On Thursday, Sept. 14, the Gordon Parks Gallery unveiled “By Nature We Are Connected,” an exhibit of mixed media works and glasswork by St. Paul artist Carey Dean. The exhibit is open through Oct. 19.
Dean’s love of nature began in 2010 when she stayed at Blacklock Nature Sanctuary as part of an artist fellowship program. Located in Moose Lake, Minnesota, Blacklock is dedicated to preserving undeveloped land.
“I didn’t go into the residency with any preconceived ideas about what I was going to do,” Dean said. “I just wanted to be open and try to form some new ideas.”
During her stay, Dean noticed trees that had been cut down. She realized that the rings within the tree trunk resembled a human fingerprint. In her artwork, she combined the tree trunk rings and the fingerprint into a “double spiral” to show the interconnection between nature and humans.
“All of my work since I did my MFA in England has been about trying to connect people to nature,” said Dean. “To find similarities and ways to help people understand that we are nature, and that everything is connected. We are all part of this biosphere.”
Using paint and pastels, Dean created both realistic and abstract representations of the annual growth rings of trees, which can be seen in the exhibit. The diversity of art is one of the reasons that this exhibit is so unique.
“This exhibition is of particular interest to painting and drawing students given the media the artist works with,” said Erica Rasmussen, Director of the Gordon Parks Gallery. “[Dean is] integrating chalks, pastels, Indian inks, sometimes acrylics, oils and various other things. She makes for some very rich surfaces.”
“The tree rings and the texture of wood stuck out to me,” said Kathryn Harker, a Studio Arts major. As a student intern for the gallery, Harker helped install the exhibition. “I enjoyed looking at how Carey wanted the pieces arranged and how they worked together,” she said. “I really enjoyed how the glass pieces didn’t necessarily seem related, but they still helped pull the whole exhibit together because of the similarity in color.”
Suspended on the gallery walls are discrete pieces of glass shaped like parallelograms. Their surfaces are stained with colors that create a blurring effect as they move from one point of the glass to the opposite point.
The glasswork was inspired by Dean’s time in her car, driving from St. Paul to her teaching job at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
“I am aware of the world around us and I am always observing,” said Dean. “I’ve witnessed every season and every hour, but I am in awe that I notice something new every day. There is a constant change and I wanted to apply this to my artwork. Every second is different, but how can I represent a landscape that is shifting and changing? I came up with the idea of doing blurred landscapes.”
This element of change is what Dean hopes to capture in her glasswork. “These blurred images represent the time and change that is always happening around us. It represents that no two moments are exactly the same,” she said.
All of these pieces of artwork together create a mosaic of Dean’s beliefs. “[The art] brings together a cohesive vision of one artist,” said Rasmussen. “When artists come to this mature stage in their life, there is a relationship and a harmony, a fluency between one work to another. Certainly, we see that in Carey Dean’s work.”
Dynamics and change in nature is what Dean tries to capture. “There isn’t one meaning to the work.There are different levels and interpretations,” she said. “Many people have their own interpretation and I like that and I like the work to be open. Some of the viewers are on the same page and others see something totally different and that is something completely fine by me.”
The Gordon Parks Gallery is located on the third floor of the Library and Learning Center; hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday to Thursday. Admission is free.