A riot of color and lighthearted images brighten the Armstrong Gallery at the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington.
Artist Elaine Rexdale dubbed her exhibition “Eye Candy.” It’s currently on view through Aug. 30. Whimsy draws the viewer in, but the artist hopes we’ll look deep into the paint on canvas to discover the power messages within.
Rexdale’s paintings depict everyday situations – a trip to the barbershop, salon or dentist – in bright, splashy colors. It’s a free-for-all of pop art with an outsider artist sensibility, a quirky expression of joy and humor, plus something more.
Rexdale attributes her exuberant style to her background in early childhood education.
“Working with preschoolers and kindergarten children, first grade children, they have absolutely no inhibitions. They’ll use anything and create anything and just come up with stuff spontaneously. I really loved the colors that they used. Everything is in depth with them, they feel so passionately. And I guess it kind of rubbed off on me.”
Entirely self-taught, Rexdale is drawn to ordinary situations and people for her work. She then fires them with intense colors to relate a lively narrative. Rexdale turns to her own life for inspiration, such as the painting depicting the dentist’s office.
“When I went to the dentist’s office, I learned he’d just had his 50th anniversary of being in dentistry, and I thought about how many people he’d seen and wondered what they were like.”
Rexdale pointed out the painting depicting a busy beauty shop.
“You know, you go to the beautician and there’s always something going on. Someone’s having a baby, they’ve brought their kids. And it just seemed like a hodge podge of humanity all together. And I just had to do it.”
Rexdale will lavish her paintings with bright colors, but admitted she does need to be cautious.
“Sometimes I have to pull myself back because in order to make the main focus be seen, I have to pull myself back. I try to use some background that might help that. But, yes, I do use a lot of brights. Sometimes I say that the bright colors are on sale at the store,” Rexdale laughed.
At the far end of the Armstrong Gallery, a large beach scene dominates the wall. Here, anthropomorphized animals frolic among a variety of humans, some of whom are disabled. That depiction, Rexdale explained, is an important aspect of her work.
“I like to visualize different people, like the character in the wheelchair, there’s a little boy back there that doesn’t have an arm. I like to have those in with everybody else so that hopefully, you’re just looking at the main picture and you think they naturally fit in. So, I try to use disabilities as part of everyday life.”
Within the dazzling colors is a message of inclusion and acceptance. One painting depicts a political motif, with a parade featuring different ideological perspectives, with Republicans and Democrats ... and smiles.
“I wanted to present inclusion. Everyone should be included,” Rexdale said emphatically. “The whole idea was, all-in-all, we’re all Americans. And so at this moment we can make this lovely parade and enjoy it.”
Rexdale believes her work should be a release to the viewer.
“It’s everyday stories with everyday people doing fun things. I hope the bright colors at least bring a little smile to you and make you feel good in some way.”
“Eye Candy” is on view at the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington through Aug. 30.
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