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A New Beginning 

Tara Seibel opens a gallery with a little help from her friends

Above the sounds and smells of Presti's Bakery in Little Italy, artist Tara Seibel is making final preparations for the opening of her self-named gallery.

The opening exhibit's title, Back to the Earth, suggests the show's content, which draws on the work of six artists to celebrate human encounters with nature. It can also be read as an expression of Seibel's desire to ground herself after being shaken by the sudden end of a profound creative friendship.

A former line designer at American Greetings, Seibel is best known for her illustration work with the late Harvey Pekar, author of the sprawling autobiographical comic series American Splendor and a number of graphic novels.

Seibel collaborated with Pekar on strips appearing in The Jewish Review, The Austin Chronicle, and Cleveland's own Free Times. She recalls her synergy with Pekar springing from a shared workaholism and willingness to experiment with the graphic medium.

Tragically, the two artists' collaboration was cut short when Pekar died suddenly in July of 2010, just hours after a session with Seibel. For a year afterward, Seibel found it difficult to talk about her relationship with her friend and mentor, to whom she attributes everything from her disbelief in the "social disease" of nationalism to her appreciation for the vital stories of people encountered in the produce aisle.

Seibel continues to tell stories with pictures. This year, The Graphic Canon published editions of Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Hugo's Les Misérables with her illustrations. However, Seibel has struggled to define herself as an artist in her own right after working with the legendary Pekar. The new space offers an opportunity for self-reinvention.

"I feel with the gallery opening, it's a new beginning," Seibel says. "It means something that I'm able to show art that's not just my own."

Seibel assembled five artists to explore broad nature-centric themes, and their collected work is consistently impressive. Cathryn Kapp's pencil drawings of floral figures are detailed enough to mimic black-and-white photographs. Mark Naftziger's decorative ceramics use repetitive sequences of organic forms like butterflies to produce hypnotic effects. Ralph Solonitz's wall-mounted cartoons utilize all the care and detail of fine prints to depict community participation in local agriculture.

Seibel is exhibiting her own work as well, which spans scarves, jewelry, greeting cards, and paintings. Especially striking is her watercolor series of Lake Erie sunsets (pictured above), which combine psychedelic colors with boisterous use of line. All the assembled work puts a strong stride in this new first step.

The Tara Seibel Art Gallery is located at 12107 Mayfield Rd. For more information, call 216-375-0760 or go to http://taraseibel.com.

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