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November 4, 2021 - Joy Reed Belt

Elizabeth Hahn, "Keep on Truckin'," Acrylic on Panel, 12 x 12 in.

When I turned on the ignition in my car yesterday morning, the dash lit up with several indicator and warning lights including the “Check Engine Light,” “Low Engine Oil Light,” “Charging System Warning Light,” “Tire Pressure Warning Light,” and most frightening of all, a message I had never seen before: “See the Dealer.” Thoroughly panic stricken, I drove very slowly to Bob Howard Toyota in Edmond. Although the service attendant who checked me in was very reassuring, I could tell he was somewhat perplexed by the sheer number of symbols and warnings that had been activated. As requested, I went to the waiting room and started my daily routine of reading texts and emails and listening to voice messages. In about an hour or so a service attendant came out and asked me who had last put air in my tires. I told him that an employee had after my Tire Pressure Warning light had come on when the temperature dropped. The service attendant told me that instead of 38 pounds of air in each tire, my employee had put 80 pounds in each tire. Hence all lights became activated signaling that something was wrong. The attendant highly recommended that next time I have someone who knows more about cars than art manage the air in my tires.

That incident reminded me of how many signs, signals and illusions appearing every day in our lives go largely unnoticed, or are misinterpreted. We ignore many symbols, like stop signs, and can be oblivious to emotional signals from a spouse or other family member until the relationship begins to deteriorate. One of the roles of a therapist is to help us identify, watch, and interpret those signs. Likewise, an art dealer has to be able to interpret the symbols and signs in the art they represent. In my experience, most artists are acutely aware of the signaling they incorporate in their paintings. They often talk to me about how they rely on symbolism when creating their art and seem to enjoy showing me the allusions and symbols embedded in each piece of art they create. But that symbolism is not always transparent to the viewer.

Caroline Farris, "California Dinner," Acrylic and Oil, 60 x 48 in.

As example, in the show that opens on Friday evening, November 5th at JRB Art at The Elms, one of the featured artists, Caroline Farris, deliberately paints objects and symbols into her abstract landscapes that the viewer may not readily observe. But if you look closely you can find butterflies and insects as well as miniature household objects embedded in the more observable imagery. Another exhibiting artist, Liz Hahn, a former Oklahoman who lives in Santa Fe, where she once owned a gallery, is a nationally recognized painter known for hyper-realistic human bodies. Her figures do not have heads or faces because she wants the viewer to use their imagination to place their own face and persona into her paintings. The third artist we are featuring in November and December, Larry Hefner, paints pure abstraction which is richly populated with symbols. His use of pigment and texture are an integral part of his works and his paintings can mean whatever you want them to mean. 
Larry Hefner, "Extreme Illusion," Archival Dyes and Epoxy Resin, 54 x 40 in.
On any given day, when Gallery visitors view paintings, I often hear them say, “That painting speaks to me,” or “I really identify with that painting.” Conversely, when I ask about a particular painting, they might say, “No, I recognize that it is a good painting, but it just doesn’t speak to me.” It’s always interesting to find out what they see and what they feel, when viewing a specific artwork, because it’s so subjective and unique to them. But there are also times when a visitor just wants me to just tell them what I think a painting means. Just like I wanted someone at the car dealership to tell me what all those dash lights meant.

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