Review: Three Shows at Woman Made Gallery

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This past Friday, there were three openings at Woman Made Gallery: the 15th International Open, an exhibition of women artists juried by Linda Warren; Patterns of Nature, a solo show by Claudia Kleefield; and The One Who Rises, a solo show by Kaitlin Kostus. On the first floor of the gallery was the International Open, featuring a collection of impressive works ranging in media and content. Although there was no group theme, many of the pieces felt very feminine or feminist in nature, allowing for a surprisingly cohesive show. Overall, the work was very strong.

One of the major highlights was local Chicago artist Allison Svoboda’s stunning Mandala II, a giant (at least 5’ x 5’) gray-toned, organic, sculptural wall piece. This ink on mulberry paper and collage piece not only captivated the viewers on opening night with its incredibly vivid texture and presence, but it also wooed the juror, taking home First Prize.

A second notable piece was It’s Not a Phase, an oil painting by another Chicago artist, Camille Swift. This über-feminine version of the classic Little Red Riding Hood tale depicts a life-size part woman part wolf. The painting explores the power and fear associated with becoming (and being) a woman. I especially enjoyed its woodsy-huntress quality that further strengthened the image of the female. Painted to perfection, this piece was hard to miss. It won Fourth Prize.

While there were a number of eye-catching pieces at the exhibition, there were also a few that were quite striking in their quietness. One of my favorites was Clare Rosean’s Lost in the Woods, a simple pen and colored pencil drawing on paper that depicts the anxieties of traveling through the night. The juxtaposition of the cute (i.e., the line drawing quality, the colors, etc.) with the creepy (i.e., the subject matter) is intriguing, allowing for the viewer to become wrapped up in the different narratives of the single page story.

The 15th International Open exhibition should not be missed. Both individually and as a group, the pieces are engaging, thought provoking, and well executed. The only slight disappointment is that the show is very painting focused. There are a couple sculpture and object-based installation pieces, but a bit more variety would not hurt. Unfortunately, the solo shows on the lower level of the gallery were a bit underwhelming compared to the work above. The work felt too quiet and subdued, especially after viewing the International Open beforehand. (This may in part be due to the poorly lit space.) It is worth going down, though, to check out a few pieces from Kostus’s The One Who Rises. This work “draws on Baltic Pagan mythology to explore [the artist’s] connections to Baltic cultures through her ethic background (Lithuanian), and her culture gained through marriage (Latvian).” Of particular interest are the wood panel drawings/paintings that weave together symbols and stories of nature, color, and tradition.

The 15th International Open, Patterns of Nature, and The One Who Rises are on view through April 26 at Woman Made Gallery, 685 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago. Visit www.womanmade.org for more information.