There are a lot of lively characters and colorful images in Kathleen Shanahan and Ranal Harrell Young’s exhibit at the Fiber Studio. From horses doing yoga to owls transfixed within a psychological dreamscape, karmic allegories and cultural symbolism are deeply imbued in their works.
Woven into this divergent set is the central idea of creative synergy. The two longtime friends have somewhat different approaches to art but find inspiration in each other’s work. Their Final Friday show reflects unique experiences, inspired by each other’s presence.
“The title of the show, ‘Zig Zag Stream,’ that refers to collaboration and when your friends inspire you over time,” Shanahan said. “That’s certainly the story here. I’ve known Ranal since 1983, when I first came to Wichita and started teaching art at Wichita State University. We inspire each other.”
Young agrees. “We visit each other’s studio every few months or so,” Young explained. “We talk about our work, give creative input, share experiences and opportunities. We encourage each other. We both have a collage sensibility, Kathleen in how she combines images, and me in how I combine images, objects and materials.”
Shanahan has taught art at colleges in Oregon, Missouri and Kansas and was a lecturer in painting and drawing at the University of Kansas. She has a long history of exhibiting locally, and many of the works in this show were recently on display at the Strecker Nelson Gallery in Manhattan.
For this show, her works are prints and collages from cut objects, with some acrylics and pastels included. Calling herself “not a purist printmaker,” she noted that she often fishes discarded materials out of the wastebasket to use. Much of her imagery employs a “characters out of context” approach, where animals and objects are often engaging in distinctly human activities. Her affinity for practicing yoga is also evident.
In “Architecture of the Arabian Foal,” a horse and a hieroglyphic figure practice yoga among the Egyptian pyramids alongside an older woman. The horse is holding the “down dog” pose, creating an interesting juxtaposition. “Rose Colossus” finds an angry woman riding boldly on two horses, with one foot planted on each as they storm through a field. Shanahan said she borrowed that image from a woman in New York who has her own dance company and parallels animal movements in the dances that she teaches.
“I love manipulating materials, which is the whole non-image side of things,” she said. “I also like cobbling together an image. I like the idea of an implied narrative. A lot of these are based on first building a collage. I’m also very interested in the idea of the animal movement and the posture and the structure, the bones and the armature of the body. That comes from teaching life drawing and appreciating the figure and the structure of it, as well as the geometry and the design.”
Young, who earned her MFA in painting from Wichita State, has been a presenter and lecturer on collage and assemblage for several decades throughout the Midwest. In this show, her pieces are relatively small in scale and mostly paintings on wood with collage elements added. Creation, life cycles, and awareness on multiple levels are consistent themes. There’s often a mystic element at play in them. “Her Vision” sees a meditative woman in the midst of a colorful, shape shifting sea of lines, geometric images and waves. “Who?” showcases an inquisitive owl staring out toward floating images of butterflies, roses, and leaves, seemingly ready to ask a question.
“My work is layered both physically as well as symbolically,” Young said. “I just follow the impulses that I get to put things together in a way that engages me. Life experience inspires me. In recent years, my spiritual practice has inspired my work. I am thinking in terms of a more general, universal experience instead of a specific religion or practice.”
Shanahan sees the main difference between the two artists’ work as her structure being more asymmetrical, while Young’s work is more formal. She thinks viewers will be able to see how both complement each other.
“I think that her work is sort of like visual poetry,” she said of her friend. “It’s often enigmatic. We both take things for their psychological or symbolic import at times in our works.”
If you go
‘Zig Zag Stream’
What: An art show featuring works by Kathleen Shanahan and Ranal Harrell Young
Where: The Fiber Studio and Gallery, 418 Commerce
When: 6-10 p.m. Final Friday reception. Works on display through February and can be viewed by appointment.
How Much: Free to attend, works for sale
Information: To make an appointment, call 316-303-1996.