Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Art Seen: Painter dresses up youthful art with advanced approach

The walls at the Gary Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus abound with color and well-crafted design this month.

Al baio, a recent graduate from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in New York City, exhibits a series of large paintings depicting young children in various animal uniforms. The paintings are done in Flashe paint, which is vinyl-based, and Sharpie marker. The Flashe paint is very guachelike, allowing for large areas of very flat color. She has been working exclusively in this medium for a year and a half, and color is obviously central to her work. I am amazed that a 22-year-old has such a mature sense of composition and form.

She says her experience of working on this first solo show was thrilling in every way. She also explains that her artwork has been focused on children and childhood for a while, with this current body of work primarily built around her memories and notions of childhood camaraderie. Growing up, she never had many friends and secretly envied all cliques she didn’t qualify for, no matter where their status fell on the totem pole of preschool popularity, she said.

The bright-eyed children in this body of work are unified by their attire as much as by their exaggerated facial expressions. Their animal regalia becomes a trademark of their solidarity, establishing the exclusivity of their gang. As they peer out of their Crayola-colored uniforms, a humorous vulnerability emerges, exposing them for the children they are.

Ellen Chambers, who curated the “Paper x3” exhibit at the college recently, discovered al baio while searching for artists to include in that exhibit. Baio’s work was in a juried exhibit for student work executed over the nonacademic summer months, and she won the Boit Award for her pieces. Chambers says she was impressed by the unpretentiousness and easy friendliness of the young, blue-haired artist, and could not wait to arrange an exhibit.

Baio has come through solidly on this first exhibit; it will be interesting to watch her career progress.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

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