Two 2020 Lawrence graduates, Tanner MacArthur and Callie Kiesow, visited with Lawrence community members via Zoom on Thursday, Feb. 25 to discuss their joint show “dissolve/resolve,” which is on show now at the Wriston Art Galleries. The two were scheduled to show their senior exhibitions in the spring of 2020, but after Lawrence went online in March, they were unable to do so. Since graduating in June, MacArthur and Kiesow have inhabited several spaces where they adapted to COVID-19 restrictions and continued to make work in several “studio spaces,” such as bedrooms and cold garages, until they moved in together at their current home in Milwaukee. In their time at Lawrence, they often shared a studio space, so it only felt natural for them to continue existing in the same place as they progressed with their work.
After showing pictures of the installation day for their show and the gallery space itself, MacArthur began to explain his process and inspiration behind his current body of work, which includes seven smaller paintings and one large one, all on canvas. They share a general color palette of traffic-safety yellows and oranges, vibrant pastels and a variety of more dingy grays and browns, all overlapping in structures and lines that fluctuate between illusions of flatness and space. MacArthur’s ideas for this collection first started to take shape on a religious studies trip to India in December of 2019. He has long been inspired by the Buddhist concept of “interbeing,” spoken of by Thích Nhất Hạnh. In simplified terms, this word implies that everything exists as a part of something else. This interest made him think deliberately about what he pulls both consciously and subconsciously from his surroundings to integrate into his work. He says that he finds “bits and pieces of other lifetimes” and pulls them into his own. He also believes that the constant stream of music he plays contributes to the way he paints. Through his additive technique, he rewrites the space of the canvas over and over, suggesting that things that were there before still live on in what is seen now.
Kiesow’s work at first appears to be in direct opposition with MacArthur’s paintings just across the room. She focuses mainly on charcoal, using a reductive style in which she takes starts out with a lot of pigment and then erases it to form the image. The nine pieces highlighted in this exhibition depict human forms that are obscured and contorted in some way by fabric. When she first started making pieces like these, she was concerned about the objectification of women in the art world and how she may be contributing to that as she draws many female bodies in various stages of undress, but her work speaks further than that. She explained how the process of making these obscured figures has helped her come to terms with her sexuality. Her central focus relies on how the body language of the subject is speaking to the audience. This emotional and psychological work is done by way of slight bodily contortion and positioning of the sheet, rendered in high contrast and careful detail. The preparation for a charcoal piece involves Kiesow collaborating with a friend who she consistently asks to model for these images. She turns off the light, takes the pictures and plays with the contrast until she feels like it captures the feeling she is looking for. She cited David Lynch as an inspiration, drawing parallels from how she smears the backgrounds to black and his similar approach in much of his artwork. By doing so, Kiesow situates the scene outside of a particular time or place and allows for the action to take full focus. She intends to continue experimenting with materials, photographing herself and working with the human form.
Though MacArthur and Kiesow’s work is very different in many ways, the two mention that it does something interesting when they reside together in a room. Their exhibition is still available for viewing — appointments in the gallery can be scheduled at the Wriston Art Gallery page on Lawrence University’s website. MacArthur and Kiesow can be found separately on Instagram at @mushybrain and @calliekiesow, or on their joint “mood board” Instagram @_.dissolve.