Northeast Ohio’s art scene is vibrant and diverse. It’s also constantly growing, a dynamic fueled in part by the region’s art schools and area galleries that showcase and support up-and-coming artists’ work.

Canvas believes it’s important to champion emerging talent, too, which is why we’re proud to present “Who’s Next,” a section that aims to celebrate and call more attention to artists early in their career.

To select the artists featured, we tapped local gallery directors, educators and other influencers for their expertise and insight. The end result is a group of rising stars who are putting in the work and whose art we feel you should see any time their names are affiliated with an exhibition.

Their disciplines include painting, sculpture and drawing. What they have in common is that they all represent the next generation of talented artists in Northeast Ohio.

Who’s Next 2018

Years 28 • Resides & Creates Lakewood • Learned BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art

Story and photography by Michael C. Butz

To indulge in an Alex Overbeck drawing is to enter another world – a complex, multi-layered world in which fantastical creatures traverse landscapes of perfectly patterned shapes and rich, vibrant hues, a world in which tranquility arises from collision between organization and disorder.

The scenes are surreal and unpacking them becomes an enveloping – and satisfying – endeavor.

“It becomes kind of a submersive experience just on this piece of paper,” Overbeck says. “I enjoy that. I enjoy the fact that you can play with everything there in your own way. I’m not really aiming to say anything specific, but I do want people to find a little bit of themselves in the work.”

“Hope to Find What You’re Looking For” by Alex Overbeck. Image courtesy of the artist.

In each piece exists liminal spaces where it isn’t necessarily clear what’s happening but something about it is intriguing. It’s from those spaces Overbeck’s art connects emotionally. 

“I try to find this weird middle ground between serenity and mania. That feeling of peace you get from that meditative aspect, meditation, or just in finding some sort of balance in yourself, and then also, the absolute insanity we live in on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “I guess it’s a way of processing that – the insanity I feel inside myself, but I think everybody feels (that) from time to time.”

Drawing has been an interest of Overbeck’s as far back as her childhood in North Muskegon, Mich. Her mother tells her she drew her first face when she was 3 years old. 

“It looked like an alien, I won’t lie,” she says, “but it had eyes, an actual head, hair and everything – it’s just really squiggly.”

But when she attended and graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy, a fine arts boarding school in Michigan, it was as a vocal-performance major, and in college, she continued to pursue music.

She left school after a couple of years and later worked in the catering business around Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. While at work, she’d often see Cleveland Institute of Art students carrying their work around the neighborhood, which inspired her to pursue a career in art. When she graduated in May 2018, her BFA was in both drawing and painting.

“I’ve always been more of a drawer than a painter,” she says, “but I wanted to double major in painting and drawing. Drawing was a strong skill set I had but I wanted to strengthen my understanding of color and material handling.”

Overbeck still sings, and in fact, her creativity doesn’t end there. In recent years, she became interested in flow arts – namely hula-hooping. To pursue those interests, she joined Anadano, a group of artists that performs and puts on workshops at festivals. In some ways, she says, hula-hooping provides a brief respite from drawing and painting. Being an architect of artistic worlds can be draining and exacting work. 

“Precarious” by Alex Overbeck. Image courtesy of the artist.

As Overbeck begins to execute an idea, she has a sense of what she hopes takes shape but acknowledges the process is pretty open-ended. It begins with general, gestural mark-making with loose ink and unfolds from there. 

“It’s a lot of repetitious mark-making, mostly because I love the way it looks. I think it’s stunning. Dot stippling is pretty common, a lot of cross-hatching with some shading. You’ll see it in a lot of this work. It’s all done by hand,” she explains. “It has this sort of ‘staticky realism’ to it with all the accumulated marks, it has this really cool optical effect I’m attracted to.”

Along the way, and in every piece, she says, she discovers something new. That dynamic stokes her creative fire and encourages her to expand her artistic practice. 

“I’m always trying to push it in a different way, experiment a little bit,” she says. “There’s so much play with it. I get to play with colors, I get to do whatever I want on this blank surface, and I feel like that’s the most rewarding aspect of it.

“It can be frustrating at times, especially when I’m on deadline and I’m like pushing myself to work hours and hours and hours at a time just to finish it, but seeing the finished result gives me that feeling of satisfaction that I made something beautiful, something cool. … That’s a good feeling.” C

On View

“Emergent 2019” will be on view from April 26 to June 9 at Heights Arts, 2175 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.

Tony Ingrisano

“Alex’s densely detailed, variegated drawings are portals to secret universes. The profuse mark-making and plays on spatial depth and scale shifts are a primer on world creating. Alex’s work never hesitates to get astounded reactions from viewers. Utilizing chance and gravity as stepping-off points, the artist meticulously builds kaleidoscopic mindscapes where the unexpected is always just around the corner.”

