Midwest Paint Group visually responds to SIUE’s Jean Helion painting

A painting that has been in SIUE’s possession for nearly 50 years recently drew the interest of the Midwest Paint Group, causing its members to create visual responses to it. They unveiled those responses last week.

The group visited the campus over the summer to view the painting, “Le Grand Luxembourg,” by French artist Jean Helion painting, which is on display on the second floor of the Lovejoy Library.

Glen Cebulash, art department chair at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, contacted SIUE about viewing the painting after he saw a reproduction of the painting in a catalog produced by the National Academy of Design in New York City. That then led Cebulash to correspond with University Museum director Eric Barnett to allow the Midwest Paint Group to view and respond to the artwork.

Cebulash said the Helion painting was chosen for the visual response project, in part, because everyone in the group is interested in Helion’s work. Though Helion is a well-known painter for his abstract work in the 1930s, Cebulash said he was also “somewhat of a cult figure.”

“When I came here and saw this painting I just thought it was really weird that you guys have this giant painting by this guy who we’re all interested in and here in the library and for the most part, probably most people probably don’t know even about it, know who he is or anything like that,” Cebulash said. “So we sort of felt like you had this little gem – not little, but – you had this big gem here and we were really enthusiastic about the painting.”

The intent of creating visual responses to the Helion painting, according to Cebulash, was to be transformative and create something new based on the pre-existing painting. In Cebulash’s case, frustration in deciding on a response led to creating artwork with paper rather than paint.

“It’s something that I’ve done in the past. It sort of functions in a way like painting does,” Cebulash said. “Painting is really just sort of little bits of color that you put down with brush or with a knife. So cut paper is sort of like a mosaic almost.”

McKendree University art professor Amy MacLennan, a member of the Midwest Paint Group, first saw the Helion painting in August and was “knocked back by the size of it.”

“It really through me for a loop that just the scale changed the way I felt about everything and just made it so spacious,” MacLennan said.

To prepare for the visual response, MacLennan said the group spent roughly eight hours on campus to complete several drawings of the painting, and she came to the decision that the only way she could “really understand” the painting was to “make a still-life that referred to it and then paint from that.”

Similar to Cebulash, MacLennan said the visual response process was frustrating.

“I didn’t feel like I was getting to what was important for me to respond to,” MacLennan said.

To find her response, MacLennon began pulling items out of a box she keeps her “cast of characters” in.

“I tried to kind of parallel the figure relationships that were on [the painting] and also to find kind of a psychological connection between the objects that I use and sort of what I perceive as happening between the figures here in that space,” MacLennon said.

In creating her piece, MacLennon had to find a balance between making the work her own and representing Helion.

“I moved the objects around, I took things out I put things in…,” MacLennon said. “Everything in there is kind of a metaphor for something else.”

The experience – from viewing the painting to creating a response to seeing the responses from all the group members – has been great, according to Cebulash.

“This guy, as I said before, is sort of almost a heroic artist for us as individuals, so the opportunity for us to be able to hang some work next to that, it is really exciting,” Cebulash said. “It’s kind of an honor in a way.”

For more information about the Midwest Paint Group, visit http://midwest-paint-group.org/.

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed Under: Faculty News

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Switch to our mobile site