Arizona Artists Featured in New Exhibitions at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum

Prescott artist Julie Comnick spent nine months asking musical instrument shops across the country for violins deemed beyond repair. After gathering close to 100 violins, she took them to a mountaintop clearing and then set them alight at dusk. For 12 hours, she watched them burn -- and recorded what transpired.

Comnick's video became the source material for a series of large-scale paintings featured in "Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra" now on view at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, which is located on the Mesa Arts Center campus. The exhibition also includes her video.

You can see them Friday, February 13, when Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum presents a free reception celebrating new and continuing exhibitions. "Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra" is one of five exhibitions you'll be able to see Friday night. And we have the rundown on them all.

See also: Valentine's Day Weekend in Metro Phoenix: 10 Artsy Things to Do

The museum opens its "36th Annual Contemporary Craft Exhibition" in the Main Gallery on Friday, where you'll be able to see 51 works by 30 artists representing 12 states. Exhibited works were created with diverse materials including paper, fiber, wood, glass, metal, porcelain, watercolor, acrylic paint, concrete, neon, and more.

Half of the artists hail from Arizona, and half of the works were created in 2014. So it's a good opportunity to see new works and support local artists.

Exhibition jurors Jennifer and Mike Tansey, who own Tansey Contemporary art gallery in Santa Fe, reveal in their jurors' statement that they "chose to place heavy emphasis on both quality in execution and a creative approach to traditional media."

Their Jurors' Choice Award went to Jeff Reich of Mesa, who has four stoneware pieces in the show. Reich will receive a monetary award, and a solo exhibition in the Dr. Ruth Tan Lim Project Room during next year's contemporary craft exhibition.

The exhibition "Beaded, Not Broken," featuring works by self-taught Minnesota artist Brenda Brousseau, also opens at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum on Friday. After receiving last year's Jurors' Choice Award, Brousseau was invited to exhibit works in the Project Room during this year's contemporary craft exhibition.

"Beaded, Not Broken" includes ten headdresses, ten mandalas, and three sculpture/books -- all inspired by traditional Native American beadwork. Brousseau traces her interest in beading to her grandmother, who took her to an exhibition of Native American beadwork then bought her a child's loom from the gift shop. "I have never looked at life the same since," she shares.

We're intrigued by the titles of her works -- which include Flapper's Reunion, It's Not Nice To Fool Your Motherboard, The House That Seuss Built, and Our Fathers Sins. Exhibition materials note that featured works represent thousands of hours of work, and that each one is layered with "personal symbolism and meaning."

Three exhibitions previously opened are also part of this Friday's opening reception.

"Insectographia: Drawing in Enamel," which opened in December of 2014 in the SRP Gallery, features more than 60 works by Virginia artist Charity Hall. Most are brooches, but the exhibition also includes earrings, belt buckle, necklace, ring, and bowl.

Hall creates entomological imagery on enameled surfaces using drawing, painting, and sgraffito (applying layers of tinted plaster). Each piece includes hand-fabricated metalwork, typically done in copper and/or silver, to complement the enamel. Hall also incorporates lab-grown and naturally occurring gems.

Hall's work invites viewers to find beauty in creatures they typically greet with disdain -- such as ants, beetles, cockroaches, flies, mosquitos, scorpions, ticks, bees, earwigs, fleas, and more. Hall's artist statement notes that from wings to tarsi, insects are "complex microcosms of line, form, and texture."

"So ready to smack, squish, and spray, we fail to appreciate the evolutionary aptitude and anatomical brilliance of these savage bugs," she writes. Even though bugs creep us out here at Jackalope Ranch, we think it's pretty cool that Hall found a way to marry art, entomology, and existentialism.

"Chamber Music: A Mostly Silent Installation," which opened in January in the North Gallery, features an installation created by Prescott artist Diane Gilbert with thousands of played guitar strings and pieces of screen, which were combined to create what the museum describes as "a spatial environment full of subtle light, expressive shadows, and sculptural forms."

Museum materials note that "Each piece is composed of strings played by many musicians who never knew each other but are now playing silently together contributing to the larger expression of a luminous space." The exhibition also includes two sculptures created with played guitar strings and painted screen, plus several ink transfer on paper works, created by Gilbert in 2014.

"Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra," which opened in December of 2014 in the South Gallery, uses the violin as a metaphor to "raise questions about the relationship between increasing technology and diminishing cultural heritage."

The instrument has personal significance for Comnick, who played violin between the ages of 8 and 18 -- then put it down for 18 years before resuming music practice. In the interim, the violin was part of a recurring dream in which she stood frozen in silence on stage before a music stand holding only blank pages.

But she also sees the violin as "culturally symbolic" to a generation marked by "increased technology and reduced public funding for the arts." Comnick's artist statement reveals her concern that today's youth are less likely to learn to play an instrument at school, attend the symphony, or "pass values of musical heritage onto their children."

The exhibition also includes Comnick's solo performance of Beethoven's Romance for Violin in F Major Op. 50. "This is from the Romantic period, that of Francisco de Goya, whose historic paintings inspired my images," she writes. She'll perform the 7-minute piece at 6:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. this Friday night.

The free reception for these five exhibitions takes place from 7:00 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the museum courtyard. Valentine's Day procrastinators, take note: The MAC Store, which is operated by an artist collective, will be open until 10 p.m. that evening.

If you miss the reception you can see these works during regular museum hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (with extended hours through 8 p.m. on Thursdays) and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Museum admission is free.

For information on exhibition dates visit the Mesa Arts Center website.

While you're in Mesa, check out newly-installed public art along the future light rail route, look for new installations of IN FLUX public art, take the self-guided sculpture tour, check out works by local artists at Queen's Pizzeria and other eateries, and explore Second Friday happenings along Main Street from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

See also: Your Guide to IN FLUX Cycle 5 Public Art in Metro Phoenix

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