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In art, two points seldom make a straight line. That’s the fertile paradox behind the current Lansing Art Gallery exhibit, “Echo.” The joint show is a pas de deux of paint, wood, fabric and miscellaneous stuff where two of the area’s finest artists come to rest, build a nest, fledge, fly away and converge again.
The artists are Barb Hranilovich, a master of many media whose work is well known to the Lansing area and beyond, and Deb Cholewicki, manager of the Grove Gallery Co-Op in East Lansing.
Chelowicki is a self-taught clay sculptor as well as weaver and sculptor; Hranilovich admits she has painted in “every medium that exists, done bronze and ceramics and printmaking, and I like it all.”
In the show’s signature piece, Hranilovich painted a pastel-hued bird’s nest with eggs, using encaustics, or textured wax. Cholewicki overlaid a nest of real twigs and branches, wrapped in yarns that echo Hranilovich’s color scheme of yellow, pink, green and purple.
Although they worked together on that piece only, the two artists’ entwined sensibilities raise swarms of allusions and associations just by hanging next to each other.
A lush acrylic painting of a curly willow tree by Hranilovich is half a step away from the remains of a real tree, broken and bound into a matrix of dark constructions by Cholewicki.
While putting together their proposal for a joint show, the two artists discovered a deep affinity, with just enough tension to make it interesting. Lansing Art Gallery director Barb Whitney said the joint show was one of only four proposals, out of about 30, to be approved at the gallery this year.
“We’ve known each other for years and like each other’s work,” Hranilovich said. Once their proposal was approved, the two artists met regularly over about a year and a half, just to see if they were “on track,” as Hranilovich put it.
She loves to visit Cholewicki’s studio, but isn’t tempted to use her methods. “She has these curly things, yarns and branches and fibers and it’s just gorgeous stuff to play with,” Hranilovich said. “But I didn’t want to work in that medium — I just wanted to be aware of it.”
Hranilovich’s range is broad enough as it is. She has an alcove of miniatures all to herself in “Echo.” On one partition are gouache paintings studded with mushrooms, fern fronds, snails and fungi. On the opposite wall are micro-grottos sculpted out of clay, where exquisite details like a copper wire spider web lay in wait for discovery. Hranilovich calls them “crevice pieces.”
“I love how, whenever there’s a space in nature, something will fill it,” she said. “A leaf will fall in it, a bug will build a nest. I like to get my nose in there and look at these crevices.”
While Hranilovich meticulously re-creates the forest floor and other scenes from nature, Cholewicki seems determined to unravel the whole mess and re-arrange it into rational grids, matrices and spirals. She subdues twirling branches, broken bark, threads and vines into objects of contemplation, leaving gaps and irregular edges where the natural materials defy the square rules of a gallery.
The struggle is at its most raw in “Eye of the Storm,” a wall-sized lattice of twigs curled into a double vortex.
Cholewicki said her job managing the Grove Gallery leaves her little chance to dive deeply into a show of this scope. She was clearly thrilled to see her work hanging with Hranilovich’s.
“This is such a big deal for me,” she said. “I knew Barb before I knew her.” Long before they met, Cholewicki bought several pieces by Hranilovich at East Lansing’s Mackerel Sky gallery.
“I love the textures, the layers and the playfulness of her work,” Cholewicki said. “My work has a lot of those qualities, and we both like a lot of movement, and we both like to be pretty bold.”
A highlight of the show is a triptych of three large panoramas Hranilovich painted on hardwood panels. The first is a garland of rocks of the type found on Great Lakes beaches. The second is a flotilla of peeling birch logs, some with red ribbons tied around them. The third is a serene pile of bones, as carefully and sympathetically rendered as the stones and logs. The paintings, with wide margins suggesting silence, are meant to stir thoughts the artist prefers to leave to the viewer, except for one bit of philosophy.
“Once you get the flesh off, we’re all the same — a person who lived,” she said.
Echo: Barb Hranilovich & Deb Cholewicki
Through Feb. 23 Lansing Art Gallery 119 N. Washington Sq., Lansing Free