POWELL, Wyo. - After branching out in the art world, former Powellite Tawni Shuler returns to her roots and the original source of her inspiration in an exhibit titled "Ecotone" opening Wednesday, March 4, at Northwest Gallery. She'll be honored at a 7:30 p.m. artist's reception opening the show.
Shuler, who was chosen by Southwest Art as one of 21 under 31 emerging artists in 2005, says her work is an examination of her life experience, and even though her life has taken her far from home, it's those early Powell experiences that still influence her artistic expression.
"I am inspired by memories of growing up in rural Wyoming," Shuler said, "and being familiarized with life cycles: the birth, growth, decay, death, and rebirth at every level of organic life." As a working member of her parents' (Ted and Maureen Shuler) ranch where she helped feed, vaccinate and calve, Shuler had opportunities to explore what she calls both the beauty and the harshness transpiring within the landscape. "I was able to pick up and study bones and remains of small animals, watch eggs hatch from a bird's nest and observe the hunting season as deer carcasses were slung in the back of pickup trucks."
Admitting "the authenticity of my memory is subject to scrutiny, as I believe it is constantly changing over time," Shuler says that in turn, her paintings reflect her evolving memories, combining the past with the present. "The canvases portray slivers of accurate representations of past events as well as imagined and embellished counterparts. The suggestion of living and dead forms such as bones, hair, roots, grass, dirt and skin are features of the desert itself and are reminiscent of both the cycles of life and death. I paint these remembered elements to redefine a singular reality."
Painting layer upon layer, Shuler uses both opaque paint and transparent washes, a process she says is similar to the way memory functions. "Using these layers, I can recall the way the mind orders specifics by pushing the less important elements to the hazy background and bringing the more important features to the foreground. The canvases mimic my ever-changing memory, with imagery that seems to move through space and time; images come forward and recede, some clearly, others obscurely."
Working with fragments of memory in her mind, she does the same in her paintings with fragments of the world around her - shellac, dirt, casein paint, and actual artifacts from nature such as leaves, seeds, and deer hair - to recall certain memories and create textures.
She also utilizes processes that are difficult to control - pouring, dripping, scraping, sanding, and the spraying of paint, shellac, powdered graphite, and polyurethane. By employing these more unpredictable processes, she relates to the absence of control in the act of remembering. "It is important to evoke the atmosphere of revisiting a memory," Shuler said, "to allow the viewer to make conclusions about the structure of memory as the foundation of identity and their role in these continuous life cycles.
She titles her current exhibit "Ecotone," in reference to Joanne Smith's line from "What Wildness is This" that defines ecotone as "the place where forest meets meadow, desert touches river. It's the frontier where communities of humankind and wild animals touch each other. It's that shaky space between who we are and who we appear to be, the gap between reality and mystery, the certain and the imagined."
Her works, like the titles they're given - "Sustenance," "Thread of Sky," "Rooting" and "Place of Attachment" - call on the viewer to sift through personal memories, exploring that "shaky space between who we are and who we appear to be."
Shuler is the programming director for the Red Lodge Clay Center in Montana. Her works have been widely exhibited in Montana and Arizona, and most recently in Augusta, Ga., at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art and at the Paperworks Exhibition in Minot, N.D. She holds an associate's degree from NWC, a bachelor's from the University of Montana at Missoula, and a master's from Arizona State University.
"Ecotone" hangs in Northwest Gallery through March 25. Located in the Cabre Building on the Northwest College campus in Powell, the gallery is open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and until 7 p.m. Thursdays. Admission is free.