Little girls in white dresses and hairbows kick and beat each other. A wave like a water hose levels a group of unwitting people. A woman slumps dejectedly in her slovenly house.
Meanwhile, people hum in unison. A man flies a kite.
Taken together, these images explore the nature of conflict and resolution, the theme for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's newest show.
Conflict | Resolution shares not only a typographical pipe with the FAC's last show, NASA | Art: 50 Years of Exploration, but also its multidisciplinary approach. The paintings, sculptures and video works are complemented by the theater's production of All My Sons, a film series and a lecture series, as well as community discussions on current topics.
Conflict in the museum consists of solo exhibitions for local artist Sean O'Meallie and Mexican artist Carlos Aguirre, plus a group show, Dealing With Difference, which pulls works primarily from Colorado collectors. Local sculptor Chris Weed also created an outdoor installation on the FAC's front lawn called Spores, full of large, spiked black and purple balls. Still more exhibits feature local soldiers' art, a local portion of the AIDS quilt and a historical display on the Holocaust.
Elements of the show are tough to look at, according to curator Blake Milteer. Yet in delving into the essence of conflict, the show features works that defy the simple boundaries of the word.
Weed's spores, for instance, bring to mind animals with their hackles up, or even colorful but poisonous caterpillars. Yet these large sculptures are closer in form to ocean mines; you get the feeling that a human touch could trigger an explosion.
Like Weed, O'Meallie puts forth a playful duality in his work. The former toy inventor creates brightly painted wooden works that invite comment yet slip away from taught conclusions.
"I've been dealing with ideas of, in a sense, I think, irresolve [sic] about things and dilemmas that are prevalent in human existence in our culture," says O'Meallie.
The 30 works that comprise O'Meallie's Danger Toy Love Gun exhibit include a three-dimensional map of the U.S. with horns, strangely menacing black-and-white ice cream cones and, of course, guns painted in cheerful colors.
In "L'Arsenal-de-Joie," O'Meallie arranges a flock of guns, each covered in a candy coat of green, pink, red and yellow patterns. One gun looks like a child's toy and another like an old matchlock pistol, while in the center sits a straight-angled .45.
"I take this idea of a gun and I morph it," O'Meallie says. "I make it a gun form, not really a specific gun and I get a bunch of them and I put them on the wall ... I come up with ... an arsenal and I just make it wallpaper."
He adds that the work plays with our connotations of objects: "I'm playing with identity politics."
This tinkering with personal identity extends to a national identity in "American Bison," a sculpture that twists the borders of the continental U.S. into the shape of a bovine-like creature, bedecked with golden horns.
O'Meallie says he came up with the idea for it back in 2003, when news broke that the U.S. was invading Iraq. He created it not as a pro-war or anti-war work, but as an encapsulation of the national zeitgeist of the time. In a follow-up e-mail, O'Meallie writes, "I'm sure I was addressing my own feelings of rage, fright, terror, and animal aggression, but calmly trying to consider them within the geo-political-religio-identity cartooniness of the times."
Conflict, it seems, doesn't always have to be serious to be deeply unsettling.
Some sense of resolve, according to this exhibition, comes in the form of the creative process itself. Wounded Warriors: Military Creative Expressions is a side exhibit that features the work of six Fort Carson soldiers who participated in an 11-week art therapy program earlier this year.
Facilitated by Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group and a private psychotherapy practice, the course was held at the FAC's Bemis Art School. Now the soldiers have chosen the works they want to display in the exhibition, which the school will frame and mount.
Tara Thomas, director of education at Bemis, explains that all the soldiers who participated have been diagnosed with physical or psychological wounds including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Many felt they couldn't discuss their emotional problems on base, she says, but could speak freely through the art classes.
The creative process was therapeutic; one soldier wrote that he didn't feel paranoid or irritable once he started drawing. Out of the six participants, only one man had a background in art, but Thomas says they all became engrossed in the projects and discussions that went with the curriculum.
Thomas says there's a strong dichotomy in the soldiers' works. Some project calm, while others rage with aggressive colors. Much of that comes from the art therapy curriculum, which includes topics such as "Establishing a Safe Place," "Monitoring Thoughts and Emotions," "Validating Anger" and "Shame and Guilt."
Bemis and PPBHG will soon host a 15-week art therapy course. Three of the six soldiers who've already signed up participated in the last round, and Thomas says they expect 12 to 15 soldiers total.
Of the works themselves, Thomas says the quality is striking.
"Some of it's rough in the beginning, but the stuff that they're turning out now in painting and all of that are absolutely beautiful."
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