LIMA — Local university art galleries are not just for students and faculty to enjoy, especially when its exhibits are based on controversial subjects like those currently at The Ohio State University at Lima and Bluffton University.
Artist Eric Finzi’s “Do you hear the children weeping?” at OSU-Lima’s Farmer Family Gallery depicts child labor in the early 1900s while Margaret Brostrom and George Cooley’s “Human Targets” exhibited in Bluffton University’s Grace Albrecht Gallery takes gun-related deaths head-on.
Philip Sugden, art department chair and assistant professor of art at Bluffton University, said that this concept of “activist art” is something he has seen becoming more and more popular.
“I get a couple of art magazines online almost every day and ever since the election three years ago, there have been more and more art that has really focused on these issues — political issues and human rights issues — and it hasn’t been that difficult to actually find this kind of work,” he said. “Artists tend to lean in the direction of these issues and use their work as a language for activism.”
He first came across “Human Targets” while showing at ArtPrize, a competition and festival in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The artists used official NRA human silhouette targets to create their own statements.
“This is the perfect kind of work that Bluffton University likes having,” Sugden explained. “Bluffton in particular, it’s a Mennonite school, a pacifist atmosphere here. We even have the Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center that’s a library and gallery. One of the focuses of their mission here is for peace and conflict resolution, and visual art, in particular, is a really good language to approach a lot of those human rights issues, political issues, issues about education and issues about healthcare. There’s a lot of issues these days.”
Ed Valentine came across Finzi’s work while showing in the same Chicago gallery. Though it was not the “Do you hear the children weeping?” exhibit, Valentine was captivated by Finzi’s medium — epoxy resin.
“I liked his work a lot, but I don’t always just show stuff that I like. I want to show stuff that I think will sometimes even upset people, but not in a bad way … in the art world, this is pretty conservative work. I’m not a huge fan of overly political work, but I do like art for sort of raising awareness.”
For “Do you hear the children weeping?,” which is on exhibit for the first time in the Farmer Family Gallery, Finzi took inspiration from photographer Lewis Hine’s work of child laborers that helped to influence child labor laws in the United States in the 1900s.
Finzi then decided to re-create those images with epoxy resin, a medium that he stumbled into by accident more than 20 years ago.
“It’s a very unusual medium, but it allows me to create controlled chaos,” he explained. “Over the last 20 years, I kind of taught myself how to control this chaotic medium, which I love because, in a way, the resin is completing part of the painting for me … I am basically the theater director of the painting and the resin is completing the painting, but I have written the acts of the play.”
Once he gets his desired base, Finzi uses syringes, gravity, heat and wind to help create the images.
“I just happened to come across these photographs from more than 100 years ago and found he was instrumental in documenting all the children around America, some as young as 3, who were out working whether it be in the fields picking cotton, at the seashore shucking oysters, in the coal mines, whatever it was,” Finzi said. “When I saw these photographs, I found them so moving and heart-wrenching to realize what was happening to these children.”
Finzi said he wanted to take on this topic to draw awareness to this history of America and how it’s still important to protect children today.
“I feel that if I can, in my small way, draw attention to the children and how they can be used, maybe people can pay more attention to protecting our children because, unfortunately, it’s still happening today,” he said.
Amy Joseph, an auctioneer with Hartsock Realty and a member of the Lima Art Study Club, was at the opening for the exhibit and said she found the exhibit “haunting.”
“Even though these photographs were taken well over 100 years ago, it still applies today,” she said. “I’m learning that a part of our country’s foundation actually was built on child labor, and that’s sad.”
As someone who regularly studies and enjoys art, Joseph said exhibits that centralize around larger, sometimes more controversial or thought-provoking issues are important.
“Each person interprets them differently and is affected differently, and you take away something that stays with you,” she said.
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511.