Harper College

Harper National Juried Exhibition: Small Works 2023

September 5 - October 12

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About the Exhibition

The 45th Annual National Juried Exhibition highlights Small Works selected from entries by artists from across the country. The exhibition features a wide array of media ranging from photography and prints to painting and sculpture. Our juror this year is Laura Burkhalter, Senior Curator, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA. 

About the Artists

Esther, 2023

mixed media, 6" x 4"

My work explores biblical stories and ancient myths in the search for a contemporary mythology. As Joseph Campbell once said in his book The Power of Myth, "Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within us." For me, everyone goes through their own version of the hero's journey. Each small decision can be a catalyst for a larger event in human history. For each portrait that I draw, be it of a friend, or a model, or even a stranger, there is always a mystery surrounding the subject's lineage, and my own, which culminates in this fragile moment we call as present. I wish to share this mystery with my audience so that each person who appreciates my art may also appreciate the weight of their own existence, since I firmly believe that nothing is truly ordinary in this world if one still looks with eyes of wonder.

instagram: @lunnara_luza

over and over and over, 2021

cast silicone, 10" x 8" x 2"

I make objects that pull from a visual and physical vocabulary that I consider "familiar". Familiarity is about proximity, nearness often rendering the closest objects the most invisible. In spite of their invisibility, they become the containers that get filled with fragments of memory, emotion and place; they ground us in space and a time. Familiarity becomes more complicated, often uncomfortable feeling as these objects begin to turn away from functional and material expectations, leaving a rift between the thing known and the thing seen.

These equivocating sculptures are simultaneously familiar and difficult to decipher. Like artifacts from the world that is akin to but not our own, these objects emulate the forms of everyday objects while obscuring their purpose. The use of silicone intensify their cold, smooth, and machinelike appearance, heightening qualities of the sterile and melancholic while still being emotionally charged.


The Architecture of Reassurance, 2021

graphite on Strathmore 400 Bristol board, 12" x 16"

Drawings from this series express the language of excess and consequence through the depiction of artificial spaces that mimic landscapes and cityscapes. These fictional places can be viewed but never entered. They become a silent, but ambitious narrative that allows for the exploration of these overindulgent spaces that are constructed of genetically modified and ultra-processed saccharine forms. These are the imagined artifacts of an artificial and detrimental landscape that becomes an environment for stories that investigate the body, identity, gender, ritual, economics and class.


Memento Macro-diddle-itis Movement #3, 2023

hand cut paper on distressed drywall, 24" x 20" x 3"

My work stems from the loss of both my mother and father due to smoking related cancers in February of 2013. Their passing lead to a deep void in my life that led me to reinvestigate the trauma and horrors of childhood. Through this introspection I realized how many memories I could not recall and the empty abyss therein. Childhood trauma and abuse is an experience many of us relate to in one way or another. My work seeks to investigate these moments not as abhorrent events that are insurmountable, but as regrettable occurrences that changed the trajectory of who I am. By mimicking and encapsulating that trauma within distressed drywall panels, I fill that void with sculptures made from paper which is both fragile and flexible. Through this work, I draw a connection to the human psyche and the resilience we all have inside.


Buoy 6, 2022

mixed media on paper, 14" x 14"

This series of work I call Buoys started during Covid lockdown as a group of simple four-color experiments. Despite the fact that I did not think they were successful I kept them. I eventually started drawing on them and adding small-collaged forms with stenciled, and painted elements. Much less structured than my typical practice, they seem to have a sense of humor and a lightness to them that has held my interest. 


Strained, 2022

oil on canvas, 16" x 20" x 1.5"

Strained is the first work in a new series of still life paintings. I work with still lifes, primarily, because they keep me more productive. The objects are always available – ready and waiting. Still lifes also allow me to paint from observation, which is a process I find engaging. Although I call myself a painter, I’ve never considered color to be my strong suit. Working from observation increases my ability to perceive and translate color more effectively. Finally, still lifes allow me to collect and curate. I do my best work when I can select from objects or images at hand. The objects I use include figurines, household items, and fabric that I have gathered from family, friends, garage sales, and thrift stores. When I set up the still lifes, I intuitively respond to the function and character of the objects while also looking for relationships between colors and forms.


Red Dragon, 2023

repurposed toy, vinyl, and fabric fill, 18" x 20" x 18"

I have been creating imaginary organisms for the past twenty-one years. I grew up in Delicias, Chihuahua before moving to Texas in 1987. Biological organisms, real and imagined, such as cancer cells and desert imagery are influential. The forms I create are mysteriously inviting, and yet they threaten and give the viewer pause. Familiar materials make them approachable, while the meaning of the forms makes them repugnant. Various scales range from the intimate to the monumental; these accentuate my work's attractive and repulsive qualities. I spend a lot of time with my family in the far west Texas desert’s Big Bend region. This environment presents many physical obstacles such as lack of shade, scarce water and limited resources. I use stuffed animals and various toys from my kids’ vast collection in an environmentally conscious consideration using readily available resources. This practice supports the delicate existence of man in the harsh desert environment where every resource is precious and is a reference to Chicano Rasquachismo and making the most with the least.

