Review: “Materials” highlights beauty in the mundane

Augustana’s Eide/Dalrymple Gallery’s current exhibit “Materials” showcases the work of South Dakota artist Rick Johns, whose pieces will be on display until Dec. 12 and combine numerous mediums that are markedly balanced, creative and thought-provoking.

Johns hopes that people will leave the exhibit “with an understanding that beauty exists even in the most mundane or seemingly insignificant situations.”

“Chaos is not random,” Johns said. “There is always an order and balance because everything is connected and because of that, everything has importance.”

Johns has had an interest in both woodworking and art since his youth. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts and his Master of Fine Arts degrees from the University of South Dakota.

His pieces, which vary from paintings to map collages to wooden stools, have made him “highly respected in the region,” according to the gallery’s director, Lindsay Twa.

While perusing the exhibit, it was fascinating to me that while each piece had its own purpose and meaning, all the pieces seemed to complement each other.

One piece that I found especially thought-provoking was “Map No. 2.” At first, I thought it was merely a map with various flecks of color. But the more I focused on the piece, the more complex it became.

In reality, it’s composed of various sections of maps attached precisely so they seem inseparable. Twa said the maps give “a lovely window into something that is both found, but also created.”

Johns first finds antique maps, then works on connecting them and pulling them together with the collaged pieces on top. Strokes of paint and pieces of paper adorn the maps. The colors provided by these additions blur the lines between the maps and pull the eye toward the art as a whole.

In a world where borders seem to separate us, the pieceseems to be a clear reminder that the differences that keep people apart are really quite unimportant.

The wooden stools in the center of the exhibit, which are beautifully constructed from a variety of woods, provide a creative and sturdy place for viewers to sit as they take in the paintings, cement blocks and wood art along the walls of the gallery. They look modern yet rustic, a combination of the present and the past.

Another painting that caught my eye was “Running Water.” The piece is an excellent example of Johns’ ability to layer his work. On top of the base paints are sticks, paper and what appears to be layers of paint that have been stamped on. Different strokes, indentations and techniques are utilized to make it seem like the surface of the art is moving.

Another focus of the gallery is the cement boxes. Every one of them has the same general size and shape, but each has something different about them as well.

“Cement Box No. 2” features a grid of thick wire.

Johns said he used empty cardboard packages and leftover cement from a building project to make the boxes. He said he enjoys “the irony of casting the interior space that is void into a permanent version of the disposable original.”

Much of the interpretation of any of Johns’ artwork is open to the viewer. His abstract collaging and layering provide a distinct outlook on different types of materials.

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