The Wichita Art Museum opens a visionary exhibit of emotionally charged paintings on Sunday through “The Disquieting Imagination: A Visual Duet between James G. Davis and Judith Burns McCrea.” In it, the works of two friends unite fantasy with reality.
Both artists earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Wichita State University. Before becoming a professor at the University of Arizona, Davis cofounded the Bottega Gallery in Wichita, where Beat Generation artists gathered. McCrea, an Augusta native, co-organized the children’s art program at the Wichita Art Museum and taught at the museum for 10 years. She now is a professor at the University of Kansas.
Davis, whose work is on display throughout the country, was McCrea’s mentor. His paintings are part of the permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.
“He’s a masterful painter,” McCrea said. “I think of this exhibit as a rare showcase.”
Because the paintings by both artists are so large — several are more than 6 feet wide, and some are triptychs (works spanning three canvases) — the opportunity to show more than 30 of them at one time is rare.
“Both artists use subject matter based on reality,” said the show’s co-curator, Stephen Gleissner. “Both paint in very bold gestural figurative expressions.”
These large-scale canvases also contain emotionally challenging material — nude figures in unusual settings and flying animals, for instance.
McCrea said some of her work focuses on alienation, death and transcultural issues. She also examines the relationship between people and the environment.
These haunting, beautifully executed paintings also use colorful palates. Reds intermingle with golden hues, and teal shares the canvas with magenta in striking expressions of dreamlike energy. Many of the paintings reference Latino settings and explore the issues of security, purpose and love.
“They explore levels of consciousness and levels of reality,” Gleissner said.
The artists use the large canvases to tell their stories. McCrea said the large paintings were like theater.
“There has certainly been a dialogue within their (Davis’ and McCrea’s) work, particularly with imagery, and I would say scale,” Gleissner said.
Trish Higgins, event co-curator, said she is excited to see both artists’ paintings on the museum’s exhibit walls, which are painted vibrant shades of cream, teal and green.
“Because of their large scale and intensity of color, the paintings look beautiful in the gallery,” Higgins said. “This exhibition proves that in an age of new media, figurative painting is still relevant.”
Both artists will talk about their work on Sept. 29 at the museum, 1400 W. Museum Blvd. The event is free.