Pinkie's World, 2022

mixed media LED lit diorama, 10.5" x 19" x 12"

Always drawn to sealed worlds inside dollhouses and museum displays, I began making "Mindscapes" dioramas. My dioramas are colorful but spooky. I celebrate the Midwest's industrial ruins, broken, lonely landscapes, abandoned brownfields, power lines, smokestacks, rusted bridges and swamps: Nature vs. industry, aliveness amid environmental decay.

Components include rusted metal, vacuum tubes, computer parts, toys, other sci-fi and horror elements to lurk amid the ruins. Subtle LED lighting casts a romantic glow but I like to convey mystery and disquiet.

I salvage desk drawers and other wooden boxes. First I arrange lighting, then I collage materials like epoxy-infused paper, rusted objects, fabric, wig hair and twigs. Outer cladding is canvas with epoxy resin, and sand.

Some compare my work to the boxes of Joseph Cornell, but I’m more inspired by mystical expressionism of Charles Burchfield, Tim Burton, David Lynch, B movies, sci-fi, dark humor in all forms.


Pink Quilt 2, 2022

acrylic paint on panel, 10" x 8" x 1"

I am drawn to the aesthetic qualities of jewelry. This interest stems from the color, texture, variety and the association with the female body that jewelry contains.

I experiment with various manipulations of paint in which the paint strays away from the picture plane and becomes a three-dimensional form. In this body of work, I have molded paint into a bead, lace and floral forms. While the molds themselves remain consistent, the paint allows each bead to have individuality. These pieces are then meditatively collage together to create a tapestry of paint. These moulded forms cover the surface of each panel. They are no longer additions or embellishments to pieces, but the focus. The detail of each piece urges the viewer to slow down and take a closer look.


Dreamer with Lipstick, 2023

acrylic on polyester fabric and cardboard, 11.5" x 11.5" x .5"

I have to put on a dress and a wig, I’m in the show but I don’t know my part. I’m the only one without makeup on, or hair, and I don’t own these things. I’ve been rushing down dim stairs and halls to find things to borrow or steal. Finally in front of a mirror, a hot tube of lipstick in my fist, and I remember that I don’t know about cosmetics. I know about beauty. I draw on a big red circle for a mouth. I’ll make blue ovals for eyes, black streaks for lashes. There’s a distressed wig hanging on the mirror, and folds of dusty fabric. Now, somehow, there’s my cue in the distance, I have the mouth but nothing else, and they’re looking for me.


I Wish You'd Stay (III), 2022

hand embroidered textile, 5.5" X 1.75" x .75"

Abigail’s hand sewn fiber works are specific to shadows of things that hold her body. This piece is part of a series titled I Wish You’d Stay which includes shapes taken from objects that demonstrate holding actions: fastening, wrapping or supporting the body. The work explores the effects of time and loss and a yearning for permanence as residues are formed, or found, and linger. While the work seeks to materialize something as fleeting as a shadow, it becomes self aware in its decision to reproduce and solidify a passing moment. In addition to her sewn work, Abigail often incorporates a variety of drawn lines, vinyl shapes, and cast objects in her sculptures and installations. These gestures nod to the futility of fixing a shadow, and reveal actions of holding that are present within the architecture of a given space.


Cellular Healing: All the Light at the End, 2022

watercolor pencils, colored pencils, acrylic paint pens, ink, graphite on watercolor paper, 8.5" x 7"

My artwork is about the power of healing after loss, trauma and grief. Using abstraction and color theory my imagery attempts to communicate that healing occurs cell by cell within us, particle by particle, and that this is available to us every day in the symbols and colors around us. The shapes I use are my imaginative ideas of what our cells might look like as we encounter the hard work of healing while we simultaneously enter new states of aliveness. My art is also about experiencing conflicting emotions and the co-existence within us of sadness & happiness, anger & compassion, despair & accomplishment, love & loneliness.

“All the Light at the End” is my cellular representation of pushing through a deep struggle – everything at every level is shifting and moving -- but there’s always bright yellow light at the end and our cellular landscape somehow knows and feels this.  