Tony Ingrisano, assistant professor, Cleveland Institute of Art

Years 23 • Resides & Creates Cleveland • Learned BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art (expected May 2019)

Story and photography by Michael C. Butz

To fully appreciate Bianca Fields’ art, it’s best to familiarize yourself both with what’s on the surface and what’s underneath it.

The latter is more abstract but more easily recognizable. Underneath the surface – in the psychological sense – are postcards to Fields’ past, replete with identifiable pop culture references like Pee-wee Herman, various Muppets or Dr. Seuss characters. A recently completed piece, “Boom Boom,” is a riff on the alphabet-teaching children’s book “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.” 

 “I’m very interested in the feelings of nostalgia. I’m very fascinated in cliché objects and experiences, such as cartoons or such as a book or such as an experience or a stencil of a letter I used to put this painting together,” she says, the latter note referring to “Boom Boom.” “I’m very fascinated in taking those things and bringing them into our reality once again. By the way I’m painting them allows you to be reminded of my visceral experience of those things.”

“Boom Boom” (detail),​ 2019; resin, acrylic, oil and spray paint on canvas; 52 x 84 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Fields grew up in Northeast Ohio and counts her creative father as an early artistic influence. 

“He was a very meticulous drawer and he would always draw pictures of me. It sort of rattled me that he was so good, and that was something I always wanted to become better at,” she says. “He was totally an influence on me.” 

In high school, she was drawn to painting, enjoying the challenge of formally learning a new medium as well as the experimentation it afforded her. Color provided a new vocabulary, one she continues to employ to project attitudes or feelings and trigger responses among her audience – and herself. 

“I love color because when thinking about color and talking about color in my artwork, it’s sort of an excuse to be able to talk about feeling and talking about what makes me excited about something or what makes me actually feel something or relate to something,” Fields says. “Color has been one of the most guttural or evocative things for me. Being able to do that with my artwork has become something I’ve been able to apply to real life, and I’ve been able to activate color through that.”

That longing to connect, or for genuine connection, also figures prominently. The nostalgia-soaked yearning is at times at odds and also in agreement with the manner in which her generation, she says, is consumed by viewing and presenting itself through the lens of social media. What’s the truth and what’s obscured by filters? The resulting dissension plays out in her art as “visual noise.” 

“When making a piece or work, or the way that I paint, it may reference abstract expressionism, neo-expressionism, impressionism – things like that, where you’re sort of responding to painting as a thing,” she says. “For me, visual noise is a way of metaphorically responding, like trying to contain this chaotic noise. That’s why I work in these frames and sort of paint in a very goopy, visceral, tangible way, where it’s almost like you’re trying to choke out a noise and mute it but also the noise is there.”

“Applause,”​ 2018; acrylic, oil and spray paint on canvas; 38 x 38 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

How she approaches a painting is a point of pride with Fields. This is where understanding what’s on the surface – in a physical sense – comes into play. She’s a maestro with her materials, starting with the literal foundation on which her pieces take shape. 

“Surface preparation and building the structure, things such as that, my experience in the wood shop is very important to me. It’s very meditative, and it allows me to care more for the surface I’m working on,” she says. “The surfaces in my pieces are very important and I care for them a lot. Which means that (when) applying gesso, I do that in a very nurturing way. I apply 10 to 12 layers and scrape them off to get the surface to almost be like a dry-erase board. 

“When I start a painting, that already allows for there to be a mess. So, when I’m painting, the painting already starts drooping down and warping, and that already takes away the preciousness of making what someone would consider a beautiful painting.”

“Post Ghost,”​ 2018; acrylic, oil and spray paint on canvas; 40 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

This summer, Fields will take her talents to Kansas City, Mo., where she intends to mine artistic material from a landscape other than Northeast Ohio. She also hopes to do the same someday in London by way of a residency. Regardless of her environs, her art and her techniques are all but certain to continue evolving in intriguing and fascinating ways.

“When working on a piece in the past, I was very obsessed with portraiture – taking an image, painting it just as I saw it, trying my best to get it there first and then do all of these extra things that implied my hands were in it, such as laying a picture down and then putting words over it,” she says. “Now, I’m really involved with the paint as a material and less concerned with the actual image. If the original image is still identifiable, then that’s an extra layer to the read.” C

Liz Maugans

“Bianca is the real deal. Her paintings are a display, a feast of swashbuckling gesture and varying surfaces and meditations. When you talk with her about her work, she gets excited telling you about all her approaches, journeys and challenges making the canvases. She really throws it all in there – pop culture, nostalgia, politics – and it is her athleticism and confidence that shines in her dance with the paint.”

Liz Maugans, director, YARDS Projects at Worthington Yards

Years 26 •  Resides & Creates Kent • Learned BFA from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y.

Story and photography by Michael C. Butz 

Ella Medicus wants to make you question your surroundings. Her largely sculpture-based practice revolves around manipulating the mundane to toy with your sense of familiarity and challenge your notions of worth and functionality.

