BY Maia Hawthorne
In July and August, Prairie Arts Council’s Lilian Fendig Gallery will spotlight the work of four of our area’s professional artists: Michael Crowthers, Ryan Preston, Lindsey Preston, and Corey Crum.
Michael Crowthers is a sculptor of ceramics and wood who also routinely mixes media, using plaster, metal, and found objects. He is fascinated by the way that art can make an “intense connection” with people when they experience it directly. “We can look at images of artwork on a computer screen or hear someone describe a piece of artwork to us with a great amount of joy. However, there is no substitute for actually being there in the same space as a piece of art that interests you.” Michael cites his own experience with the marble sculpture David by Michelangelo as an example. “I had seen numerous images of David prior to visiting Florence. But nothing prepared me for seeing the actual piece. I can still remember the feeling I got when I turned the corner in the Accademia and saw him down the hallway for the first time. The marble looked alive. It’s an electric feeling when you connect with a piece of artwork.”
As a sculptor, Michael thinks in three dimensions. But his sense of three-dimensional space is reinforced by his work as Curator at the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette. “When I install an exhibition I must consider how the artwork relates to everything around it in a broad context. I consider the physical space and any particular needs it may have. Also, it is essential to think about the three-dimensional space when it will be occupied by the patrons/viewers and [to consider] how they will interact with the artwork. I think all of these elements are considered while creating the artwork.”
Michael’s interest in thinking and creating in three dimensions is shared by Ryan Preston, whom Michael has known since the two were art students together at Saint Joseph’s College. “We worked side by side on more projects than I can count or remember,” Michael says of Ryan. Many of those projects were sculptural, which influenced the work Ryan does today. Ryan says he thinks of himself primarily as a “builder,” creating in three dimensions, using ceramics and other media. When asked how his work life and his art intersect, he cites his work in construction, which is much like art in that it is about “building and creating.”
An important moment in Ryan’s development as an artist was interviewing a potter named Scott Schafer in Ryan’s hometown of Centerville, Indiana. “I was able to tour his studio and see what it was like for an artist to work daily in his studio. It made art as a career path more attainable to me.”
Ryan met Lindsey Preston at Brown’s Garden Shoppe in Rensselaer, where they worked together for some time. The two married in 2013. Lindsey was already making art professionally when she and Ryan met, primarily painting and making ceramics, though she has always experimented with mixing media and incorporating found objects into her work. Whatever medium she’s using at the time, Lindsey finds herself working with disparate pieces that she brings together to create a meaningful whole. “I feel the process of healing as I make it,” she says. The result of this process is a highly textured and layered organic shape that echoes the natural world.
One early experience that fueled Lindsey’s passion for visual art was a school-sponsored spring break trip to Spain when she was a junior in high school. She had one of those “electric” direct experiences of art that Michael had when he saw David. For Lindsey, the art in question was Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Lindsey calls seeing it a “powerful experience.” “I remember standing in a doorway looking into the room with the massive painting. I was awestruck and captivated by the feeling of the painting. This was significant to me because it shows that experiencing artwork can create a deep emotional and personal connection. The artist's story and thoughts can captivate the viewer and stir up their own deep thoughts about an experience or memory.”
When asked what inspires her own art, Lindsey says nature. “I grew up on a farm, and I have always spent a lot of time outdoors. I feel the most energy and inspiration when I am doing an outdoor activity. All of my art relates to nature in some way.”
Nature also inspires Corey Crum, whom the Prestons met shortly after he began teaching art at Saint Joseph’s College in 2012. But because he is an abstract artist, Corey feels driven to transform what he finds there, using whatever media--oil paint, clay, colored pencils, collage--best suits the idea he has in mind. What results is a highly colorful and textural abstraction that hints at the natural and anatomical landscapes that motivated the piece.
Most recently, Corey’s art has been fueled by the concern that Earth is “doomed.” “Now more than ever, I am interested in my carbon footprint and its impact on our environment. Therefore, I have created a fictional character named Space Face, which I call my alter ego; he travels through space to find a more suitable habitat. Space Face watches the destruction of our planet from the hollow moon, and returns to Earth to find that our natural world has changed. All living things have become unrecognizable hybrids with one another. Anatomy and plant life have become one.”
He says that what called him to be an artist was the freedom he was allowed being raised on a family farm. “That allowed me to play, but not in a childlike sense. I found that my interests were to dissect, tinker, work, experiment, and investigate. These interests drove me to create, which eventually led me to ‘express.’ The achievement that I felt after I created something far exceeded all sensations that I felt from any other activity going through school and still to the current day.”
Being encouraged early on to explore, create, and express is something all four artists cited as a part of their development as professional artists. (Corey: “My first solo exhibit showcased my drawings of the beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on my bedroom wall.”) Those early, positive opportunities for creation are part of the similar experience that has made these four artists friends (Michael and Corey having met several years ago through their mutual association with the Prestons) and that put them on the trajectory that led them to being working artists in our area. It’s also, in part, what inspired the title for their show, “Cycles,” as the four have watched their life cycles as artists develop and evolve. See their work at the Lilian Fendig Gallery, located in the Carnegie Center, 301 N. Van Rensselaer Street, Rensselaer, on July 22, from 6:30-8:30pm CST. The exhibition will run through August 26.