Viscid Violet, 2023

mixed media, 18" x 14"

Soul Scapes is a collaborative piece by painter and illustrator Aissatou (Icy) Traore and photographer Koozy. Traore is a first-generation Conakry Guinea American born and raised in Queens, New York. Drawing inspiration from her vivid dreams since childhood, Traore brings her dreams to life through her artwork. Koozy is based in Brooklyn, New York, she was born and raised in Sanford, Florida. Koozy's work explores themes of race, sexuality and identity. Her photography often captures the complexity of everyday life in Black and queer communities.

Soul Scapes aims to highlight the individuality of a person's aura, which is believed to be a manifestation of their energy, thoughts and emotions. The project showcases how these energies combine when people come together, creating a beautiful and harmonious collaboration. Through Soul Scapes, they hope to inspire others to celebrate their unique energies and recognize the beauty in others.


Number's Game, 2022

oil on hand-sewn canvas with poly batting, 15" x 15" x 5"

Caitlyn Lawler’s practice is located at the intersection of craft, painting and soft sculpture. Handsewn, painted and stuffed with polyester batting, the work Number’s Game is part of a series that embraces softness as an act of subversion. What is often viewed as domestic or feminine in color, pattern and form makes space for subjectivity. As a result, the process of softening destabilizes roles, identities and hardened forms of logic and tradition. Throughout her introspective and irreverent compositions, thick gestural brushstrokes and abstracted color fields face disruption from unexpected materials and techniques. Planes of loss, tenderness and pleasure are ruptured through figuration, a punctured surface, or collaged elements that unsettle the present moment.


Two Curves, 2022

acrylic on wood, 17.5" x 24" x 13"

Hung anywhere but "eye level," between the wall and ceiling like a corbel, in and around corners and along baseboards, and then dramatically lit, Mossman's sculptures choose to define a space and the idea of objects in a space. Slightly reminiscent of appliances used in a space; hand dryers, heating, and ac units, vents and security alarm, as well as architectural details, his painted objects, comment on the role of industrial design and fine art on the placement and appearance of objects in an interior. In a recent work, "Two Curves," 2022, a minimalist form with decidedly Ab/Ex surface treatment, through its unorthodox placement in a space, might be mistaken for an architectural model or fragment that has been relocated where one might find an air conditioning unit or soffit. A recent group of works "Forms" suggests by their design and placement, everyday appliances/fixtures, but their use of sometimes iconic painting styles and artificially abraded surfaces, evoke an art historical nostalgia. They walk a thin line between the utilitarian and the purely abstract.


Still Life With Garlic, 2022

oil on canvas, 11" x 14"

My art is an intimate reflection of the world as we see it, a tribute to the breathtaking beauty that resides in the everyday scenes we often overlook. It is rooted in the belief that art is a profound mirror of our human vision, of how we perceive the world that surrounds us with all its vibrant contrasts, shifting shadows and mesmerizing interplays of light.
As a homeschooled artist trained in the traditional techniques, my art finds its greatest expression in representationalism. I delight in capturing the essence of reality, but not just as it objectively exists. Instead, I strive to reimagine it, to present it as it can be seen through the eyes of subjectivity, lending it an emotional depth and a personal touch.

Silent Streets, 2023

jigsaw print, laser engraved, 10.25" x 7.5"

This print depicts car-dependent landscapes, places familiar to us but often overlooked and lacking in any personal quality. This concept is influenced by the ideas and aesthetics established by the New Topographic Photographers of 1975, who focused on the mundaneness, yet underlying beauty, of industrial landscapes, suburban sprawl and unromanticized man-made places.  

My goal in much of my work is to present the vehicular landscape as an alien place – a liminal space not designed for human habitation - this quality is best perceived when these places are seen at night. These locations beckon us with their light, yet simultaneously feel unsafe and eerie in their emptiness; the ubiquitous sounds of life that make us comfortable are not found here. I seek to depict the silence created in these spaces and the preternatural lighting to which I feel drawn. 

My Kitchen, As I Remember It, 2023

acrylic gouache on paper, 7.5" x 10.75"

As an artist, my creative practice explores themes of trauma, longing, and loss from the perspective of a mature woman navigating an ageist society. My work confronts internalized societal expectations placed upon women, and uses imagery from domestic environments to evoke a sense of comfort and nostalgia. I deliberately employ familiar materials like fabric and wallpaper patterns, once used to conceal flaws and brighten working-class homes, now imbued with a sense of dis-ease. Through this juxtaposition, I aim to challenge ageist & sexist assumptions, and prompt the viewer to question preconceived notions about aging and the roles assigned to women. 


Fran the Titan, John the Titanic, 2023

oil on canvas, 20" x 16"

In My Room, Alone with Everyone

My work consists of paintings and drawings that examine the ideas of absence, loss, presence and memory. The exploration of these ideas define notions of identity and self. Playing off of the inherent symbolism of objects familiar in art history and popular culture, the work uses objects and places that are both personal to the artist’s consumption and existence. The interiors in this body of work are accompanied with objects that represent ideas of an expanded larger political narrative as well. Ultimately the work engages in the notion of temporality. The objects and other visual elements that are present in the work function withing the environment of the pieces to shape narrative. This narrative seeks to explore the nuances of reflection, evocation, absence and predication.


