Reframing Boise's visual language

Idaho artists find iconic imagery in the everyday.

July 19, 2013 

4 - Moonrise Over Merl#895F.JPG

Charles Gill’s “Moonrise over Merel’s,” 2006, oil on canvas.


  • 'URBAN:' Through Sept. 22, Boise Art Museum, 670 Julia Davis Drive. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. $5 general, $3 college students with ID and seniors, $1 grades 1-12. Free for ages 5 and younger and members, everyone on First Thursday.

    'LOCAL COLOR': 9 a.m.-5 p.m. through July 25 at the offices of Boise State Public Radio, 220 E. ParkCenter Blvd.

Ah, paintings of the rolling Foothills, postcard-perfect watercolors of Basque dancers, balloons over Boise and the Depot - these are some of the iconic images that have popped up in the work of Treasure Valley artists for years.

While these images reflect a certain character of the city and will always hold validity, there's a shift happening. Today, more artists are working with ideas that encompass more subtle aspects of the city's culture and history - from paintings of dive bars to artistically rendered sections of Interstate 84 to abstract visions of backyards - that explore the changing character of Idaho's capital.

Two current art exhibits - "Local Color" by the Treasure Valley Artists Alliance at Boise State University and "URBAN" at the Boise Art Museum - mark the city's sesquicentennial courtesy of Department of Arts and History 150 grants. Both expand the visual language we use to express where we live, through media and subject matter.

"Local Color" shows a mix of media by established and emerging artists that reflect very personal interpretations of Boise, says Melissa Chambers, who founded TVAA and co-curated the show with Jacqueline Crist.

"Some are cliche, others are idiosyncratic, but they all show that Boise is a great place to be," Chambers says.

"URBAN" is an exploration of Boise's cityscapes, but they're not what you expect, says BAM curator Sandy Harthorn.

"They record the angles and views that we see every day but may not have noticed. It really shows different qualities of the city," she says.

Between the two shows, there is no one piece that sums up Boise at its 150th year, says artist Cate Brigden. But all of it taken together translates the city's character and culture into art.

"Some artists literally conjure a sense of place," Brigden says. "For others - like me - it's more generic, but a sense of place comes out of it. I glean everything I need in my own backyard."

Brigden works in oil and photography. For "Local Color" her piece "In the Garden (looking out)" is a photograph taken in her backyard. Digitally processed and manipulated, it feels more like a painting in the way it translates an experience rather than communicates a visual image of her garden, she says.

The four artists of "URBAN," painters Karen Woods, Charles Gill, Michael Miller and photographer Jan Boles, have been exploring Boise's streets, skylines and buildings for decades. As a whole, the exhibit encompasses everything from epic panoramic vistas to busy street corners.

For this show, Gill intended to picture his Boise in a less postcard-like way, he says.

"We don't need another watercolor of the Boise Depot," Gill says. "Those are beautiful, but that's not where I'm looking. I'm looking somewhere closer to home."

Gill walked across the street from his Warm Springs Avenue home to paint. His canvases explore light contrast and the imposition of structure on nature in the Foothills around Table Rock.

For his panoramic piece "Four Snapshots of a Landscape," Gill took four photographs of different sections of the Foothills and reconstructed it on canvas to create a landscape that doesn't exist in reality.

"I'm deliberately trying to slip out from under the dramatic landscape identity, and I wanted it to be pretty obvious," he says.

When painter Karen Woods moved from Los Angeles to Boise in 1994, she considered herself a landscape painter. In Southern California, she would drive miles to find scenery to paint. When she landed in Boise, she ironically decided to shift her focus from rolling hills to the streets around her.

In the mid-2000s, during a rash of road construction, she often found herself stuck in traffic. Instead of getting frustrated, she took out her camera and photographed the scenery through her car window - the way most of us see the world at one time or another. Then she worked with the images in her studio where she takes liberties with perspective, color and background.

"It's a new way of experiencing Boise," she says. "Even though I don't paint to be therapeutic, I've fallen in love with the city more by developing a deep familiarity with its streets."

Michael Miller started painting Boise streets, alleys and buildings in the 1970s. He works from a wealth of photography - both his own and historical.

"I'm attracted to things that are less in your face," he says. "I wander around town with my camera in case something strikes me."

His photorealistic canvases preserve a slice of Boise's past; at the same time they amplify its transformation, from the unchanged 44 Club on State Street to facades of businesses and buildings that no longer exist.

"The thing that bothers me about the way the city is changing is that they're taking away so many of the old buildings that there's less of a way to find the juxtapositions that create the tension in my canvases," Miller says.

A few years ago the imagery in "URBAN" probably would not have received this kind of attention, Wood says. It's not the artists who've changed the way they work; it's the eye of curators and viewers that has changed.

"I think people have grown their appreciation for the everyday scenes around them," Woods says. "Ten or 15 years ago, that wouldn't have been so."

At 150 years, it is a great time to take a visual snapshot of the city, says Terri Schorzman, director of the Boise City Department of Arts and History.

"A lot of this city is defined by the quality of its arts," she says. "That's why the city created the 150 Grants to express our civic culture through arts."

Dana Oland: 377-6442Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland

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