“The Vortex Trinity,” Todd Weiner Gallery

Rarely does a group exhibition showcase an individual artist’s work to advantage. “The vortex trinity” is an exception. By installing new work by Hugh Merrill, Miguel Rivera and Jim Sajovic in one room, curator and gallery owner Todd Weiner highlights certain aesthetic themes these artists share, as well as underscoring their different sensibilities. A juicy visual chemistry pulsates throughout the space, while each man’s art pops in comparison to the others.’

Weiner originally planned to give each artist his own show.  After visiting the studios of all three in one week, he discovered that major transformations were happening in each one’s art. He also found their current work shared some provocative thematic and aesthetic correlations.

All the paintings, prints and drawings in the exhibit possess a dynamic, even cosmic sense of energy, accentuated by layers of pentimento and lines of mapping. Although mostly abstract, there are geometric elements and/or vestiges of organic forms buried in all the artworks. A sense of history, past and future, pervades these pieces; for the viewer the experience is one of time traveling through each artist’s psyche, challenging as it may be to decode.

Miguel Rivera, originally from Mexico, is the chair of the Kansas City Art Institute’s print department and President of the Kansas City Artists Coalition. His work here is from the series, “The Origins of Idiosyncrasy,” and each print is a tour-de-force by a master printmaker. Rivera layers drawings of vectors with photos he’s manipulated, and then uses a laser to create gradations in each piece. His images include geometric forms superimposed over a Peruvian pigeon and the chicken pox virus.  In his artist statement he says, “In my current work, I am visiting my recollection of events and structures that lead one’s daily life such as maps, the magic of belief in forces of physics and deep embedded images from baroque Mexican facades.”  The series also reflects his experiences of traveling and sense of displacement.

Hugh Merrill is also a great printmaker, as well as a painter and community art activist. The untitled works on paper in this show are all meticulously constructed drawings.  They possess Merrill’s usual intensity, along with multiple geometric shapes that seem to defy gravity, but there are new and notable differences here. Merrill has been dealing with throat cancer since 2016, and while working on this series he could not use his voice to speak. This latest body of work, which includes geometric forms left deliberately empty, is more ethereal, more harmonious and less combative in feeling than past works.  They feel more spacious and softer, and are very compelling.

The biggest surprise in “vortex trinity” is delivered by veteran artist Jim Sajovic, now retired from the Kansas City Art Institute. Sajovic has been working with the figure for decades; his “Provisional Chaos” series, which debuts here, is almost entirely abstract. He has been experimenting with digital “painting” for a while now, and in these works, he selects images from a variety of artists, and then intuitively layers color over “images of cells, viruses, minerals, lunar maps, Hubble photographs, and facial closeups,” as his artist statement says, having “no idea what the appearance of the finished work will be.”

If Sajovic’s process sounds laborious, the end results are anything but. His new work sparkles with spontaneity as well as complete confidence.  You can tell he’s having fun, and, as with all the artists in this fine exhibit, his art keeps getting better.

“The Vortex Trinity” continues at Todd Weiner Gallery, 115 W. 18th St., through May 27.  Hours are 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 11:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday. For more information, 816.984.8538 or www.toddweinergallery.com

Elisabeth Kirsch

Elisabeth Kirsch is an art historian, curator and writer who has curated over 100 exhibitions of contemporary art, American Indian art and photography, locally and across the country. She writes frequently for national and local arts publications.

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