Of art and antennae - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Of art and antennae

Tohono Chul exhibit highlights the beauty of bugs

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Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2008 11:00 pm

Northwest artist Jennifer Eschedor may be onto something when she suggests that many experience “drastic” reactions when they see bugs.

Some scream at the mere sight of them. Others derive wicked satisfaction from the sound of an exoskeleton crunching underfoot.

But to call a bug a work of art, isn’t that drastic, too? What tangled web of logic would ever produce such a thought?

The beauty of lacey wings and feathery antennae, however, has ensnared Eschedor.

The former Orange Grove Middle School art teacher will display several of her insect-inspired works in the Tohono Chul Park exhibit “Artful Insects and Inspired Arachnids,” which opens Thursday, May 22.

“When I first heard about it,” Eschedor recalled, “I thought, ‘Oh great, finally an outlet for my work.’”

In one of her works for the Tohono Chul show, an ethereal cockroach rests atop a splotchy backdrop of red and green. Eschedor made a print of the hellish bug on batik fabric, a cloth with a design created by dying layers of fabric partially coated with wax.

The wax repels the dye, forcing variances of color across each sheet.

In Eschedor’s work, aptly titled “Cockroach,” reddish-orange dots float on a pool of green. The colors appear to seep right through the transparent roach.

Eschedor then went over the fabric with pastels and markers to fine-tune her work.

“It’s an obsession,” she said.

That people could have such passion for what many consider passionless creatures is the key reason behind the Tohono Chul exhibit, according to curator Vicki Donkersley.

“I want people to understand that insects have a really important role in our universe,” Donkersley explained. “Doing it with art makes them a lot less threatening.”

The small creatures persist despite the odds, pollinating the plants that feed the planet, devouring rot and loosening and fertilizing the soil beneath our feet.

To mark the exhibit’s May 22 opening, Tohono Chul will hold a reception honoring the artists’ work. The event, which will run from 5:30 to 7:30 that Thursday, is free with park admission and open to the public.

Gwynn Popovac, one of 23 artists featured in the Tohono Chul exhibit, considers humans’ interactions with the insect world a matter of respect.

“Insects can live without us, but we can’t live without them,” the California-based artist said in a phone interview last week.

For 30 years, Popovac has featured the six- and eight-legged creatures in her work.

“I started out being dazzled by insects as a child,” she said. “They always had been in the periphery of my work. Eventually they came to be the focus.”

One of her works for the Tohono Chul exhibit, the “Fiery Searcher,” depicts a ground beetle crawling up a gate. The insect appears as an integral part of the gate, as much a part of the metalwork as any other decorative flourish, perhaps going unnoticed by passers-by. But the ground beetle serves a purpose: to devour caterpillars that prey upon garden plants.

“I was really trying to show how closely we live with them,” Popovac said. “If we learn to appreciate them, then maybe we learn to appreciate our role better.”

Perhaps the art featured at Tohono Chul might inspire a little more wonder — even begrudging respect — from the entomophobes among us.

“They’re little works of art walking around on six or eight legs,” Donkersley noted.

Others may take a little more convincing.


WHAT: Opening reception for the art exhibit “Artful Insects and Inspired Arachnids”

WHEN: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 22; exhibit runs May 22 through Aug. 17

WHERE: Tohono Chul Park, 7366 N. Paseo del Norte

COST: Reception is free; park admission is $7 for adults, $2 for children, free for children under 5

PHONE: 742-6455

ONLINE: http://www.tohonochulpark.org">www.tohonochulpark.org

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