DECATUR — As Millikin University sports fans gear up for a big weekend of homecoming football, lovers of the fine arts will likewise have an opportunity to celebrate some local and formerly local talents.
In honor of the homecoming weekend, Millikin’s retail arts shop, The Blue Connection, is hosting “Artist’s Homecoming” tonight, a special After 5 Live event honoring six alumni artists who will all be displaying their work. Artists will include graduates from the past decade who were previously featured in the shop as students, such as Katie Baird, Brian Cassidy, Erica Reese, Amanda Voltz, Laramie Street and Ryan Hennebry. Voltz, a 2008 grad, said her paintings have returned to many of the same themes she once worked with at the university, but are now supported by the confidence she once lacked.
“Once I got through grad school I saw the full circle of my work come back to the stuff I was doing at Millikin, except more sophisticated,” said Voltz, who obtained her Master of Fine Arts degree from Northern Illinois University. “When I was in Decatur, I was really spreading my wings for the first time. I didn’t think my ideas were really valid enough. Eventually I came to terms with accepting what my work was really about.”
Voltz’ work in painting and installation art is best summed up by the word “play,” which has great significance and multiple meanings to the artist. What some people might think of as a non-serious concept, Voltz instead pictures as the ultimate expression of choice and possibilities.
“I think that immediately, people might think of the word ‘play’ as symbolizing a mindless or haphazard way to approach the work, but I think of it as approaching the work with more childlike curiosity for the materials and subject matter,” she said. “I ask ‘Could this happen? Could that happen?’ The works don’t even start from a blank canvas, they start from a moment. I see something that seems curious and that’s what starts a painting.”
Visually, the painter has an interest in creating what she calls “awkward tensions,” created by establishing a sort of visual theme or pattern and then subverting the expectations it creates.
“It’s where the viewer looks through a piece and sees a rhythm that starts to happen,” Voltz said. “Then something visually breaks up the rhythm of what you would expect to see next. It’s putting contrast into a bunch of harmonies.”
Ryan Hennebry, a graduate of the Millikin class of 2004, didn’t know Voltz during his time at the university but now shares studio space with her in the Chicago area. A full-time high school art teacher and single father, he has nevertheless continued to dedicate time to his craft since he, too, completed his Master of Fine Arts degree at Northern Illinois University.
“I give up sleep for trying to get artwork done,” he joked. “My work has evolved since my time at Millikin, moving somewhat away from pop art influences to incorporate more surrealism.”
In recent years, Hennebry had been working on the theme of “monsters,” which he said represented “the interaction between ideas and diversity.” As he ventured more into surrealism in the last year, though, he has been producing a new series of oil paintings, many of which feature mounds, piles and abstract landscapes.
“I am still working them both, but feeling a different atmosphere going into this transformation from the monsters into more surreal landscapes,” he said. “I have been in Chicago a lot, observing urban and street art. I carry a sketchbook everywhere I go and have been drawing at least one sketch every day in 2013 to generate new ideas.”
Looking back on his Millikin experience as he is honored at tonight’s “Artist’s Homecoming,” Hennebry says the biggest thing he took away from the university was a worker’s attitude and the knowledge that steady effort is needed to break through to the next level.
“Lyle Salmi, my painting instructor, I definitely valued the time and critiques I had from him,” he said. “I really learned to continue my practice in the studio, even if things weren’t going my way. If you keep producing and grinding, good things usually happen.”
DECATUR AREA ARTS COUNCIL: The arts council will again partner with downtown Decatur’s Gallery 510 Arts Guild to present the annual October National competition this month. The juried exhibition of work by artists from across the nation will have its reception from 5 to 7:30 p.m. tonight, with a gallery talk by Judge Jeffrey Boshart from Eastern Illinois University at 6:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served. Pieces will remain on display until Oct. 28.
GALLERY 510: In addition to its partnership in the October National in the Madden Arts Center, Gallery 510 will also have a spotlight on the work of Shelbyville artist Dan Modzelewski during October at the gallery. Meanwhile, the Decatur Airport will be displaying an exhibit of animal photos from the Decatur/Macon County Animal Shelter, and the WildFlour Bakery & Café will feature the paintings of Sue Goodpaster.
PERKINSON GALLERY: Millikin’s Perkinson Gallery in the Kirkland Fine Arts Center will be hosting the work of Illinois photographer Johnny Power through Oct. 24. On display will be Power’s experiments in merging historical analog photography processes such as cyanotype, salt printing, instant film and encaustic with digital technology. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
BICENTENNIAL ART CENTER & MUSEUM: The Paris art center will be hosting its 59th Annual Fall Juried Exhibition in October, which is open to all artists within a 100 mile radius of the museum. All media except photography will be on display in the competition, with an opening reception hosted from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11.
KRANNERT ART MUSEUM: The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Krannert Art Museum will be featuring five continuing exhibits in October and one brand new exhibition. Continuing are “Return to Sender: Ray Johnson, Robert Warner and the New York Correspondence School,” “Correspondents of Ray Johnson,” “HELLO WORLD! Or: How I learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise,” “Yun-Fei Ji: Selected Works” and “Encounters: The Arts of Africa.” The new show, “Art + Design Faculty Exhibition,” begins with an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5.
PARKLAND ART GALLERY: Champaign’s Parkland College will be featuring an exhibition called “Defining Territory: Contemporary Drawing” throughout October, curated by Joan Stolz and Matthew Watt.
TARBLE ARTS CENTER: Eastern Illinois University’s Tarble Arts Center will play host to three exhibits in October. “Motion-Real & Implied: Selections from the Collection” will last through the month in the Brainard Gallery, while “Skulpcher Werkz: EIU Sculpture Alumni Exhibition” will run until Oct. 20 in the Main Galleries. “Kyle Hanton: Sculpture” will be featured in the Egallery until Oct. 27.
ERLANSON ART GALLERY: Richland Community College’s Erlanson Gallery will be displaying its Annual Faculty Show in October, beginning Oct. 7 through Nov. 1. An opening reception is planned from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9. The gallery will also be participating in the Downtown Gallery Walk on Nov. 1, with a display of faculty work in downtown Decatur’s Theatre 7 building.
ROCK SPRINGS NATURE CENTER: Decatur’s Rock Springs Nature Center will feature two continuing art exhibits in October. In the North Wing Art Gallery, the wildlife and floral paintings of Jim Poling will be on display. In the South Wing Art Gallery meanwhile, the nature photography of David Staff will be featured, including shots of local birds and insects.