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New, contemporary art exhibits at Nemeth

The Nemeth Art Center’s grand gallery will soon host exhibits by Gregory Fitz and Christopher Atkins.  Offering a mix of contemporary art and photography, the exhibitions will run from Friday, July 31 through Saturday, Sept. 26.  An opening reception and artist talk will be held from 5:30-7 p.m. Friday, July 31.  Originally from Fergus Falls, Fitz is a visual artist, writer and curator based in Minneapolis. He is also director and curator at the Law Warschaw Gallery at Macalester College in St. Paul.  Working with simple materials like home insulation, plywood, acrylic and spray paint, Fitz captures “fleeting natural phenomena” on manmade, construction-grade materials.  

“It’s work that’s thinking out loud about our environment,” he said.    “There’s no way to avoid it for me. When one is looking to nature for inspiration, you have to think about these issues – materialism, environment, usage, waste. I’m constantly thinking about these things.”  “Sunrises and Sunsets” are washes of acrylic color on extruded polystyrene.  “Aurora Borealis” comprises spray paint on reflective, foil-faced rigid foam insulation panels.  Notably, polystyrene and the foam insulation are non-biodegradable.  A three-panel painting on OSB chipboard is based upon a 1914 photo of Portage Glacier in Alaska.  

“The glacier has receded dramatically since that time,” Fitz explained, adding he once lived and worked in The Last Frontier. “I have a real soft spot for Alaska.”  Inspiration for the environmentally-themed pieces struck while he walked through a Home Depot and aisles of building materials.  “It spoke to me,” he recalled. “Up to that point, I was painting on traditional canvases. Then I turned to these materials.”  “They don’t take tons of time to create, but there are lots of decisions surrounding it,” Fitz said.  He wants viewers to recognize the construction products. Non-traditional art material “adds a novelty, another layer of immediacy” to the overall piece.  “It makes the art more immediate because we know the material in another context,” he said.  He describes his sculptural installations and paintings as straddling both abstraction and representation.  “It’s not a lecture, but there’s content that’s folded into it. It’s a blurrier, and hopefully, more poetic, evocative work.”  More information about Fitz’s artwork can be found at www.gregoryfitz.net.

The art of sleep hygiene  Christopher Atkins will present his group of photographs, dubbed “When Not What,” at the Nemeth.  Atkins is a curator, writer and photographer. He is coordinator of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  Although he has organized dozens of exhibitions, co-developed site-specific installations and led various artist-in-residency projects, this is his first one-person show of photography.  His work is “inspired by the effects of technology on sleep patterns – what scientists and doctors refer to as the ‘erosion of sleep.’”  Some of the photos were shot in Park Rapids, others in Minneapolis, Kansas City and Rainy Lake near International Falls.  

“You won’t recognize the places necessarily,” he said. “The emphasis is on when these photos were taken.”  They reflect on how pervasive smartphones, TV, computer screens, laptops, etc. trick our bodies into staying awake.  “Images of light that are just on. Dark images. Bedrooms. On different scales, large and small,” said Atkins. “They aren’t illustrative. It’s not a series of computer screens. These photos come from a very personal place.”  Insomnia is, in fact, a personal struggle for Atkins. His own increased use of his phone also piqued his curiosity.  “It’s been a fun thing to work at – turning something that’s uncomfortable into something artistic.”  

Through his research, Atkins discovered the color of light from screens prevents the release of a sleep hormone called melatonin.  “Sleep is one of the most private things we have,” Atkins said. “The boundaries are wearing down. We’re still processing as we sleep.”  He hopes viewers will think about their own relationship with technology.  “Is it an issue? Has it had an impact?”  Examples of his art are at www.mnartists.org/catkins.  Nemeth Art Center exhibitions are free to the public and may be viewed from 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.  Programming is supported by memberships and business sponsors.  The art center is located at 301 Court Ave. in the old courthouse.  For more information, visit www.nemethartcenter.org.

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