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UMKC Fine Arts Gallery opens new, introspective show

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After a year fighting breast cancer, UMKC graduate art student Shel Asher debuted her solo exhibition “Where Do Memories Go When We Forget?” on Thursday at the UMKC Fine Arts Gallery.
Asher was shocked when she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in April 2013. Even worse, Asher had already started her series for this exhibition a year prior.
Entering into the gallery, one can see a unified style in the works, but can observe a separation in tone. Some works like “Migrate” are foggy, white expanses with the implied shape of a crane in flight, while next to it sits “Eradication,” a monstrous typhoon of dirty blues and greens with mysterious strands of barbed wire intertwining in the center.
Asher explains this visual dichotomy as a chronological record.
“This was two years – the white pieces that are the really apparent birds, I started before I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said. “I had been focusing on migration, and when I was diagnosed, that’s when I really started thinking about the migration of cells and migration of things within the body, and so I started using different imagery that went along with the halt of movement.”
Asher explained her interest in cellular migration.
“It was the idea of why things move from one place to another,” she said. “Birds are really great imagery for migration because people always think of that, and I was really thinking about the internal, genetic mapping inside the brain that makes you do that – that same thing all the time. It ended up fitting in with the other piece – this sense of halt of movement of the genetic mapping that is in our body.”
This focus on the body’s interior, cellular activities influenced the dramatic elements of Asher’s work. Using a combination of oil and acrylic paint, along with charcoal, Asher’s artwork has a texture observable from a distance and up close. In some areas, the paint appears troweled and caked on, but is applied lightly in other areas. Layering paint thickness this way sometimes makes the two paints appear with a sort of rotting effect.
“Where you see resist happening, that’s from the oil with the acrylic on top,” Asher said, “I love chemistry in that way, of taking things that don’t mix but making them mix.”
Asher begins a painting by first drawing out the piece in pencil onto a canvas that isn’t on wooden stretcher bars. This method allows her a fuller range of movement. Her works feature migrating birds to mysterious spaces like in her piece “Spittin Stitches.”
“Spittin Stitches” is a monolithic work, which looks like muddy water that floods the canvas, which is coated with scorched motor oil. A large, bright red line that runs diagonally in the center draws the viewer into the work.
“I really wanted to have that immediate, violent mark to stand out,” Asher said. “It was one of the last things I did on the painting. I was interested in the idea of desecrating your own work.”
Asher explained the title of her exhibition “Where Do Memories Go When We Forget?”
“I spent a year battling breast cancer and the chemotherapy, and Ricky and people who worked with me during that time understand that I had sludge in my brain and I still don’t remember a lot from that period. During chemo and after chemo I’ve been struggling with memory loss, and so a lot of the fogginess and things you see within the images is kind of how I see my memory – things being very foggy and moving back and forth in space. So I still haven’t answered my own question: where the memories go.”
Shel Asher’s “Where Do Memories Go When We Forget?” will be open at the UMKC Fine Arts Gallery until Oct. 27th.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Mimita you will be remembered as a kind and heroic human being, I am so proud you were my cousin. I’ll remember you as a free spirit woman and I’ll keep you in my memories and heart as my little cousin when I just had come from El Salvador. You are an angel now, say Hi to my mom and until we see again..

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