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"Dreamer" by Chris Vance

“Dreamer” by Chris Vance

“Working Part Time at the Five & Dime” is the first thing that most visitors see entering Chris Vance’s latest show at Moberg Gallery. It is a painting of geometric diagrams on a black background. Yet it’s so unlike Des Moines’ most popular artist that some people check out the name plate to be sure it’s really by Vance.

“I have been working on geometric line drawings like these for five years. Until this year, they were not good enough to exhibit. I plunged in anyway because it was an art form that reminded me of my original intention to be an architect. My favorite times in high school were drafting,” he explained.

Vance admitted that one of his geometric pieces was a result of “trying to use everything in a box of colored pencils. I ended up using so many different media that only raw wood could accept them all without transforming them.” That’s new with Vance who has abandoned the Masonite he used to prefer because transparent paints don’t work with it.

“Honestly, this painting (“Working Part Time…”) turned over the most attention and comment of any piece I have shown, ever. Working on black was new to me, and I loved the depth perception,” Vance explained.

Prep Iowa

Vance’s new show is filled with subtle references to 1980’s culture — Duran, Duran, David Bowie, and Prince are all acknowledged in titles and/or subjects.

“I was planning to title the show ‘Purple Stardust’ as a tribute to Prince and Bowie. Ryan (Mullin, Moberg manager) told me that would sound like a name for a show pony. So I backed off, but I named a painting ‘Purple Stardust – a Show Pony,’ ” Vance explained.

“Ten years ago, a friend told me it was time I concentrated on big paintings and fewer paintings. I have finally taken that advice. I am not ‘the prolific artist’ you labeled me 15 years ago, or even 10. I spend far more time on each work now, and each work is much larger. For this show, Moberg challenged me to produce something that would fill a pair of large frames they had,” he said.

“The frames were so extraordinary that I did multi-layered cut-out paintings. I have no idea how many layers there are in those paintings, but they look so much better now in 3-D with shadows,” he mused.

Vance has shows this year in Denver, twice in Houston, Sausalito, Chattanooga and Chicago.

“I always gage my entire year around the Moberg show in Des Moines. I save works for this show. I market to my collectors around this show. People drove eight hours, each way, to my opening tonight. That does not happen elsewhere,” he said.

Red Fiesta and uranium

Here’s a little-known fact — Fiesta (dinnerware), one of the most popular icons of mid 20th century America, is glazed with uranium. Red Fiesta used more uranium than other colors and was hence the hottest of all dinnerware. One person’s curious piece of trivia is another’s scientific/artistic challenge. Peter Shellenberger decided to find out whether Fiesta was radioactive. He placed it on old film in boxes, with Cracker Jack prize type figurines. After 45 days, the film produced images that are eerily intriguing.

“Radiation has a language of its own. It does not move in lines or curves; it’s all over the place going over, under and through objects. I had no idea that it would create this strange purple color either,” he explained. The artist used figurines that related to the history of uranium, extinction and photography – Native Americans, Hiroshima victims, jockeys, flamingos, flamingo dancers and guns.

For his show at Moberg, he also shows a pair of photographs he took emulating experiments of Nikola Tesla. These feature old Polaroid film and nova class lamination featuring the most politically incorrect light bulbs in the world — Irish-made creations that burn 110,000 lumens.

Both Vance and Shellenberger shows play through April 15. ♦


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