project is powerful but a second series of photographs titled “Beyond GITMO” is—to say the least—heart wrenching. Cornwall presents a view of the alleged terrorists after they have been cleared of charges and released. Hundreds of these men were held for years without being charged or tried. When they were released, they returned home or were displaced to foreign countries. Cornwall’s imagery presents them within their environment. She creates powerful portraits replicating the same regulations required of her while photographing at GITMO—concealing the identity of the subject. The situation is horrifyingly offensive and Cornwall’s imagery is powerfully moving.

This March, a book documenting Debi Cornwall's GITMO Bay Project will be published. You can learn more about the upcoming book release as well as the coinciding exhibitions at:

I hope to see you, next year, at the 9th Annual Filter Photo Festival, which will be held again at the Millennium Knickerbocker. The dates are: September 21–24, 2017. You can learn more about the event at:

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Art for Social Change...

This October—presented at the Oak Park Art League’s historic Carriage House Gallery—the Art League will partner with Sarah’s Inn for a fine art exhibition that brings awareness to issues surrounding domestic violence. The exhibition—titled “Behind the Wall” —references the isolation, suffering, healing and recovery experienced by victims of this human rights issue.

I will be the acting Juror for the exhibition—looking for work that best defines the themes surrounding domestic violence – with both conceptual and literal interpretations.

The exhibit, which will take place during Chicago Arts and Humanities Month, will be on view for a large audience. The Oak Park Art League is one of 200 confirmed sites, participating in this year's “Open House Chicago” on October 15 & 16. More than 1,000 visitors per day are expected to visit the exhibition.

Entry information can be found on the Oak Park Art League web site at: Deadline for submission is August 31st.

Sarah’s Inn services and initiatives focus on ending relationship violence through domestic violence crisis intervention, community education, and violence prevention programs for youth. Sarah’s Inn works throughout the socioeconomically diverse region of Chicago’s West Side neighborhoods and Western suburbs.

Founded in 1921, the Oak Park Art League is one of Illinois’ longest, continually running non-profit visual arts organizations, serving Chicago’s western suburbs as an exhibition site for artists and a center for high quality art education.

“Art for Social Change” programs and exhibitions are sponsored in part by the Oak Park Area Arts Council, Rotary of Oak Park/River Forest and the Illinois Arts Council; a State Agency.