(Im)material: Messiah College art professors challenge the perception of Physicality

by Lindsey Henry

Student Writer

On the afternoon of Friday January 16th, the Aughinbaugh gallery was packed tight with visitors, students and faculty alike. They came not just to satisfy their palate with the delicious spread of fresh hors d’oeuvres, but also to expand their artistic palate as well. The main attraction was the commentaries of Messiah Art Professors Brenton Good and Kathy Hettinga on their work, which is currently on display in the show (Im)Material.

 The commentaries by these professors allowed more insight into these intriguing and sometimes puzzling works of art. A seemingly unusual pairing of styles, media, and focus, the works by Professors Good and Hettinga interact opposite each other in the space of the Gallery, allowing the viewer to focus on either professor’s work at a time.

Introduced first was Professor Good, a printmaker and studio art professor who is notorious for his meticulousness and strength in color theory. In his presentation he touched on his process, his influences, and his challenges with this body of work.

“These are all monotypes, which means they’re built up layer by layer,” Good said, as he explained the process of printmaking the individual color blocks. “As you can see in this block, it began with brown and yellow and grey and blue…some colors are painstakingly made only to never to be seen.”

Overtly apparent in all his works is the notion of a grid, but interestingly brought up by one of the audience members during the Q&A session, the grid itself does not exist. “I didn’t draw the grid by hand. The grid is made up by the white space of the background of the work,” said Good. This grid forms the structure for viewing his works and in some pieces, he adjusted the width of the grid which completely changes the way the viewer sees the individual blocks.

“I started using playing cards in 2008…now I’ve got hundreds of them.” Good has printed on top of the silky-smooth cards, sometimes covering the whole surface and sometimes lightly so that the identity of the card itself is apparent. These cards have become essential in some of his works.

Good says that his works deal with the balance and duality of “control and chance.” In his piece For John Cage, the line is arranged by shuffling the deck of painted yellow and orange cards with one singular blue card. “I didn’t want the blue card to be at the top or the bottom because that would have looked intentional. It would suggest that the series was top to bottom or bottom to top.” This work is an exercise in control and chance, because when the piece will be taken down and exhibited somewhere else, the blue card will likely end up in a different arrangement and create a whole new way to view the work.

Finally Good explained how his work 1919 harkened back to the compositions of Piet Mondrian, the Dutch artist who “found the end [result] of Cubism” after the World Wars. Mondrian’s grids, primary-color blocks, and rigid structures were explicit influences in Good’s piece.

Similarly to Professor Good, Professor Hettinga’s book 4 3 2 CRY drew from numerous sources of influence, inspiration and motivation. Hettinga’s presentation illustrated her love of artist-book-making, her drive to expose obscured truths, and her devotion to her faith.

With the help of the Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW), Professor Hettinga was able to make nearly 50 hand-made artist-books that express the plight and the trials of the population of Northern Colorado dealing with the fracking process. Her book contains complex and puzzling images, heartfelt anecdotes, scientific facts, and scripture.

4 3 2 CRY speaks about the fracking in Northern Colorado. The book counts down till CRY, which actually stands for ‘Cryogenic’, said Hettinga. “CRY” not only signifies the reaction of pain, but also the scientific act of freezing parts. Her page layouts are filled aerial views, construction sites, hazardous-chemical ‘compliance signs’ and peaceful landscapes of Northern Colorado that look frozen-in-time like memories. Together they create an overwhelming atmosphere.

Hettinga explained not only the lengthy process of arranging the layouts of her pages, but also the process of achieving the artist-book’s goal: a balance of story and fact. “This is the farmhouse that I lived in in the 80s with my first husband, a dairy farmer…and this is what it looks like now with all the wells.”

WSW considers 4 3 2 CRY “ [A] meditation on personal loss as well as a lament for a community transformed by drilling operations and leads to the author’s call to stop hydraulic fracturing in the USA.”

The work of both artists, Good and Hettinga, fit well with the name of the show (Im)material. Two main definitions of immaterial are “spiritual rather than merely physical” and “irrelevant or insignificant”. Ironically, the show proves how these two definitions can be blended. Good uses insignificance of layout (ie, the chance of arrangement of color) to challenge the way the colors interact and how the viewers see them. Hettinga uses spirituality in her work to challenge the viewer’s perspective of the physical (the landscape of Northern Colorado).

(Im)Material will remain open to view till January 29th in the Aughinbaugh Gallery. To see more of Dr. Hettinga’s work with the Women’s Studio Workshop, click here.

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