Another Political Season, 2023

photography, 8" x 12"

I'm interested in the artfulness of those things that make up the region where I've lived all my life. I'm a design junkie and seek out the time-worn, curious and funky. I explore rural communities and urban neighborhoods for reminders of humanness, culture and community. My photographs are little portraits, an investigation of this place. I continue to find my voice and those moments when everything comes together are worthy of the worry.


Right Here, Right Now, 2014 - ongoing

latex paint, .375" x .375" x .375"

Long interested in tactility, in-betweenness, embodiedness and construction, I transform liquid paint into sculpture, a process derived from making oil on canvas paintings and discovering the many layers of oil paint beneath the surface. Those layers of oil paint embody linear time, repetitive processes and material characteristics. Now, I exemplify the layering by pouring a thick coat of latex paint one color at a time, allowing each color to dry completely before adding another layer, and repeating the process many times. I later cut the dried paint to reveal the layers of cross-section. The cross-section juxtaposes order and chaos: the consistent order of paint from old to new, and the imperfection of subtle differences in thicknesses. Transforming latex paint from its original, liquid form—before fashioning it within new contexts and forms—the artworks acknowledge an abiding passion for the sensational and perceptual properties of materiality.


Home For 3, 2023

fabric, glass beads, thread, clay, india ink, glass tiles, wood, and grout, 13.5" x 21" x 1"

Through performance, sculpture and site-specific installation I reflect on my experiences of immigration, trauma, memory and story-telling. In working with materials relevant in Chinese culture, and through repetitive gestures, I highlight inter-generational complexities that arise from being a first-generation immigrant. In my work, I explore and create a platform from which to speak as someone who is part of the Chinese diaspora in the United States. While grappling with these complexities, I also realize that displacement is a necessary force for identities to evolve and transform in a place where many cultures coexist. As I search for a sense of self-assertion, as a first-generation Chinese artist, I constantly experience cultural and inter-generational clashes. In search and desire for belonging, I create work that alludes to the simultaneous experiences of belonging and displacement.


About the Juror

Laura Burkhalter

Senior Curator, Des Moines Art Center

A native of Des Moines and graduate of the University of Iowa in English and Art History, Laura Burkhalter joined the Des Moines Art Center staff as Curatorial Assistant in 1999 and became Senior Curator in 2023. Burkhalter has organized several large solo and group exhibitions of international contemporary art, including Transparencies: Contemporary Art and a History of Glass, Laurel Nakadate: Strangers and Relations, Monument Valley, and Justin Favela: Central American. She has been involved in the annual Iowa Artists exhibition nearly every year of her tenure, working to introduce the best of the state’s artists to the museum’s audience, and organizing solo exhibitions with Rachel Cox, Yun Shin, Mitchell Squire, and Jordan Weber. Working within the Des Moines Art Center collections, she has presented exhibitions on Yayoi Kusama, Andy Warhol, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and many others. Currently, she is wrapping up Art Center: 75 Years of Iowa Art, an exhibition kicking off the museum’s 75th anniversary year, and Transform Any Room, a group exhibition of contemporary art inspired by domestic space and household goods that will close out 2023. Laura lives in Des Moines with her partner, Marc, and their three cats Earl, Elvira, and Maple.

In discussing contemporary art, it is often noted that artists are free to choose any media they desire. Beyond the traditional tools of paint, pencil, clay, and bronze, any number of found objects from personal effects to flea market finds to food can find their way into the art gallery. The works in this exhibition represent a very long list of materials, sometimes several together in one work. Scale, on the other hand, is not as often mentioned as a choice an artist deliberately makes to convey their aesthetic message. If an artist works small, as all the artists in this exhibition have chosen to do, viewers may assume that it is due to lack of studio space or other resources. Even if necessity plays a role in the scale of these works, I would like to call attention to the power they harness by making art on an intimate scale. Giant works easily overwhelm by their sheer size, regardless of their subject matter. Works on a medium, human scale are easy to approach and view, visible from a traditionally comfortable distance but still separate from the space most visitors occupy when casually moving through a gallery. In working small (and in some instance very small), these artists ask us to move in closer to catch the details. We can imagine holding many of these works in our hands and appreciate the skill it took to make tiny stitches, short brushstrokes, or delicate constructions. I was honored to curate this selection of concentrated wonders, and hope each visitor finds surprise, beauty and connection in this art - no matter how modest the dimensions.

Last Updated: 4/8/24