New Carthage exhibit is open for interpretation



The H. F. Johnson Gallery of Art at Carthage College explores complex systems of patterns, geometric relationships and layering of line in its “Chance Aesthetics” exhibition, open through May 3.

Featured artists Clarence Morgan and Zack Wirsum both paint abstract works that open the opportunity for endless possibilities in their interpretations.

Morgan is an art professor at the University of Minnesota, and is an internationally renowned and accomplished artist. Wirsum is a young, emerging artist from Chicago with regional, national and international exhibits. He also is the son of artist Karl Wirsum, who is a member of the notorious Chicago artistic group “The Hairy Who” and helped set the foundation for Chicago’s art scene in the 1970s.

Gallery director Diane Levesque paired the artists to allow them to express their comparable approaches to their work.

“I wanted to put these two together, because what they’re trying to achieve is very similar — this idea of chance aesthetics, and how an artist deals with rendering a chaotic field of experience and expression,” she said. “I really wanted there to be a sense of conversation occurring between the two artists and I want viewers to contemplate that dialogue.”

Morgan’s paintings are more formal, with an overall sense of evenness and resistance with layers of paints, collage pieces and staccato, stitch-like lines. Wirsum’s lines, however, travel nervously across his paintings. At some points, the line identifies forms while other times, it disintegrates into the painting or evolves, Levesque said.

Wirsum also moves off the work’s surface by using paint chips, pieces of paint tubes, canvas strips and other remainders of his studio that he embeds into his painting for a three-dimensional effect.

“It’s like urban camouflague,” she said. “It’s almost as if he’s trying to hide something in plain sight, and you have to figure out what that is.”

Morgan focuses on the idea of subtle repetition, control and restraint, and beauty, Levesque said. The intricate lines, asymmetrical shapes and forms, and carefully chosen colors, are familiar throughout his work, yet very diverse in each piece.

“You have to be careful, because it could become formulaic, but this work is so controlled that it avoids all that,” she said.

Levesque said the unique exhibit shows different options for paintings and allows Carthage students to see the techniques up close and in person.

“I think this show is exciting for our students, because it shows them that you can stay within the picture frame format and still do abstract work that’s experimental,” she said. “It’s still painting, but you can try something that comes off the surface and into our space.”

Levesque said the H. F. Johnson Gallery of Art’s quiet space also gives guests an environment to spend more time with the pieces and ponder the meaning behind the abstract work.

“I think for most people it’s difficult to try and stay with a piece of work that does not offer an obvious narrative,” she said. “But to have to work a little bit harder and enjoy it for whatever it offers you is a great thing.”

Levesque also hopes people take the time to expose themselves to all different kinds of art to appreciate it.

“There’s a reason why artists do what they do, so try to figure it out,” she said. “To me, it’s like reading a book. Some people like romance novels, some like science fiction... There’s something out there for everybody, but I think it’s exciting to discover something else every now and again. And once they open that door, there’s a huge world out there waiting for them.”

If you go

What: “Chance Aesthetics” art exhibit

Where: H. F. Johnson Gallery of Art, south of A. F. Siebert Chapel at Carthage College, 2001 Alford Park Dr.

When: Gallery hours 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 6-8 p.m. Thursday evening; 1-4 p.m. Saturday

Exhibit on display through May 3.

Cost: Free

For more information, go to or call 262-551-5859.


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