Art is in the eye of the beholder

Ocular-themed exhibits offer look into the subjective imagination of area artists

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o What: "Through My Eyes," an exhibit spotlighting Vancouver artist Cynthia Heise-Swartz, and "The Eyes of March," a show curated by Vancouver School of Arts and Academics students. "The Eyes of March" includes eye-themed work from VSAA students, North Bank Artists Gallery members and other Vancouver and Portland artists.

o When: 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through March 30.

o Where: 1005 Main St., Vancouver.

o Information: http://www.northbankartistsgallery.com, 360-693-1840.

Sometimes the eyes of paintings seem to follow viewers’ movements, creating a sense of being watched. That’s certainly true of North Bank Artists Gallery’s current eye-themed exhibit, where a room full of orbs stares back at admirers.

Two main gallery spaces are devoted to Felida artist Cynthia Heise-Swartz’s surrealist-figurative paintings. The show, “Through My Eyes,” reveals the world through her unique lens.

A third exhibit area complements Heise-Swartz’s solo show by exploring a range of perspectives. Eyeball art, peering back at viewers, fills the small hallway in the rear of the building. It’s the creation of North Bank Artist Gallery members and Vancouver School of Arts and Academics students, as well as invited Portland and Vancouver artists.

Fresh eyes

Called “The Eyes of March,” the exhibit is a play on the ides of March, which is March 15 in the Roman calendar and the day that Caesar is warned about in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar.” Beyond the pun and tie to her own show, “The Eyes of March” is a way for Heise-Swartz to include more artists in the exhibit and give students a glimpse into the professional art world.

o What: “Through My Eyes,” an exhibit spotlighting Vancouver artist Cynthia Heise-Swartz, and “The Eyes of March,” a show curated by Vancouver School of Arts and Academics students. “The Eyes of March” includes eye-themed work from VSAA students, North Bank Artists Gallery members and other Vancouver and Portland artists.

o When: 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through March 30.

o Where: 1005 Main St., Vancouver.

o Information: http://www.northbankartistsgallery.com, 360-693-1840.

VSAA interns brought fresh eyes to the gallery by curating “The Eyes of March,” doing everything from deciding the placement of pieces to hanging the art to writing artist biographies, in addition to creating work for the show.

“I think it shows a lot of enthusiasm and dedication, and they make good art,” said Heise-Swartz, who’s part of North Bank’s education committee and holds a degree in art education.

The internship program started in December as a way to give advanced art students real-world experience, said VSAA fine-arts teacher Crystal Zeller. Zeller approached North Bank and nearby Angst Gallery about collaborating to enhance classroom instruction. She has three students interning at Angst and five at North Bank.

Gearing up for “The Eyes of March” opening earlier this month, North Bank interns faced the challenge of having a wealth of pieces and not enough wall space for individual labels. Instead, Heise-Swartz helped them affix numbered ping-pong balls near each piece of work with a binder of corresponding entries containing information about the art and its creators. As an added bonus, the ping-pong balls looked a lot like eyeballs.

“All the extra ones can be eyeballs all over the wall,” said Heise-Swartz, 63.

Pieces of a puzzle

Arranging the art was like piecing together a puzzle, said VSAA students Kaori Freda and Katie Rhodes. Not only do shapes need to be pleasingly arranged, but attention also must be paid to theme and flow, they said.

Interning at a gallery helps students experience the business side of the art world.

“It’s one thing to be a painter. It’s another to know how to market your work,” said Rhodes, an 18-year-old senior.

In North Bank, she and Freda, a 16-year-old junior, found a professional setting in which to showcase their talents. They have the opportunity to hang their own work among the creations of more seasoned artists such as Heise-Swartz and Anne John, vice president of the nonprofit co-op gallery and former artist-in-residence at VSAA.

For the current show, both students began with the eye theme, but the shared inspiration led them in divergent directions.

Eye of the beholder

Rhodes has two untitled pieces in the show. The first is a triptych, depicting three unique eyes close up. To counter glossy magazines’ affinity for airbrushing, Rhodes included bags under the eyes “and a sense of age and weight. I didn’t want them to look perfect,” she said.

Rhodes also explored the connection between humans and nature by painting an eye with lashes extending into pine trees.

Freda took the eye prompt and applied it to animals. She painted an oil-on-board piece, “Laying Hen,” which explores notions of burdens and expectations. The piece features a chicken with eyes as part of the pattern of its feathers. On top of the bird sits an eye with a chicken fetus in the pupil.

Freda’s burgeoning surrealist style echoes that of Heise-Swartz. Both paint with a sense of humor.

“The things I paint are kind of warped and silly. I have a very strange sense of humor,” Heise-Swartz said.

“Through My Eyes” puts that sensibility on display. In one piece, a twist on a “Madonna and Child” theme, Heise-Swartz set out to paint the pop singer Madonna and chef Julia Child. Heise-Swartz said she struggled to capture Child, instead turning the painting into Madonna with cats and a generic elderly woman.

Heise-Swartz said she likes to create stories about things she sees, then paint the fruits of her imagination. An example of this playful storytelling is a painting of her grandparents on their wedding day that Heise-Swartz based on an 1899 photograph. She said she saw a shadow in the background and imagined it was a giant cockroach, and painted the insect into the portrait.

One thing about art that Heise-Swartz said she appreciates and hopes to communicate with this exhibit that it’s subjective. It truly is in the eye of the beholder.

“You can put 20 people in a room, and they all see things with different eyes,” she said.

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.