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Lean in and stand back

Lansing Art Gallery’s college art show overflows with bold ideas

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"Madonna and Child," by Isiah Lattimore of the University of Michigan-Flint.

Saying “well, that’s nice” and shuffling to the next picture is not an option at the Lansing Art Gallery’s 2019 statewide college art show.

This is art that makes you lean in, step back, circle around and lean in again.

Nearly every piece in this extraordinary show pops with a fresh perspective, brought vividly to life with impressive technical mastery.

Gallery director Barb Whitney was blown away by this year’s entries, from students across the state. For college students, the exhibition is a valuable chance for their art to be seen.

“We’re seeing a great deal of skill and proficiency, coupled with strong artistic voice,” Whitney said. “It makes them a really extraordinary group of students. They are choosing to address some interesting and, in some cases, difficult topics.”

Several images of women in the exhibition, by female artists, mine a long tradition of portraiture, with a 180-degree twist. Factoring out the male gaze, whether it’s adoring, clinical, respectful or lewd, frees the subject to look straight at the viewer — and vice versa.

In “She Eats Like a Bird,” by Northern Michigan University student Hannah Donohoe, a young woman is rendered in rich colors, in the finest tradition of 19th century portraiture. She is anything but a passive model, though. She looks impatient, even angry, that her portrait is being taken. She’s squeezing an orange with alarming force, the juice dripping down her arm.

In Kendall College student Madeline Jackson’s “Triptych,” the same face is seen in three different moods, from silent to its very vocal opposite.

The striking patterns and colors of “321,” by Kitty Johnson of Michigan State University, are put in the service of a disturbing tableau. A mannequin wears a stethoscope and a hospital gown adorned with the silhouettes of pregnant black women and spattered with blood. A backdrop patterns the same female figures against a field of flowers. The striking installation is both painful and beautiful, a humanist outcry over the reality that black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women.

The fusion of high skill and fresh thinking reaches breathtaking heights in the Best in Show entry, “Madonna and Child” by Isiah Lattimore of the University of Michigan-Flint.

The huge canvas fills an entire wall and is worth a visit all by itself. Surreal spheres form a corona around a gorgeously rendered woman and child.

Abstract lines of force and earthy layers of texture and color make you feel as if you’re being sucked into another world.

Whitney is thrilled to bring Lattimore’s astonishing work to Lansing.

She attributes the painting’s power to two things: “the skill that’s evidenced in the very tight, photorealistic faces, and the creative decision to use loose, full-bodied brush strokes on the other parts. The transparency and the layers are something I just can’t get enough of.”

Mystery and humor make welcome appearances in “Heavy Shit,” by Hector Acuna, an art student at MSU. A man with a stretchy grimace lifts a dumbbell in a city park. Everything in the picture piques the eye, from the puffy little clouds in the sky to the yellow impasto stripes on the man’s shirt, the upturned skateboard nearby and the coiled snake lurking near the man’s feet.

Another Acuna canvas, “So Awful Misty,” is literally ripped in two. A boxing glove with a smiley face floats at eye level — a mixed message if ever there was one. Strips of blue tape are holding it all together, but, for some reason, a few of the strips are painted on! And what is that weird little creature perched on the table? Time to lean in again.


Michigan Collegiate Art Exhibition

Free

Through March 27

Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Lansing Art Gallery

119 N. Washington Sq.

(517) 374-6400

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