From humans to horses, we all inhabit this world together.
The Strecker Nelson West Gallery’s current exhibit, “The Land of the Living,” includes work that features many elements of the human experience. Some of the pieces show people, while others show homes or creations, but they all show part of the human experience.
“They’re all inhabited in some way,” said Alyn Pennington West, co-owner and gallerist. “You see the human presence. Some have figures, in others you see things humans have built.”
West said the exhibit was intended to bring together genres, from figure work to landscapes to still lifes. The name comes from a Bible verse that reads “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” West said she hoped it would be a reminder of the fact that we all inhabit the world together and the importance of different people being able to co-exist. West said it reinforces the gallery’s approach to preparing exhibits, trying to include something for every person and every taste.
One section shows clay houses by Todd Van Duren, representing the literal spaces we inhabit.
“It’s like its own little community,” West said. “Some are big, some are small, but they’re all special.”
West said some of her favorite pieces in “The Land of the Living” are by Topeka-based artist Barbara Waterman-Peters. West said she enjoys the fact they have a political message that might provoke thought.
Waterman-Peters’ three paintings in the show are part of her “My Women Series.” She uses the series to examine different roles played by women in society.
“We’re one person to our mother, and we’re someone else to someone we work with,” she said.
The look of her figures is modeled in part after images of some costume worn by actors in commedia dell’arte, a theater style popular in Europe during roughly the 1600s. Waterman-Peters’ characters all wear simple white clothing, which she said she likes because they could work in almost any situation she painted.
“Those were so plain, they seemed adaptable to almost anything,” she said.
One of her paintings, “A Different Event, Instructing,” features two women sitting at a table. A redhead (often Waterman-Peters’ protagonist) is turning the crank on an transparent, empty jack-in-the-box while the other holds a sheet of instructions. Despite being able to see that there is no danger, the woman wears a terrified expression.
“She’s been given all these instructions, but she’s still afraid,” Waterman-Peters said.
West said perhaps people could take a cue from the other woman, who looks much calmer.
“Maybe we all need to be a little more like this figure, relaxed,” West said. “Maybe we need to take a step back and think instead of our knee jerk reaction.”
Another in the series shows a group of women standing as a crow pops out of a jack-in-the back while several others fill the sky. Titled “The Muses Were Not Amused,” Waterman-Peters said it was a response to former Gov. Sam Brownback shutting down the Kansas Arts Commission, showing that the arts were not happy with his decision.
A third piece from the “My Women Series” painted in 2018 portrays three figures playing bridge and waiting for the viewer to play his or her hand. The painting, called “The Card Players (No Trump),” is a subtle commentary on recent political events, Waterman-Peters said.
She said although she doesn’t want her political views to be “in your face,” it is important to her that she address them in her work. For her, an important part of art is making the viewer think or consider new viewpoints, as well as allowing the artist to express her own feelings.
“If your work doesn’t have something in it for the viewer, or provoke thought, it’s not really succeeding,” she said. “If art doesn’t compel response, it’s just sitting there.”
THE LAND OF THE LIVING
The exhibit will be open until Oct. 26 at the Strecker Nelson West Gallery. It includes works by Zak Barnes, Ann L. Carter, Clare Fallon, Jeff Foster, Brenda Fox, Colleen Z. Gregoire, Christina Klein, Elaine Lierly Jones, Mona Mills, Doloris Pederson, Susan Rose, Jennifer Schermerhorn, Todd Van Duren, Barbara Waterman-Peters and Chris Willey as well as hyperrealistic still lifes by Doug Sweet.