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Charles Allis exhibit ‘Echoing Concerns’ on Humanity, Dystopia and Irony

Mar. 21, 2017
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A populist sentiment and the power of the graphic image are shared in the work of artists Carlos Hermosilla Álvarez and Colin Matthes. The latter is a contemporary Milwaukee-based artist, while the former, who died in 1991, is widely described as “the father of Chilean realist printmaking.” Their work is brought together in the exhibition “Echoing Concerns,” currently on view at the Charles Allis Art Museum. 

The exhibition is a fine introduction to Hermosilla as it represents a range of subjects and is accompanied by informative notes about many of the pieces. The first body of work you are most likely to see is in the foyer of the Great Hall, where a selection of portraits is displayed. They include musicians, writers and activists, many of whom the artist knew. Figures important in the history of Chilean social justice are shown in bold style.

Hermosilla’s handling of line, light and shadow is not unlike some German Expressionists of the early 20th century, but he also compresses the composition at times with additional symbolic details. An example is a circa-1950 woodcut portrait of Walt Whitman. The poet’s intense face and voluminous beard loom behind the Statue of Liberty, a speeding train and a marching, flag-waving mass. Other subjects include views of his native Valparaiso, Chile, (where he was born in 1905) as well as images of working fisherman and laborers.

This attention to the characters of ordinary life is what aligns Hermosilla with the impulses of realist art. It also joins with the images of Colin Matthes, who further addresses the everyday with satire, wit and angst. The Victors Take the Gods is a title given to two pieces, both new works done in 2017. On a white background of nothing, his sharp and sometimes misshapen figures float, strolling along holding a giant hamburger, riding an ATV with a big screen TV lashed to the back, or riding a pony while corporate fast food logos trail along behind. In these drawings as well as paintings, Matthes’ dystopian aesthetic reflects present conditions where irony has become a shocking reality. 

Through June 25 at the Charles Allis Art Museum, 1801 N. Prospect Ave.

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