Generations and genres are colliding at the Diver Studio for a unique Final Friday experience. A quartet of cross-age artists are exhibiting works at the Commerce Street gallery that complement their styles while filling the space with artful symmetry. Industrial tools, layered abstractions, amusing doodles, and distinctively fashioned pottery collide to exceptional visual effect in an exhibit where each artist stands out, yet has his works augmented by the presence of their peers.
“It’s amazing how everyone’s work plays off of each other,” said John Ernatt, who owns and runs the gallery with his wife, Connie. “These works excite people.”
The exhibit, dubbed “Diver October,” debuted last month. Ernatt said that he’s aiming to do one big show a year at the gallery that offers something special for art enthusiasts to see. He picked October to launch it because he said it’s a special month for the warehouse art world in Wichita, a time when temperatures are almost guaranteed to be conducive to hosting a show in a non-climate controlled, expansive space like his gallery. This Friday is the closing reception. The industrial space at 424 S. Commerce St. hosts three established artists upstairs: Dimitris Skliris, William Counter, and Eugene Stucky. Downstairs is where Ernatt said the “youth movement will be represented” with eye-catching drawings and doodles by John Pirtle.
Upon entering the lower level of The Diver Studio, viewers will quickly notice the colorful and quirky works of Pirtle. The millennial-generation artist evokes a sense of hip irony in each of his pieces, which feature color caricatures in amusing situations or poses. With a background in illustration and drawing, Pirtle said that random sketches have always been second nature. For this show, he has an entire wall of his mostly black-and-white or pen-ink drawn doodles.
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“If I have a pen in my hand, I’m doodling to some capacity,” Pirtle said. “Humor definitely has a lot to do with it.”
Upstairs, two baby-boomers team up to exhibit alongside a member of the “Silent Generation” whose works are anything but muted. Octogenarian Eugene Stucky has a background in pottery, having focused heavily on mugs and vases. His hands don’t permit such precision anymore, so he said that freed him up to do something different. The result is a series of elegantly designed and congenially colored plates, along with a more daring series of ripped-clay designs that mimic vases and pots but leave aside their usual exacting nature to create thick, gnarled abstractions.
“I went bigger and I went wilder,” Stucky said. “A lot of these are centered on colors and the squares. I’m sort of fixated on squares, just the way they fit together and don’t fit together.”
“They are not particularly precious, and you don’t have to tip toe around them, unlike a lot of ceramics,” Ernatt said of the collection. “They are very sculptural.”
William Counter’s abstract works neatly compliment the shapes and colors of Stucky’s pieces. The long-time artist has several large-scale pieces with active surfaces that see shapes, colors, and motions strike into each other. Some are white in tone and more subdued in their energy, while others are bursting in vibrant colors with hurried strokes. Counter lives in a stone farmhouse in Chapman and has a studio in a barn on his property. Ernatt said a trace of that solitary lifestyle shows up in his paintings and called the works super exciting because they offer a special glimpse into an interesting person’s perspective.
The centerpiece of the upstairs show is a series of artfully photographed industrial tools by Dimitris Skliris. Born in Greece, he came to Wichita to study engineering, but became more captivated by photography. While perusing discarded equipment at the now shuttered Boeing Surplus Sales Center, he was drawn to the colorful hues and science fiction-like form of many of the used and worn gadgets.
“When I first saw them, I fell in love with the object,” Skliris said. “They looked like guns. They’re colorful. They look antique in a way, even though they’re modern tools. I originally bought them as objects. The more I started to hold them, the more I realized it was art.”
Skliris was fascinated by the fact that many of the tools are more than 50 years old and were refurbished as many as three times. He noted that he can often see where the workers hands wore against the metal. Intricate facets like this make the large, exaggerated tools stand out against the pure white background in each of the frames.
“It’s often hard for modern photography to have a wow-factor to it. These really do, though,” Ernatt said of Skliris’ tool series. “They photos are bigger than real life.”