Living Artists

Reviews / May 2005
by Katherine Lieber

Living Artists presents fifty-nine artists exhibiting in and around Chicago and in Illinois. Informative, well-laid-out, and packed to the brim with large full-color reproductions of each artist's work, it is a book that's hard to put down, filled with an elementary fascination: art as it is being made, right in the here and now.

Artist's insights, biographical data, a thumbnail photo of the artist (good for recognizing him or her at gallery openings) and yes, art, lots of art -- Living Artists presents it in a well-balanced blend. Each artist receives a two-page spread. Each two-page spread includes two, at times three, large graphics of the artist's works, accompanied by one or two short sentences reflecting the artist's voice, usually speaking directly of the particular images in the book, at times referring to their work as a whole. The artist's bio, set off in blue print, includes detail on universities and schools, degrees held, residencies, teaching status, and a brief overview of exhibition history and current gallery representation. It's a very readable layout, easy to comprehend and navigate, the size and format setting the art off to good advantage...

Superb color reproductions bring out the warmth, depth and detail of the various works, which open up wholeheartedly from the page, free of a welter of verbal detail. These are large pages, 10-1/4 x 12-1/4 inches, and the graphics are sized correspondingly, generous in dimension, holding attention and given weight and presence. The two-page spread focuses attention on a single artist at a time, allowing their work to be contemplated without competition from other imagery. One can fall into them, dwell on them; the large graphics fill the page with visual command.

The artists' statements discuss the illustrated works, a simple one or two sentences each. Keeping the statements to a minimum is a major departure from Sundell's prior books, and an effective one. Art is a pre-verbal experience; too much 'talking about' the art can interfere by introducing an overflow of ideas. Art Scene Chicago 2000 and its predecessor prefaced each artist with several paragraphs of artistic statement in small print; the unintentional result was to put attention on the artist's words, rather than their work. Living Artists effectively shifts that balance back to the art itself. Yet the statements are welcome. To have the artist speak in their own voice informs and connects with the reader, an intimacy enhancing appreciation of the art. Some lend surprising twists to how one perceives the work; others are straightforward explanations by the artist of the intent and pleasure of why they do the art they do; some express the simple delight of the artist's eye. By telling a little about the work they give a reference point or insight into the artist's intent -- something to 'push against' in having a response, something to agree with, or disagree with, or simply a point of reference to begin one's enjoyment... / July 2005
by Bert Menco, artist featured in Art Scene: Chicago 2000

Ivy Sundell's new book, "Living Artists", together with her earlier volumes The Chicago Art Scene and Art Scene: Chicago 2000, presents a wonderful and comprehensive survey of the visual arts. While the first 2 books are focused on Chicago area artists, the latest is broadened to include artists who have passed through Illinois and now reside in other states/countries, but still exhibit in Illinois. Chicago is very lucky that Sundell took the effort to so thoroughly document the contemporary art world present in this very vibrant city, proudly and elegantly contained in these three volumes.

Although there is some overlap between the three books, most of the artists in each of the three books are different, this despite the fact that each artist has been judged in. This is a testimony to the different tastes of panels of jurors, different for each of the books (submitting artists were selected in that way), but also to the judicious effort with which Sundell presented a broad survey of the visual arts to a wide public, rather than to highlight a few.

Thus, her latest book contains many new names not included before. To name a few, Curtis Bartone (now residing in Georgia), whose beautiful and delicate drawings deal with our interaction and very imperfect participation with Nature. Curtis manages to show something so horrific as our blunt destruction of precious rainforests for selfish purposes into a beautiful image, inspiring hope. Sean Culver's Memory boxes deal with a delicate balance of introspection and, like Curtis' work, a view of Nature that most of us would like to preserve. Sean manages to translate the tragic occurrences of life, his life and that of his family, into a universal message affecting us all while maintaining the integrity of a beautiful crafted piece of art. The same can be said for the whimsical and equally well-crafted altered books of Brian Dettmer. A Webster's Dictionary with only images remaining, giving direct access to "all" of its contents, or is it "all"? Roland Kulla's work deals with preservation of a different kind, industrial archeology, the dramatic old bridges of Chicago, their nuts and bolts, their intricate machineries, presented in complex images that resemble the evolution of Piet Mondriaan's abstractions. Gregory Warmack or Mr. Imagination, a former Chicago fixture who's now residing in Pennsylvania, presents an art form that is very American, blending American Native art with the art of the African American. His powerful and very personal works preserve a powerful sentiment that touches anyone who views them. Then there are Susan Hall's reflective women shrouded in mystery, the complex non-furniture furniture of Ben Butler, the delicate fiber objects of Yvette Kaiser Smith along with the works of about 60 other artists.

To give a different angle on the viewing process Sundell included works of some of the artists in 3 dimensions, among them the above-mentioned Curtis Bartone, Sean Culver as well as Roland Kulla. Flipping back between the 2 and 3 dimensional images, one sees details in the former that might otherwise might have been overlooked, the 3 dimensional viewing process thus giving a heightened viewing experience. Anyone who has an interest in American Art, especially in the Arts of the Midwest and Chicago, will see how well, often inspired by the immediacy of own experiences and the City, the universalism of the works transcends that individuality and regionalism.

I can highly recommend this book Living Artists, and when you are at it, I would buy the whole set of three.

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