If you have ever been stuck on a school project, art-related or not, you understand the power of talking your ideas out with someone else. Artists and co-residents Frank Meuschke and Betsy Alwin are fond of sharing ideas and have now also exhibited in the same space. Their show “Present Tense” in Mount Mary University’s Marian Art Gallery was held from August 22 to September 30.
Meuschke and Alwin met when Alwin completed her residency at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Mueschke had completed his residency there the year prior and was teaching there at the time.
In this show, their work was tied together through the idea of making the viewer experience the work in the present moment.
“If you’re just looking at something, it would be intriguing because it has form, and it’s made out of materials,” Alwin said. “I actually want the materials to make you think of some kind of cause or effect.”
Meuschke’s subject matter is landscapes, a subject that he has enjoyed working with since grade school. For this show, he focused specifically on the woods located 200 to 300 yards from his house in Minnesota.
“Our relationship to nature, I feel is very abstract or could be characterized as very abstract, especially in the representation of nature through the mediation of the idea of landscape itself,” Meuschke said.
Meuschke incorporates his ideas about nature being abstract into his photographs.
“It’s not necessarily about landscape beauty; although you might find it there,” Meuschke said. “It’s not about more conventional landscape subject matter or even composition. To me, it’s more about the aestheticization of landscape.”
This is Meuschke’s first time showing his photography publicly. Yet, he has always taken photographs as a form of journaling. He is also an oil painter and during his time in New York, he painted scenes of Prospect Park.
“I very much enjoy the smell of painting, that sort of visceral quality,” Meuschke said. “It combines the physical qualities of paint (I use oil paint) and my visual excitement about seeing.”
Meuschke grew up on Long Island. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the State University of New York-New Paltz and a Master of Fine Arts in painting with a minor in landscape studies from New Mexico State University. He moved to Minnesota two years ago.
Meuschke is also interested in gardening. Since 2007, he has been writing a blog called Mound about his gardening activities. Gardening provides him with a way to interact more closely with nature than painting or taking photographs.
“There is a give and take there that is very much a different intellectual and physical and maybe emotional, spiritual enterprise than making paintings or even photographs out of nature,” Meuschke said. “For me, that’s way more about us, humanity, people than my experience with gardening-where I’m more directly confronting the world around me.”
Alwin creates ceramic lace sculptures that she combines with rebar or reinforcement steel to explore the ideas of beauty, fallibility and fragility.
“That is why I use the motifs that I do that are architectural based or tool based,” Alwin said. “They’re objects that you would think are very sturdy, so I recreate them in the ceramic lace, and they kind of resonate as these poetic objects that become a stand-in for that duality.”
Her inspiration for her ceramic lace forms came from a gigantic mushroom she saw in the woods.
“There was just something about it,” Alwin said. “That it could decay. That it was beautiful. That it just showed up, and then it would disappear. That it was very ephemeral.”
At first, Alwin tried taking lace, dipping it into ceramic slip and then draping it in order to create her forms, but these pieces were too fragile to be moved. They were only perfect when in the kiln. Now she casts her forms because she found that she could create more sturdy forms that way.
“They weren’t as ephemeral as I’d enjoyed, but they were pretty close to what I’d pictured,” Alwin said. “It’s really important to me that they be porous, that they have craved porosity, that you can see through them, and that they have an interior and exterior.”
Alwin chose to use the color blue for these pieces because she believed that it worked best to show the forms of each piece. Blue is a color that Alwin has continuously used in a number of her pieces, though the exact shade of blue varies from piece to piece.
“It’s also important for me that work not necessary be decorative in its entirety or gendered,” Alwin said. “So I wouldn’t make them bright colors because I want them to be a little more solemn.”
Alwin grew up in Minnesota. She graduated from Minnesota State University-Mankato with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. Then she earned a Masters of Fine Arts in sculpture from Illinois State University-Normal. For a number years of she lived in New York City before recently moving back to Minnesota.
A Word of Advice
Both Meuschke and Alwin offer advice to art students. Meuschke said that each student has a different path to follow, and one should not be consumed by the roadblocks that come with making art.
“You may not be good today or tomorrow, but one day, fifteen, twenty years later, you’re going to look back and say ‘Oh my God,’ I understand what I am doing so much than I did then, and I’m so much more capable of doing it now than I was then,” Meuschke said.
Alwin said that there is not one way to be artist. Instead, one has to decide what kind of artist to be and to continue to work towards that goal.
“The best advice that I was given to me that I’d like to pass along is that never think that you’re done, you have faded out because once you feel that you close a lot of doors,” Alwin said. “Art-making is a lifelong practice.”
Work by Meuschke and Alwin