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Exploring Place and Space / Familiar and Unfamiliar

Magical Adventure is a ten-year celebration of Ipso Gallery, but it’s also a celebration of the gallery’s decade long artist residencies of Liz Heeren and Mary Groth. This powerhouse mother-daughter duo have called the two studios in the downtown art space at Fresh Produce their home since Ipso opened its doors in the spring of 2009. It seems apt that the crew at Fresh Produce (myself included) saw them as a perfect pairing to bring back as the tenth anniversary show.

Mary Groth and Liz Heeren have a long shared history as two women artists living in South Dakota, as two artists who share a similar space and community, and as a mother and daughter. But with these shared stories and experiences, it’s interesting to see how uniquely different they are as artists.

Mary grew up in Aberdeen, South Dakota, spending a number of years there raising her two children, painting, and working as an artist through it all. Her experiences in rural South Dakota, her Scandinavian heritage, and motherhood have influenced her work since the beginning of her career. Best known for her prairie scenes, Mary has a signature style of capturing tender moments of care and friendship — encapsulating a sense of place and its people.

Liz grew up in Aberdeen, South Dakota, spending a number of years pursuing art education outside the state, then coming back to raise a family. She has painted and worked as an artist and art educator through it all. Her experiences in studying biology and art, and motherhood have influenced her work. Best known for her seamless combination of abstractions and realist elements, Liz has a signature style of capturing the innate beauty in colors and objects — encapsulating a sense of space and time within it.

Drawing influence from life and personal experiences isn’t always the familiar thing to do. As artists, it can often be a way to navigate the unfamiliar of what life throws at you. Liz and Mary use their medium as a tool of investigation, diligently exploring whatever ideas pique their interests.

The significance of art by women artists is often diminished when it represents motherhood, mothering bodies/action, womanhood, softness, or delicate/emotional environments. The case for women practicing more craft-based mediums, folk, or indigenous arts seem to be in the same realm. This terrain is something both Liz and Mary travel, out of their own volition or through implied/imposed choice.

Since the beginning of their art practices, Mary and Liz have been made acutely aware of their subject matter and the well of influence they draw from.

Mary is an artist who represented life on the prairie, often times highlighting rural family life and relationships between women. There’s a softness to her work, in execution/physicality but also in the idea of expressing these deeper delicate relationships based on lineage, heritage, and nature. Her bodies of work, in the 40-some years she has actively been an artist and mother, have a very strong element of storytelling that draws in a range of viewers. She portrays stories of resilience in her works, and also exemplifies that story herself by being a full-time artist living in South Dakota.

Mary’s practice can be perceived as one of a documentarian. She borrows from her lived experience, as well as from shared stories of the prairie. There is something extremely distinctive in the way she presents these lived/shared scenes — there’s patience, tenderness, and care in her works. There’s a sense of slowing down and enjoying those special, emotional moments. Her artistic style strongly contributes to communicating the time and place of these stories, the passage of these moments — things that are fleeting — and encouraging viewers to take time soaking in our own experiences.

Liz has exhibited at a number of spaces and institutes, but in this instance it’s interesting to see the link between her work from her first Ipso Gallery showing and her current series at Magical Adventure ten years on. When looking back at the inaugural Ipso exhibition, Liz says that it seemed like a preemptive, unconscious lean towards becoming a mother to a boy extremely inventive and curious about outer space. These older works started her initial investigation into a multiverse, where spaces collapsed showcasing elements from this world and beyond.

She draws heavily from nature and interactions of elements around us — both rooted in her love for biology, and science as a whole. Her previous works seem to feature more technical subjects–things that were three-dimensional and contoured–but it evolved into more flat graphics which now have taken the form of otherworldly, multi-dimensional abstracted landscapes. These newer works express a sense of ongoing investigation. Her abstractions show the idea in process, challenging the perception of fact and fiction. There’s a search to sync up with the unfamiliar. In this case, unfamiliar being the desire to understand the everyday thought-process and interests of an eight-year-old.

Drawing from life and the everyday manifests itself in so many different ways. Either as stories and moments passed on through generations, or through untold experiences and unique connections. Artists Mary Groth and Liz Heeren delve in human connection, either through their own lives or a collective experience. They are storytellers and resilient explorers/documentarians of the human experience, and they use strong technical, artistic vision to present these moments in very realistic, sometimes mystical, and abstract ways.

This whole body of work that I’m working on is an effort to move into the state of mind that I observe in my son. I feel like this has been lost (in me) through years of education and a practical lifestyle. He’s so scientifically aware and capable of articulating very complex scientific ideas. I see him flip that into fiction very quickly, without any effort to disguise it. It’s that reversal of information and that ability in his mind to accept more than one reality of how these facts can work into his own creative concepts. I love that. I’m trying to find that space in my own work right now. This is my attempt to kind of play with understanding life from more than one perspective and to kind of pioneer in my very adult way. I don’t know what’s going to happen with my work right now, but I like this space.

My newest idea is called ‘Wonderment.’ It involves my grandson, which is a big new thing for me…to have grandchildren and I love it. So I’m trying to work him into this piece about his own imagination. Family kind of permeates everything I’ve done. It informs something in my art all along, somewhere. My work is very much about human connection. Always has been. So, my connection to my children, my friends, husbands has always shown up in my work. It’s always had an emotional content. My heart is in representing connections between human beings.

Magical Adventure is on view at Ipso Gallery till the end of January, 2020. The gallery is open Monday-Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.