Faculty Artists Engage the Contemporary World with Exhibit at Krannert Art Museum

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Ryan Griffis, A Great Green Desert, Into the Pit, 2018. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
Ryan Griffis, A Great Green Desert, Into the Pit, 2018. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
Jodi Heckel - University of Illinois News Bureau

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — University of Illinois art and design professors who spend their days guiding students on their projects will get to show off their own work. The School of Art and Design Faculty Exhibition opens Nov. 1 at Krannert Art Museum. It will feature work from professors in all areas, including studio arts, new media, metals, art education, art history, graphic design and industrial design.

Two of the artists with work in the exhibition look at landscapes and consider how we look at our surroundings in terms of the ecology of a place or the built environment.

Ryan Griffis, a professor of new media, is concerned with looking at the ecological narratives of the landscape, particularly in the Midwest. His four prints in the exhibition are part of an ongoing series titled “A Great Green Desert.” They are composites of documentary photographs Griffis took in Illinois, at ports along the Mississippi River and in Brazil while working on a video with collaborator Sarah Ross that is part of the project and was shown at the 2017 faculty exhibition.

“When we first moved here, the landscape of this part of the country was somewhat new to us, but it also has a kind of familiarity because of the way images and stories of the Corn Belt circulate throughout the country. What was interesting to us was seeing a landscape we thought we understood, and then realizing how wrong some of those stories were or how they didn’t really reflect what was going on there, that they are more complicated,” he said.

He made photo montages by combining between 10 and 20 images of different settings in a way that looks like abstract compositions but still contain recognizable features such as birds or machinery. Griffis wanted to portray the magnitude of the industrial system of farming corn and soy.

“It’s hard to think of something that seems more boring than monoculture corn. It has to me this simultaneous thing that makes it extremely boring in many ways, and also really invisible. It doesn’t take long to become acclimated to passing through these endless fields before you stop seeing them,” Griffis said.

By looking at the larger picture, his work considers the magnitude of impact of the industrial system of monoculture agriculture.

Molly Briggs, a landscape painter, is interested how the media we use – whether the panoramic paintings of the 19th century, movies in the 20th century or computer and phone screens today – influence the way in which we perceive landscapes and the built environment.

Her paintings in the faculty show are part of a continuing series in which she portrays things in the built environment that look like paintings to her. One of the paintings is based on tar patches on the asphalt of a Savoy, Illinois, parking lot, and another is a close-up view of a plastic shopping bag stuck in a tree. They resemble paintings of conceptual abstract artists, she said.

“It looks expressive and artful, and it’s very much about the sensuousness of paint and color and the drag of the brush, but it has this really prosaic source,” she said of the painting based on tar patches.

She chose the colors of the paintings – hot red and silver – because the red induces retinal fatigue and in doing so allows a viewer to see more depth on the canvas. Briggs paints on an acetate material with the silver paint applied to the back, creating a silvery, shiny surface through which light can penetrate – analogous to movie and computer screens and playing with the relationship between two and three dimensions.

She said her paintings “are a reminder, to myself as well as to audiences, to look closely at the world around us and to think about how pictures shape our sense of what we see and what we don’t see. For example, now that we have smart maps on our phones, we can drive all over the world without studying maps; we just follow the blue dot on the screen. That has consequences for how we understand landscapes and geographies.”

Billie Theide, a professor of crafts and the Inaugural James Avery Endowed Chair in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, is interested in displacing visual artifacts and images to influence perceptions and alter realities. Theide works with a variety of materials, and she takes likenesses, representations and copies and relocates them onto other surfaces.

Her work in the exhibition features images of oil paintings – “Pinkie,” made in 1794 by Thomas Lawrence, and “The Blue Boy,” made in 1779 by Thomas Gainsborough – which she selected because of the general sense of familiarity with the works of art. She also looks for images with elements of humor.

Theide applied the images of paintings to a pair of teapots for the faculty exhibition. She has other forms of the images – needlepoint, lithographs, postcards, china, playing cards and tapestries – and she uses the materials in the making of studio art jewelry.

“I see beauty in the seemingly mundane. My creative practice is driven by a passion for history and collecting, an interest in hybridization, the absurd and the human propensity for excess and ornamentation,” she said.

Read the article online via the University of Illinois News Bureau.