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‘The Real Unreal: Realism Now’ runs from Sept. 4 to Oct. 14, opening reception Sept. 6: WCSU exhibition to feature new approaches to artistic realism

DANBURY, CONN. — Four critically acclaimed artists from Connecticut and New York will show selections from their works in “The Real Unreal: Realism Now,” an exhibition showcasing the use of traditional styles to deliver underlying cultural and social critiques that will run from Tuesday, Sept. 4, through Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, in the Visual and Performing Arts Center Art Gallery at Western Connecticut State University.

An opening reception that will include an informal talk featuring the exhibition’s curator and participating artists will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6, in the VPAC Art Gallery on the university’s Westside campus, 43 Lake Ave. Extension in Danbury. The exhibition will be open for public viewing during gallery hours from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission for gallery viewing and the opening reception will be free and open to the public; reservations to attend the reception should be made online on the VPAC events web page at The Art Gallery exhibition program is sponsored by the WCSU Department of Art with support from gallery patrons; donations to sustain the program will be accepted.

The exhibition will present works by each artist that outwardly demonstrate a traditional and realistic painting style, while evoking compelling critiques of contemporary culture and society through their unique reinterpretations of the subject matter presented in their works. Artists featured in the show include Mia Brownell, of New Rochelle, New York; Leeah Joo, of Middlebury; Jennifer Knaus, of Collinsville; and Nathan Lewis, of Seymour.

The curator of the exhibition is Jane Rainwater, of Andover, an artist, designer and educator who holds an M.F.A. from the Art Institute of Boston. Rainwater’s artistic work, presented in more than 30 solo and group exhibitions over the past two decades, includes drawings, prints, diagrams, installations and sculpture. “My work engages the viewer with its seemingly innocent decorative delight, yet upon closer examination the work challenges and questions our attraction by revealing darker truths,” her artist statement said. She is the owner of Rainwater Design; illustrator, author and designer of eight books; and adjunct professor in art, illustration and design at Eastern Connecticut State University, Manchester Community College and Great Path Academy Magnet School.

Following are biographical notes on the four artists featured in “The Real Unreal” show:

  • Mia Brownell has shown her paintings in more than 130 group exhibitions worldwide since 1997, as well as 18 solo exhibitions across the United States including her “Plate to Platelets” show at the University of Colorado earlier this year. Her works are held in 10 private and public collections including the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, and she is a recipient of New York Foundation for the Arts grants, several artist residencies and invitations to participate in the U.S. Department of State Art In Embassies program. “She uses the conventions of the painted food still life as a means to comment on contemporary issues surrounding food,” her biography observed. “Her paintings simultaneously reference 17th century Dutch Realism and the coiling configurations of molecular imaging.” A profile of Brownell written by Rebecca Rudell for “At Buffalo” magazine described the “abstract, gestural lines” that lead the viewer into works that “touch on the complicated relationship we have with food” and “the impact corporations have on what we eat.” The artist told Rudell, “Food is the most profound relationship we have with nature. It’s an intersection with most things, so it’s a perpetual theme of inspiration for me.” Recipient of an M.F.A. in Painting from the State University of New York at Buffalo, Brownell teaches painting and drawing at Southern Connecticut State University.
  • Leeah Joo, a native of South Korea whose family immigrated to the American Midwest when she was 10, earned her B.F.A. in Painting at Indiana University and her M.F.A. in Painting at the Yale School of Art. Her paintings have appeared since 1996 in 17 solo and more than 40 group exhibitions across the United States, most recently in one-person shows at galleries in Chicago and Kansas City. Honors include grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and the Connecticut Commission of Culture and Tourism, and the MacMillan-Stewart Painting Chair at the Maryland Institute College of Art. In an interview with the contemporary art publication Daily Serving, Joo said she has “always been fascinated with narrative-driven artwork” of diverse origins, from the Old Masters of western Europe to traditional Korean art forms. Her recurring subjects of curtains, coverings, windows and lattice doors provide surface details in fabric, glass and wood that “draw attention to pique the viewer’s interest,” Joo observed. “In great storytelling, the buildup and the anticipation keep us interested, not the ending itself. I like to think my ‘surface’ is the buildup.”
  • Jennifer Knaus has drawn inspiration from diverse sources ranging from classical portraiture to surrealism to create paintings and drawings exhibited during the past 20 years at exhibitions in New York, California, Connecticut and across New England, most recently at the Washington (Connecticut) Art Association, the Bristol (Rhode Island) Art Gallery and the Carver Hill Gallery in Rockland, Maine. She received her M.F.A. from the University of California at Davis and earned fellowships from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism and the Greater Hartford Arts Council. She has been a member of the Art Department faculty at Central Connecticut State University since 1994, currently teaching painting, drawing and design. “My paintings are imaginary portraits that come from a desire to combine various unrelated attractions: portraits from the northern Renaissance, 17th century still-life paintings, the beautiful chaos of my backyard at the height of summer and mid-century pattern design, to name a few,” Knaus said in her artist statement. Using “surrealist techniques of tapping into the subconscious,” she observed that her works seek “to embellish icons with humor and a little absurdity, but also within those details to suggest a narrative that is mysterious and atmospheric.”
  • Nathan Lewis has exhibited his paintings and installations in seven solo and more than 20 group exhibitions across the United States and internationally, with his works held in private collections throughout the Northeast as well as California, Russia, Germany and India. An associate professor of art at Sacred Heart University, Lewis received his M.F.A. in Painting from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, and also has studied art in Italy and Russia. His paintings have appeared on numerous book and journal covers and in films shown at the Cannes and Sundance film festivals. Artist notes for an exhibition at the Fernando Luis Alvarez Gallery in Stamford observed that “Lewis’ work brings to light common mythologies replicated in reality. Known for its allegorical references, his work takes on the form and subjects of complex literary narratives and historical influences,” ranging from Greek and Roman mythology to Shakespearean and religious texts, popular magazines and culture, and post-apocalyptic literature. A review of Nathan’s works by Jane Rushmore published in Play Magazine remarked that the artist’s iconoclastic juxtapositions of images challenges the viewer to respond to his art. “I’m very interested in how an audience reads an image,” Lewis told the reviewer, “and tying it into the culture’s insecurities, desires and fears.”

For more information, contact the Department of Art at (203) 837-8403 or the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.


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