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Dennis Lee Mitchell's dark smoke patterns on paper on view at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
Dennis Lee Mitchell, Untitled, 2012. Smoke on paper, each 12 x 12 in.

By: Victor M. Cassidy

CHICAGO, IL.- The three artists in this show have in common the temperament of the explorer, but they work in dramatically different ways. Olivia Petrides travels the earth’s northern latitudes and paints the natural phenomena that she sees there. Lisa Sambor explores form with her hands, often finding the new by accident and transforming her discoveries into three-dimensional pattern pieces. Using a unique method that he created through trial and error, Dennis Lee Mitchell makes dark smoke patterns on paper that recall forms in nature.

Olivia Petrides paints and draws the volcanoes, lava flows, geysers, caves--and the Aurora Borealis- -that she has seen in Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and France. As the artist tells it, she investigates these “iconic natural manifestations” in light of the 19th century idea of the ‘sublime,’ which she calls “a concept that embodies a contradictory relationship between feelings of awe and terror in the face of nature’s overwhelming power.” Ultimately, says Petrides, her paintings and drawings are “mental spaces in which emotions evoked by powerful landscapes can be reconsidered.”

In this exhibition, Petrides shows works on paper which depict auroras that range in scale from framed pieces to wall-sized murals. In each, the background is an undefined black space like the night sky. In the center of each piece, she paints and draws flowing, white horizontal lines that suggest the Aurora Borealis, but also ocean waves, human hair, landscape, storm clouds, and more. In some pieces, she paints dots like stars and in others we see drips or shadowy architectural forms. Most of the works are calm, but some seem playful and even angry.

When she started the aurora series in about 2008, Petrides worked in oil on canvas as she had done previously. Initial results lacked life so she developed a layering technique in which she paints the pa- per black, brushes on white gouache, draws long pen lines over it, and may add touches of gouache on top of the pen drawing and even more pen over the second layer of gouache. Experience has improved her control, increased the effects she can get, and amplified the work’s emotional range.

Lisa Sambor likes to putter. Working with scissors, she cuts small biomorphic shapes from paper. If she likes what she gets, she replicates these paper forms in unfired porcelain. Flattening a slab to a cardboard-like thickness, she cuts out many near-identical forms from it. “I see where the clay takes me,” she states, “and welcome accidents because they can lead someplace new.”

To take the next steps, Sambor draws on her design skills and experience. “All my work is based on a grid,” she says. “It’s very formal and graphic.” Once the clay forms are fired, she glues them to a flat maple plywood board that she’s painted in quiet color. The present exhibition includes some of these dimensional wall sculptures.

Sambor’s installation at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art consists of castings of rubber tree leaves and Agapanthus flowers attached to branches that hang from the ceiling. She makes the castings by dipping the plant materials into a porcelain paper clay slip and firing it. As in a lost wax casting, the plant material burns away.

Also in the present exhibition are extruded carved clay shapes that recall sea creatures and plants. Sambor gives these several coats of glaze and sands down the surface to get a mottled effect.

For many years, Dennis Lee Mitchell made wall-hung ceramic sculptures that recalled rotting tree branches. After forming a clay piece with his hands, the artist bisque fired it and then used a torch to melt and weld parts of it together. He colored the sculptures in browns and blacks with a torch whose flame he’d fixed to make it smoky.

Mitchell next experimented with depositing carbon from a smoky blowtorch onto ceramic plates and sheets of paper. Working with the torch, he created black, rhythmic, semi-transparent imagery that suggested plants and the human figure. As he was gaining mastery over his technique, the artist discarded more than 90 percent of the paper works that he made, including some that caught on fire. Mitchell has opened fresh expressive territory. His works on paper in this exhibition have layered im- agery in black tones that range from pale to dark. The outlines of his forms may be crisp or smudged. In some pieces, there are successions of comb-like lines that recall the flesh of fish. In others, we seem to be looking into infinite depth. Small flecks of carbon may be scattered at random on the pa- per. The artist leaves his works untitled and offers no explanation of the mysterious and compelling worlds that he has created.




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August 10, 2012

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University of Florida's Harn Museum of Art appoints Carol McCusker as Curator of Photography

Wang Xingwei curates new exhibition at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing

ASGARD: The conserved 1914 Howth gun running vessel goes on display at the National Museum of Ireland

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555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios: Ex-jail cells serve as artist studios in southwest Detroit

Second annual Texas Contemporary Art Fair returns to Houston

Middle class ice sculptures melt away at the Republican and Democratic Conventions

Phoenix Art Museum's new Latin American photography exhibition examines politics, power of place

Exhibition of young Japanese art opens at the Kunstraum Kreuzberg

Dennis Lee Mitchell's dark smoke patterns on paper on view at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art

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