Friday, October 17, 2014

Two Exhibitions Celebrate the Art of Missourians Living with Disabilities

Color Me Brilliant: Missouri Artists Living with Disabilities

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for. – Georgia O'Keeffe

Artists use color for many purposes: to replicate reality, to create depth and space where there is none, to express their vision of the world. The artists showcased in the exhibition, “Color Me Brilliant: Missouri Artists Living with Disabilities,” use color and form as expressive factors. Color can create multiple moods and evoke all sorts of emotions in a viewer; color is a tool for communication between artist and viewer.

Two new additions to the Missouri Student Unions art collection are on display for the first time on the first floor of the Missouri Student Center. Janice Atkins, an artist from Kansas City, painted the two still life compositions. Atkins was born in California and moved to Kansas City when she was eighteen. In high school, Atkins was diagnosed with schizophrenia and experienced her first major episode at twenty-seven. She received a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Missouri – Kansas City in 1981.  Her work is included in the collection of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas and she has been featured in many gallery shows in the Kansas City area.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that occurs in one percent of the general population.  The disorder may be caused by an interaction between genetic factors and environmental factors that affect the chemistry and structure of the brain. Symptoms of schizophrenia can include hallucinations and delusions, thought or movement disorders, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. People with schizophrenia manage their disorder through lifelong treatment with medication and psychosocial therapy.

Red Roses in a White Vase (undated) is categorized as a still life, an image depicting inanimate objects, either alone or in a group, as the primary subject matter. With the dawn of Modernism at the beginning of the twentieth century, painters Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse used still life compositions to explore the relationships between form, color, texture, and space.  These artists were exploring the concept of art itself rather than mimetically reproducing objects as they appeared.

Like the Modern painters, Atkins uses the still life genre to uncover the beauty in the patterns and colors of a commonplace scene of flowers in a vase. Like Cézanne’s famous still lifes of fruit on a table, Atkins abstracts the image, releasing it from the bounds of strict representation of a real space.  She skews the perspective of the surface under the vase in order to emphasize the brightly colored pattern of the tablecloth. Her use of vivid colors recalls the abstract collages of Matisse’s later career. The vivid red and green of the stylized roses openly contrasts with the white of the vase and background. The abstract blue outlines converse with the blue cross designs in the tablecloth continuing the rhythm of color radiating around the composition.  Atkins’ composite style blends abstraction and the figurative in order to push the viewer to see the beauty in the ordinary.

Janice Atkins (American, b. 1947), Red Roses in a White Vase (undated), 22 3/8" x 15", acrylic, ink, watercolor on paper, Missouri Student Unions purchase, 2014.030

Atkins uses still life to symbolize an abstract concept – beauty. She also uses the still life genre to discover the potential of pattern and color as aesthetic elements, tools for communicating the concept of beauty. In Irises in Chinese Vase – For Richard (2005), her use of shallow perspective forces the objects – vase and blanket – forward into the viewer’s space, presenting their decorative patterns as amalgamations of color, lines, and spaces. The patterned shapes in the background can be read as floating, alien characters in a green-gold sky. The bat design on the candle holder enhances the whimsy of the bright color scheme.

Janice Atkins (American, b. 1947), Irises in Chinese Vase - For Richard (2005), 22 3/8" x 15", watercolor, ink on paper, Missouri Student Unions purchase, 2014.029

A painting by David Kontra, Rainfall (2013), is the accompaniment to the works by Janice Atkins.  Originally from Ohio, David Kontra lives and works in rural south-central Missouri in the small town of Norwood. Kontra is legally blind. He was diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa when he was still a child and began drawing as a way to cope with depression. 

In Rainfall, Kontra creates a dynamic composition that showcases the gestural quality of his brushstrokes. The white paint, representing rain, rhythmically dances across the vibrant abstracted landscape that depicts a pond and a house in the distance. In addition, the rhythmic quality of his brushstrokes produces an aural effect that evokes the sound of rain. Kontra often paints as a means of releasing his frustration with politics and the world around him, especially ignorance and discrimination towards people with disabilities. Kontra, who is himself legally blind, is an advocate for inclusivity and accessibility of the arts for people with visual impairments.  For more information on David Kontra, please see our previous blog post:  David Kontra: Blind Missouri Artist

“Color Me Brilliant: Missouri Artists Living with Disabilities” will be on display on the first floor of the MU Student Center through the end of December, 2014.

"Color Me Brilliant: Missouri Artists Living with Disabilities" at the MU Student Center until December

The 2014 Director's Creativity Showcase

Also on display at the Missouri Student Center, the “Director’s Creativity Showcase,” a traveling exhibition supported by the Missouri Mental Health Foundation (MMHF), features the artwork of people served by the Missouri Department of Mental Health.  Patty Henry, the executive director of the MMHF, explains that “making the art available for public viewing is just one of the ways we can help reduce stigma associated with mental illness, developmental disabilities and addiction disorders. The artwork is inspiring and shows the amazing talents of many individuals faced with mental health issues.”  The “Director’s Creativity Showcase” is on display in the Lower Lounge of the MU Student Center until October 31, 2014.
2014 Director's Creativity Showcase, Lower Lounge, MU Student Center, now through October 31, 2014
These exhibitions are presented as part of Mizzou’s Celebrate Ability Week. Celebrate Ability Week, organized by MU’s Disability Center, began as recognition of the twentieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and continues to allow the MU community to promote inclusivity and awareness of people who are differently abled. For a schedule of events and more information, please visit

Blog post authored by Sarah S. Jones, Curator of Public Arts, Missouri Student Unions