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Much of Ron Ettelman’s process of creating his found object assemblage and mixed-media pieces has been a lifelong experiment in curation. And although the Mountville artist has put together a few group shows in the past, he says he doesn’t really consider himself a curator.
But with, “3 + 3 Sparks of Imagination” — a six-person show featuring the work of Ettelman as well as Steve Abreu, Jeff Geib, Claire Giblin, Gail Gray and Linda Mylin Ross, which runs at the Ware Center’s Regitz Gallery through Jan. 27 — Ettelman embraced the role of curator.
“Curation is obviously what I’m doing,” says Ettleman of the “Sparks” exhibit, “But it’s also what I’m not doing. The artists know their work best and they should have the choice of what they’re putting in.”
The name for the show, Ettelman says, was inspired by thoughts firing around in his brain about how people are all basically electrochemical and those electric sparks feed our lives and creativity. If the show refers to how similar we all are on the electrochemical level, the result is a diverse display of abstract and representational images and juxtapositions of quiet, loud, somber and humorous work that show how unique people can be, too.
“Ron Ettelman did a fantastic job bringing together some well-known and lesser-known local artists to display at the community gallery at the Ware Center,” says Ware Center office coordinator Julie Pyle-Childs. “The works are eclectic and extraordinary.”
Like Ettelman’s assemblage-making process, he says the curation happened “very automatically, magically and very quickly.” (Although, in the case of creating his works, that last part may not always be true — One piece by Ettelman featured in the show was started 47 years ago.)
Ettelman says one of his favorite maxims when it comes to describing his artistic process is “I put myself on the shelf.” That egoless and organic approach may be the link between Ettelman’s view of creation and curation.
When it comes to his own work, Ettelman embraces the absurd logic of dreams, random chance and his natural artistic intuition.
“It just evolves,” Ettelman says. “It evolves and I’m not suspecting where it’s going until it gets there and then I appreciate where it went.”
Ettelman addresses many themes in his work including climate change, religion and the subconscious but his work is also, ultimately about transformation. The repurposing, recontextualizing and reimaging of real world (and subconscious) flotsam like the discarded body of a viola, crushed cans or cheap jewelry and infusing with the power of art. This theme is especially evident in his assemblage pieces, but can also be seen in paintings like “Owl Man” — which was inspired by a dream — and shows a man being transformed into an owl or vice versa. It’s also literally the transformation of a nebulous dream into a tangible piece of art.
“Owl Man” by Ron Ettelman, acrylic on canvas
Ettelman has a knack for smoothly juxtaposing heady themes like psychology or the climate beside more humorous and playful ideas. Like the art world in-joke of his “Dude Descending a Staircase,” which is an assemblage piece which features a comical canine named “Dude” running down the stairs. It’s a play on Marcel Duchamp’s 1912 modern masterpiece “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2.”
That piece, though it may take a bit of art history knowledge to fully appreciate, is visually appealing and interesting. And, like all of Ettelman’s pieces, it works on an intuitive level that can be appreciated by even the most casual art fans. It’s another example of the show’s exploration of how we are all diverse, but ultimately alike.
Inward and outward
If Ettelman’s work is frenetic and eccentric, another artist featured in the show, Claire Giblin’s work is on the other end of the spectrum: calm and meditative. Moving from looking at Ettelman’s work to Giblin’s work is like coming off a stimulating but busy city street into a quiet room and taking a deep breath.
Giblin, 75, of Millersville, has four large format abstract acrylic paintings featured in the “Sparks” show. Giblin, a former curator of Franklin & Marshall College’s Phillips Museum, creates work with elements reminiscent of Mark Rothko or J.M.W. Turner. She says she is inspired by both looking inward and outward.
Giblin says she draws inspiration from her practice of meditation and from Lancaster County’s sublime landscapes.
“I can attest to what I’ve gained from living in Lancaster and even taking a ride around here in Millersville,” Giblin says. “I can see beautiful things every minute. I can feel that calming and soothing influence of the atmosphere in the landscape.”
“Adam Cast Forth,” by Claire Giblin, acrylic, gold leaf, mica, on canvas 60″H x 48″W
Giblin, who grew up in Brooklyn, is also inspired by literature, poetry and other visual artists like the late Warren Rohrer of Lancaster and the impressionist master Claude Monet.
“When I was about 15 I visited the MoMA one day with a friend and at the time there was a triptych of a Monet hanging in a room by itself,” Giblin says. “I sat down on a bench in front of that group of three paintings and I just knew innately this is what I wanted to do. And I was bathed in something that almost felt holy to me and I wanted so badly to do the same thing.”
Inspired by her epiphany, Giblin eventually (when she had the space and money) began to paint large format pieces that spoke to her spiritual side.
“When I work it’s kind of like nothing else matters,” Giblin says. “I work from whatever impression I get from my own heart and soul. We are all one and the entire universe is all part of us and we are part of it. What I do with painting is to try to remind us to look up at the horizon.”
Giblin says the exhibit’s opening reception on Dec. 2 was a success and she enjoyed viewing the other artists’ work in the show. She says she is always able to get lost in Ettelman’s work and appreciate his unique and funny mind. And she says she discovered the work of artists that were previously unknown to her, like Steve Abreu’s patterns and pleasing use of colors. She also enjoyed Linda Ross’ subtly beautiful charcoal drawings and appreciated Gail Gray’s sure lines.
“Gail Gray is multifaceted and every time she approaches a work she surprises you with the outcome,” Giblin says. “And her work as the Lancaster County courtroom artist has led her to understand line and color quickly and the sure line comes from knowing what you’re looking at or conceiving and being able to put it down really quickly.”
And though Ettelman doesn’t want to take credit for the initial success of the show, his curatorial work of bringing together a diverse group of his favorite local artists, like his own artistic output, showcases his eye to create something unifying out of different visual elements.
“I went with people who I know and people whose work I respect,” Ettelman says of the curation process. “Everybody I called was excited to be part of it.”
IF YOU GO:
What: “3 + 3 Sparks of Imagination.”
Where: Ware Center, 42 N. Prince St., Lancaster, 17603
When: Runs through Jan. 27, 2023. Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Fridays. Additional hours on weeknights and weekends during events. Call the Ware Center’s front desk at 717-871-7018 to check hours.
More info: artsmu.com.
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