“Michael Krueger: Untie the Spell” & “Armin Mühsam: The Elastic Continuum,” Haw Contemporary

“Armin Mühsam: The Elastic Contiuum,” installation view”Armin Mühsam: The Elastic Contiuum,” installation view

Two fantastic exhibitions are on display at Haw Contemporary. “Untie the Spell” by Michael Krueger features breathtakingly beautiful landscapes inspired by American folk music and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” while Armin Mühsam’s “The Elastic Continuum” comprises expertly painted works filled with strange optical effects. While on the surface, the two exhibitions seem very different, both artists demonstrate their mastery of color, pattern and illusion.

Krueger’s “Untie the Spell” features eight paintings created through a unique combination of colored pencil and airbrushed acrylic paint. The blending of these two mediums feels seamless, with the smooth gradients of the airbrush and the minute patterns of the pencil combining in a manner that feels truly magical. It’s the sort of thing you should really see in person, digital reproductions just don’t do it justice. The eight works depict grandiose landscapes, sunsets, churning seas, forest fires, lonely horses, shooting stars and waterfalls, all with a kaleidoscope of perfectly chosen colors.

One painting, “sunset inside (I’ll keep it with mine)” depicts a magical ocean cove opening onto a view of sea and sunset. The expertly picked purples, pinks, blues and yellows create a nearly psychedelic display of color that still feels plausible and realistic. The title, a reference to the Bob Dylan song of the same name, points to an emotional longing that is often found in folk music and its connection to the land.

Michael Krueger, “sunset inside (I’ll keep it with mine),” 2023 colored pencil & acrylic 19” x 27”

Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” serves as an inspiration for the artworks too, inspiring views of magical islands, storms and rugged cliffs. But Krueger puts an American twist on these themes. In “tempest on the river (putting trouble on the run),” Krueger replaces Shakespeare’s sailing ship with an American steamboat. And in “I’ll drown my book (the narrow way)” Krueger shows a tiny sad horse gazing off a cliff at an endless ocean. The works might almost feel cliched, if they weren’t so beautiful.

Armin Mühsam’s “The Elastic Continuum” takes a very different approach to painting. The enormous works are not impressionistic or painterly like Krueger’s, but fully rendered, plastic and geometric. The paintings seem to depict abstract sculptures in sculpture gardens or theater stages. Brightly colored objects, geometric patterns, stone plinths, and trees create a very unreal space that feels plausible but totally fake, like something out of a video game or like props for a stage play.

Armin Mühsam, “Theatrical Orthodoxy,” 2023 oil on canvas 72” x 48”

In “Theatrical Orthodoxy,” Mühsam depicts a variety of materials, a stone plinth, plywood, tile and grout, alongside totally abstract shapes that don’t read as any particular material, but instead very clearly feel like paint on a canvas. Behind the different materials and colored shapes, a blue sky and simple green trees can be seen.

In many of the works, such as “Particularized Pastoral,” Mühsam leans directly into optical illusion, using a grid of black lines to create a strange effect where the intersections of the grid at the edges of your vision will flash and vibrate. Again, it’s an effect you’ll only get in person and doesn’t really translate in reproduction.

This push and pull, between the real and the fake, is an important feature in most of Mühsam’s works in the exhibition. It’s reminiscent of the optical illusions of the surrealist painter René Magritte, who painted in a very similar unreal style. The major difference between Mühsam and Magritte is that nearly a century has passed, and while Magritte’s illusions were often concerned with representational painting of “real objects” like pipes and apples, Mühsam applies the same concepts to abstract art itself.

If it wasn’t already clear, both of these exhibitions really need to be seen to be believed (or perhaps disbelieved, in Mühsam’s case). It isn’t often one can see two great exhibitions at the same time, and both artists’ works are not to be missed.

“Michael Krueger: Untie the Spell” and “Armin Mühsam: The Elastic Continuum” continue at Haw Contemporary, 1600 Liberty St., through Oct. 21. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, hawcontemporary.com or 816.842.5877.

Neil Thrun

Neil Thrun is a writer and artist living in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a 2010 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and was a resident artist with the Charlotte Street Urban Culture Project in 2011 and 2012. He has written for publications including the Kansas City Star, Huffington Post and other local arts journals.

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