Eau Claire artist John Qualheim doesn’t submit his artwork to many shows anymore. But when he saw a call for submissions for the Pablo Center at the Confluence’s opening exhibit, he knew he’d regret if he didn’t try.
Qualheim, 67, has one piece in the Confluence of Art Annual Exhibition — one of 334 pieces that were submitted to the exhibit, and one of 94 selected by the juror.
“It’s always nice to be chosen in a juried show because you’re up against some pretty good competition,” he said. “I’m always pleasantly surprised when I get in the show. This one in particular I’m very honored to be a part of.”
This is the sixth edition of the Confluence of Art Annual Exhibition — though the first in the Pablo Center — and Pablo Center Director of Artistic Programming Brenna St. George Jones said the exhibition received more than double the number of submissions it has had in the past, from artists both regionally and “all around the country.”
The show, which is themed”Homecoming,” runs Sept. 22 through Oct. 19 in the James W. Hansen Gallery of the Pablo Center, 128 Graham Ave.
Qualheim’s piece is an illustration titled “Easy Money.” He said it is part of a series of illustrations he did over the course of five years based on roadside signage he saw while traveling. That series is titled “Sign Language.”
“This piece (“Easy Money”) is probably a bit different than most pieces in the show I would think,” he said. “It has more of a commercial feel to it, almost pop art.”
Most of the pieces are different from one another, St. George Jones said, adding what surprised her most about the show was the wide variety of media that was submitted.
“They really do run the gamut between painting, textiles, sculpture, ceramics and even some video components,” she said. “It has a strong showing of local artists. It’s not just paintings — though the paintings are extraordinary — but it really shows the arts are a living thing here.”
The video piece stood out in particular to St. George Jones. That one, titled “Inside Out: Sisällä Ulos,” is an experimental video UW-Eau Claire art and design professor Jyl Kelley created following an artist residency she did in 2016 in Lapua, Finland.
“Sisällä ulos” in Finnish translates to “inside out,” and Kelley said her piece is a time lapse that captures “the cosmos and life on earth from both inside and outside of a Finnish home.” The content of the film shows two windows simultaneously, allowing viewers to feel the effects. Local artist Daniel Lee Ruff Smith edited audio for the film.
“Observing the stars moving around us in compressed time is exciting and provokes thought about a human connection to the universe,” Kelley said. “I was intrigued by the correlation between observing the exterior of the house and sky and the interior shot made through the window in a TV room ... looking from the inside out.”
And all of this is just in the first of two galleries in the new arts center.
The Graham Avenue Walking Gallery, which runs the length of the building parallel to Graham Avenue, will hold “An Artist Forever: Highlights of the Laurie Bieze Permanent Art Collection” from Sept. 22 through Nov. 9. St. George Jones said an artist reception for both galleries will take place at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, in the Pablo Center’s lobby.
The Bieze art collection will highlight a woman who made a significant impact to the Eau Claire arts community. Bieze died in 2014, but is well known for “invigorating” the arts community, St. George Jones said. Perhaps she is best known for her stained glass pieces.
Several of those pieces, according to the Pablo’s visual and literary arts manager Rose Dolan-Neill, include three light-up aisle signs and a gallery sign that pointed to the Janet Carson Gallery in the State Theatre. Her work also can be seen in area churches and restaurants, Chippewa Valley Technical College and other places.
“The exhibit really honors Laurie in a way I think she deserves,” St. George Jones said. “She was, by accounts I’ve heard, an incredibly warm, vivacious person of great force. This will continue that legacy and give her the exhibit she deserves as part of the (art center’s) opening.”
St. George Jones, who was hired in February for the artistic programming position, is an Eau Claire transplant from New York City. She’s had a few months to get to know the area and its many influential artists such as Bieze. As she plans for future art exhibits, she is keeping those things in mind.
“Long before I got here and even before this building was an idea, this visual arts community was really vital, pushing to make something happen here,” she said. “It’s important to honor and help continue that legacy.”
She hopes future exhibits can reflect and enhance that. Some of the exhibitions in the two galleries this season include traditional-to-Eau Claire shows such as “Fabulous Florals and Fine Arts, “Art of Plein Air Painting in the Chippewa Valley” and student art exhibits. However, there are also some new ideas, such as one themed “eco art and the global canvas” as well as another specifically featuring area women artists.
“Even for the exhibits that are familiar, we want to push them a little,” St. George Jones said. “Because we’ll be in the Pablo and have supporting spaces, we really hope to increase exposure and show how visual arts aren’t isolated; there’s a connection among all of the performing arts.”
That connection will be on display Sept. 22 at the opening of the Pablo Center, where both galleries will be open to the public amid a grand opening celebration that will include a plethora of all there is to love about the Chippewa Valley’s arts scene: Live music from musicians and local choirs, instrumental groups, performances by dance groups and more.
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