Natural Wonder

Image: Claire Sherman, Cave and Trees, 2011, oil on canvas, 96″ x 78″

By Mary Wallace

Born in Oberlin, OH, Claire Sherman began painting in high school, studying under a local artist and then went on to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. Recently Sherman has developed a style of landscape painting which employs the use of manipulation and abstraction to create her scenes. Often drawing from composite images of various environmental elements, she distorts the scene, forcing the viewer to make sense of the work. Her paintings push past the limits of the perceivable, natural environment and delve into a world broken down into its elemental forms. Sherman’s settings are often constructed by piecing together images of many different locations, thereby creating her own environment, rooted in reality and yet stepping into another world. Her work has represented not only the different seasons, but also a variety of geological locations. From a snow-laden forest to the dark, rocky interior of caves, to the sparse vegetation of the desert, her subject matter is immensely varied and yet her expressive style unites it all. She examines the basic elements of nature and promotes a sense of the pure wilderness; untouched and untamed by the work of humankind. One piece currently on display during The  7 Borders exhibit unites both the cave environment as well as the summer forest in full bloom. Cave and Trees (pictured above) is rendered from one of the many openings to the worlds longest cave system: Mammoth Cave, located near Bowling Green, Kentucky. Currently Mammoth Cave has been mapped at 346 miles long and has been in use for nearly 4,000 years since its discovery by early Native Americans. Although this cave system offers a vast interior, Sherman has chosen to represent its opening—as if one is coming out of a long journey through the cold underground, into a bright and inviting Kentucky forest.

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Take Me to the River

Image: Al Gorman, “Alien Ballet” from the blog post Top Secret Report: Proof of Extraterrestrials March 3, 2013 by artistatexit0.

The Ohio River flows for more than 600 miles across Kentucky’s northern border creating a watercourse through the bordering states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The confluence of commerce and community building that has taken place along the banks of the Ohio River for centuries is not unlike the development of societies around similar river networks throughout the world. These densely populated settlements depend on these rivers for nearly every basic need. For generations their identities have been shaped by the geological and environmental history of the river. Our evolving relationships to science, industry and religion have been heavily influenced by river societies since the beginning of human civilization.

These ideas intermingle in Andrew Underwood’s work The River, 2013, currently on view in the 7 Borders exhibition. Focusing on the motifs of fertility, time, and spirituality Underwood has woven, painted, photographed, collected, assembled and displayed a complete narrative of the history of the Ohio River from the prehistoric era to Native American cultures and into the Industrial age of steamboats. Set into a tailor made system of shelves Underwood incorporates the theme of fertility, most notably with an embroidered mother figure, but also through different iterations of the vessel, drawing connections between a Cherokee Bowl and photos of the century old steamboat the Belle of Louisville. With comparisons between the Ohio River, the Ganges River and The River Jordan he reminds us that cultures have long used the river for spiritual purposes, both for baptisms and burials.

Andrew Douglas Underwood
The River, 2013, Andrew Douglas Underwood

Al Gorman began his project of documenting the Ohio River in 2003 and in 2009 he was able to take this process global with the start of his blog artistatexit0.wordpress.com. A table placed within the 7 Borders exhibit contains a monitor with the blog along with a few of Gorman’s driftwood sculptures. Visitors of the website can follow his almost daily excursions to the Falls of the Ohio State Park located off of Interstate 65 in Jeffersonville, IN at Exit 0. Through storytelling and photography his documentation of found trash and driftwood has proven to be inexhaustible. The blog contains pages and pages of driftwood sculptures assembled on site by the artist and trash that Gorman has collected and classified into categories such as Balls of the Ohio, Kentucky Lucky Ducky Collection and Plastic Bottle Color Spectrum to name a few. It’s a three-part collusion with the artist, the people who have lost or thrown these objects away and with nature, which in this case happens to be a series of 390-million-year-old fossil beds. He raises concerns about our lack of knowledge or interest in where our garbage ends up, particularly with our abundant use of plastic.

Al Gorman, 7 Borders Installation.
Al Gorman, 7 Borders Installation.

Greg Stimac’s photograph Ancient Colony of Horse-Thieves, Counterfeiters and Robbers captures the mysterious and menacing history of a cave located on the banks of the Ohio River in Hardin County, Illinois. The site was known to be a hideout for notorious river pirates, highwaymen, serial killers and civil war bandits. Better known as Cave-In Rock it was used by Native Americans for thou­sands of years before the 1790s when it became a well-known stronghold for a gang of bandits led by Gregory Mason. They would prey upon the ferryboats carrying farm produce down the river from Kentucky, Ohio, and Southern Indiana. Stimac often investigates cultural sites that contain unique aspects of American History. His work in the 7 Borders exhibition is part a photo series of cave entrances located throughout the Midwest. Each one of these caves is associated with a famous American criminal or crime scene.

Greg Stimac Ancient Colony of Horse-Thieves, Counterfeiters and Robbers, 2009
Greg Stimac, Ancient Colony of Horse-Thieves, Counterfeiters and Robbers, 2009