Artist Diane Aldrich-Kleiss grew up on a farm in Iowa and in the woods of Minnesota. She lives in Tucson now, but the fertile soil of the North still finds its way into her art.
Her encaustic "Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall," at the UA's Kachina Gallery, is a celebration of the land's richness, season to season. In the piece's four panels, stems, seeds and pods are replicated in 3-D wax and densely layered on boards. The grasses are darn near writhing in an orgy of fecundity, twisting and tangling and intertwining.
The summer and autumn panels have a trace of colored wax sky at the top—flashes of pink cloud against blue—turning the scenes into landscapes. In the other two, the wax plants spread over the whole surface; they're like the view when you look down at your feet in the forest, the better to kick your way through the thick underbrush.
All this bounty takes on different hues in different seasons. A pale fresh green tints early spring. Another green, so rich it's almost blue, colors the summer grasses. The rusts and oranges of the autumn panel give way to the whites and grays of winter.
Aldrich-Kleiss' fine work readily lends itself to a metaphor about the seasons of life, which is why it's been given pride of place in The Four Seasons: A Juried Exhibition of Contemporary Works by Women Artists. An ambitious show in three locations, organized by a student art club at the UA, Four Seasons exhibits art by students alongside work by established artists.
The two student organizers, Minh-Hoa Le and Christine Broduer, sent out a call to women artists and reeled in participants from as far afield as Europe. Brigite Zarm, a midcareer artist in Germany, sent along two harsh wall sculptures, black assemblages of turkey feathers and sharply pointed sticks.
Penka Mincheva of Bulgaria contributed an equally striking mixed-media photo. In a color image of a young man's chest, what seems to be a triangle of black hair is actually dozens of real-life straight pins, piercing the paper and jutting out into the air.
The two European works are at the Stone Dragon Gallery, while the Aldrich-Kleiss piece is in the Kachina Gallery at the UA Student Union. A third gallery, 5th on 6th, will open a third show on March 8.
The idea behind the project, says Le, is that "it's hard for students to get opportunities, and women artists have less chance to get into shows." The FACE show—the club's acronym stands for Female Art Club and Education—was meant to address both.
Steve Murray, who runs the Stone Dragon Gallery, concurs that women artists make up a smaller number of artists overall than men. But Julie Sasse, the chief TMA curator who helped curate part of the FACE show, disagrees. She believes that while women struggled in the past to be recognized for their work, "Women are looked at on an equal footing these days. I feel the barriers have come down."
Things have changed within the UA art faculty, at least. When Bailey Doogan arrived at the university in 1969, she was the only female professor. (The hiring prof told her: "We didn't want to hire you, but we had to because you were the most qualified.") She fulfilled all the requirements for tenure, but her male colleagues voted her down. A UA dean had to step in and force the men to play fairly, and Doogan went on to a long and distinguished career both as a teacher and a painter.
A quick look at the current faculty reveals that nowadays, 20 of the teaching faculty are men, and 18 are women.
The extent of women's progress can still be debated, but the energetic students have rounded up some interesting art in three categories. Three jurors—Sasse and UA professors Moira Geoffrion and Barbara Penn—made the first set of selections from those who answered the call to artists. The students independently invited a group of established artists to exhibit, and then insisted that jurors display some samples of their own works.
"It's a good chance for us to learn from the jurors," student Le explains. Along with the students, the jurors and the invitational artists are showing at Stone Dragon, the jurors in a separate room.
At the Kachina Gallery in the Student Union, it's a little hard, as always, to see the works on the walls, past the tables where students are studying and the couches where others are slumbering. But it's worth the effort.
Janie Cohen's "Flower Power" is an arresting oil painting of a trio of African-American women positioned against a flat black background. Following the show's theme, each of the women is at a different stage of life, but all three stare forcefully out at the viewer. Dressed prettily, and deceptively, in flowered hats and Sunday dresses, they're striding purposefully forward. Even the old woman walking with a cane looks unstoppable.
Yvonne Prisble reworks traditional female materials in "Breezes II," a piece of billowing white cloth fortified with encaustic wax. Prisble has given the material an almost-human form; it's like the nightgown of a ghost.
Carolyn King investigates motherhood in "Parenting Analyssa," a mixed-media work of four panels hung horizontally. Analyssa—or her mom; it is unclear—hovers and struggles across the panels, with pieces of her painted figure glued to a backdrop of printed flowers. In one, she despairingly raises her hands to her head, but there is an empty space where the face should be. In another, the figure rages and, bent over, pulls on an unmovable wall.
The digital color photo "Fridge" by Elizabeth Nordstrom pictures a young woman peering into the refrigerator, her face lit by the warm amber light from within. The composition must have been challenging to pull off; Nordstrom apparently positioned her camera inside the cold box.
Over at Stone Dragon, FACE shares space with a sculpture show on the floor. Among the students, Broduer, like Nordstrom, has managed a difficult composition. In her oil painting "Tyler," a teenage boy is curled up asleep in a sling chair, and his body, all angles and curves, pushes out to the edges of the canvas. His bare feet and toes are huge, seeming to sail out of the front of the picture.
And speaking of sailing, performance artist Kate Long Hodges enlisted local photog Jeff Smith to document her flight down the side of a cliff. In the resulting black-and-white digital print "Chrysalis," Hodges is wrapped in a swath of billowing white cloth, not unlike the rippling fabric in Prisble's sculpture.
Hodges is upside down, attached by a rope, dizzyingly descending, half up, half down, a woman grappling with the difficult balance between art and life.