In Mirror, Mirror at Waterloo Arts, a Collection of Artists Reveal Their Lived Experiences

“Strong Female Lead – Nyota” by Lane Cooper
“Strong Female Lead – Nyota” by Lane Cooper

Mirror, Mirror

Through Nov. 23 at Waterloo Arts

15605 Waterloo Rd., 216-692-9500

"It's an incredible group of artists, certainly the strongest show I've ever been part of," says artist Lane Cooper as we walked through Mirror, Mirror at Waterloo Arts, and we have to agree.

Lines, color and symbols are steeped with tenacity in these works that are fused with singularity and purpose. They are bonded together with the exhibition space as the glue, and Cooper has indeed pulled together a mighty group of artists.

Amber Kempthorn's "Close to the Edge" and "You Got Lucky" dance with a wild visual lexicon. Barnacles, birds, butterflies and tape measures are married with ghostlike maple seeds and leaves. Each symbol is as enigmatic as the next.

"Some of the things/places I draw (like the barnacles) are more deeply connected to something intimate or idiosyncratic from my biography," Kempthorn tells us."Though, like each of the elements — coffee mugs, shoes, a tape measure — they are selected with care because they're identifiable to many.  Sometimes a tape measure is just a tape measure I suppose, but I like to think about when and who might use one, and what it actually does, and maybe the viewer will too, which creates layers of meaning in each drawing."

Photographer Amber Ford entered work that is an extension of self. "All of my work is in some way an extension of me." She admits she was hesitant to participate, not knowing if her pieces would fit, but we are very glad she did. Regarding "Untitled," a portrait of a young black woman whose Afro fills the frame, Ford expounds: "I wanted to experiment with color backgrounds and gels to create a more dynamic image since a lot of my work tends to be different shades of black." The curly fro is a hairstyle the artist wears often and something she wanted to illustrate.

"As an artist I wanted to make images that I didn't see when going to school. I was thinking about some of the things black people do at night to protect their hair," Ford says regarding the photograph titled "The Supremes," wherein a couple wear rainbow colored do-rags, or bonnets, adding that, "I was thinking of the level of comfort and confidence one has to be at to finally wear that in the presence of their significant other. In the image I am thinking of things like black love, black culture and vulnerability."

We were intrigued by Erin Duhigg's sculptures. "Erin Duhigg Mittens" are just that — a pair of mittens, but with silicone casts of the artist's hand embedded in each garment. It is as awesome as it is almost creepy. The sculpture sits next to a grouping of prints titled "Anything you can do, I can do better." Duhigg has used fingerprint powder to create three handprints using her own hand and that of "Erin Duhigg Mittens" to almost imply the duality of real and imagined. We totally dig the visual.

The work that Katy Richards chose to show for Mirror, Mirror resonates with the exhibition statement in the sense that the paintings evoke a lived experience of the body with a clear female perspective, she revealed in our interview. "In the paintings 'Bathtub' and 'Soak,' I am presenting the viewer with an intimate first-person viewpoint of a woman in a bathtub. Using myself as a model, this unique viewpoint blurs the distinctions of artist/model and subject/object." Richards' signature style and palette augment her statement. Her paintings are suffused in muted pinks and baby blues. We can almost feel the coolness of the porcelain tub as we place our own self in the artwork, which is what the artist was certainly going for. "Footsie" is an entanglement of multiple pairs of feet. "The work is about vulnerability and intimacy. The evidence of the (paint) brush paired with the imagery to evoke physical touching. The viewer can imagine the sensation how the body may feel and be aware of their own body's sensation while considering the artist's hand."

Lane Cooper's paintings perfectly jibe with the exhibition statement: "A work of art is the product of an artist's choices. Some decisions are conscious and considered while others occur far outside the artist's awareness. Embedded in the work are decisions that are a product of the artist's lived experience. The work carries in both nuanced and profound ways the perspective of its creator."

Within each of Cooper's paintings we cavort with her palpable nuance. "Strong Female Lead – Nyota" (pictured) is one of several paintings that spring from the artist's memory into real life. In particular, the subject is Nichelle Nichols as Commander Nyota Uhura in Star Trek, the original series that the artist would watch when she was younger. The painting has almost a celestial quality to it as the colors and layers undulate around the edges of the support. The underlying drawing peers through the paint as well as through us as we reflect upon its subject. Cooper's work vibrates with thought and content; something new pounces out with each viewing.

Nikki Woods, whose paintings resonate with the current political climate within the confines of personal space, affirms our thoughts on the exhibition: "All of the work in the show represents a unique perspective, the subject and content of the work varies by artist, but I think when viewed in the same context, there are these unifying patters and dialogues that emerge. The show's title, I think is a kind of metaphor for the act of producing artwork and viewing artwork. What parts of you do you bring to the work when you make it, what gets reflected back to the viewer?"

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