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Suzanne Tobias: Tiny people on everyday objects illustrate what art should do

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2013, at 5:09 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Sep. 19, 2013, at 7:10 a.m.

If there was any doubt that my taste in art leans toward the rudimentary or borderline ridiculous, it was quashed during last weekend’s stroll through Bradley Fair.

Autumn & Art, the annual fine arts festival, featured the works of nearly 100 painters, photographers, jewelry-makers and other artists on a parkway behind the Wichita shopping center. Our family browsed the tents on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, stopping to marvel at stunning photos of dancers in action, beautiful streetscapes, handblown glass sculptures and geometric masterpieces.

But my favorite booth involved cauliflower skiers, Swiss-cheese golfers and a beer-suds rowboat.

Tiny People Big Laughs, a collection of colorful, gee-whiz photographs by JJ Johansen of Denver, had my children and me stopping, smiling and sifting through crates of matted prints until we were sure we had seen them all.

The concept is simple: Position tiny model train figures amid everyday objects – tomatoes, a pineapple, tax forms, a pile of M&Ms – and photograph them with a 60mm lens to create one-of-a-kind vignettes.

Tiny scuba divers stand poised on the rim of a bowl, another on the stem of a spoon, ready to dive into meatball soup. Miniature mountain-bikers traverse a crown of broccoli. Skiers glide down a roll of toilet paper. A construction worker takes a jackhammer to a chocolate chip cookie.

Painters scrawl a sentiment on the side of an enormous boulder – or is it a pebble? – in white block letters:

“Things take time.”

Indeed.

Hannah’s favorite was a piece titled “That’s Just Wrong,” which featured minuscule pigs seemingly grazing among the meaty peaks and valleys of several slices of crispy bacon.

“If someone has bacon in his art,” she said. “I’m automatically a fan.”

Hard to argue, I told her. Because, duh. Bacon!

As we browsed the collection, the artist himself (or someone who works for him – I was too enthralled for proper introductions) walked up and handed us a Z-scale miniature like the ones used in the photographs. This one was a teeny-tiny nurse, barely as big as a fingernail, wearing an old-fashioned nurse’s hat with a tiny red cross that I could barely make out without reading glasses.

“I like people to see how small they really are,” the artist said.

“Wow,” I said. “They really are.”

I handed it to Hannah, who handed it to Jack, who carefully held it up to the light before handing it back to the the artist.

We gazed a little longer at the collection of photographs. Delightful as they are, I thought, they’ll likely never hang in a museum alongside works by Picasso, Degas, Ansel Adams or Andy Warhol. “Little Bumpy Ride,” Johansen’s photo of skiers on cauliflower, is no Mona Lisa or “Starry Night.”

And yet, on that late-summer day on the Bradley Fair parkway, that booth and others illustrated everything art should do: It made us stop. It made us think. It made us look at things from another perspective. It made us smile.

A shared experience – with a little bacon on the side. What’s not to love?

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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