Her artistic distortion is aimed at everyday objects ranging from elongated bar codes and Amazon boxes to mechanized plastic grocery bags. Each is recognizable but no longer operational – at least not in their customary way, and that’s the idea. 

The objects often take on new meanings. For example, that motor-powered plastic bag moved around a gallery floor and was playfully anthropomorphized by viewers rather than avoided, as a wind-blown plastic bag on the street – similar in appearance – might be.

“Elongated Amazon Box” by Ella Medicus, 2018; wood, inkjet print on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

That’s the type of re-evaluative, perspective-shifting interaction Medicus seeks. In a show on view through May at The Sculpture Center in Cleveland, “SubFunction,” she employs a vending machine filled with snack-like objects to explore themes of worth and the value of art. 

“The objects are technically art objects that are being sold out of (the vending machine) because I’ve altered them, and when you think about buying art, there’s a whole realm of who has access to buying art, who’s selling art (and) what are the prices,” she says. “Putting little objects into a vending machine is like saying, ‘Anyone can buy this.’”

In the same show, she uses side-by-side gumball dispensers – one filled with plastic capsules of American soil, the other filled with capsules of soil from Paris, where she recently completed a monthlong residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts – to question Americans’ idealized perceptions of The City of Lights. 

“Dirt Dispenser” by Ella Medicus, 2019; capsule dispenser, capsules, dirt.

“Things from Paris are seen as romantic and special, so I was thinking, ‘How can I talk about that?’” she says. “I was looking a lot at things that were on the ground – the actual soil, litter, things that were discarded – and thinking, ‘What if those things are put on a pedestal instead of the automatic ones, like the Eiffel Tower?’”

Sculpture is the conduit for Medicus’ conceptually nuanced projects but it wasn’t her first medium of interest. 

“I thought I was going to be a painter when I went to college, but then I was exposed to sculpture during my schooling and started realizing it made more sense to my mind and I could use objects in different ways,” she says, noting another favored medium is video. “Every project I do is different. When someone asks, ‘What kind of artist are you?’ it’s hard for me to say I’m a sculptor or I’m a video artist because everything is really fluid to me. It really depends on what message I want to have – that’s what determines the medium.” 

Process is important to Medicus. She credits conversations with peers – whether her classmates when in school or current artistic collaborator, Eric D. Charlton – with helping her projects take shape. That isn’t to say there haven’t been growing pains. She acknowledges her overall creative process is something to which she’s still adjusting. 

“I had a hard time understanding and accepting the way that I work, which is very sporadic. I’ll have an idea or be influenced by something I see, and then things kind of come together,” she says. “I used to think that to be an artist you had to be in your studio laboring away for hours over one thing, and I used to beat myself up about that because I saw a lot of people who did that in school and in life but I could never really make myself do that. And then I realized, ‘OK, I don’t have to do that and can work the way I actually work,’ which is pretty random, and with strange inspiration, suddenly, and then for a while, nothing. (laughs) I’m coming to terms with that.”

Installation view of “SubFunction” at The Sculpture Center. On the right is “Vending Machine” by Ella Medicus, 2019; mixed media, vending machine. On the left is “Lamp” by Eric D. Charlton, 2019; atex, lampshade, lamp hardware.

If other budding artists are facing similar struggles, Medicus hopes they can follow her example. 

“For young artists, if (you) feel stuck in ‘you have to work this one way’ (or) ‘you have to make your work look like it’s made by one person,’ you don’t have to do that. It doesn’t matter. You can do whatever you want – and you should do whatever you want because that’s where something interesting will happen.” C

On View

“Ella Medicus & Eric Charlton: SubFunction” remains on view through May 24 at The Sculpture Center, 1834 E. 123rd St., Cleveland. The show is part of The Sculpture Center’s Window to Sculpture Emerging Artist Series.

“Ella Medicus’ artwork flirts with both humor and the sublime, subtly tweaking mundane objects to unexpected and often hilarious effect. Her work is quiet and initially unassuming, but closer inspection reveals the artist’s subverted sense of humor through mimicry or manipulation of everyday materials.”

Gianna Commito, professor of painting and drawing, Kent State University

Years 38 • Resides & Creates Richmond Heights • Learned BFA from Southern University A&M College in Baton Rouge, La.

Story and photography by Michael C. Butz

Antwoine Washington is an artistic dual threat. A skilled portraitist, his precise, life-like drawings pull people in with rich detail and invite them to relate to the subjects. His paintings, with topics ripped from the day’s headlines, are more visceral, and when he wants them to be, less refined, yet they convey equally compelling messages to viewers. It’s a powerful combination of talents.

“I always say it’s like, using basketball terms, you got a basketball player who can play street ball and he can play in the NBA,” he says. “When I really want to get personal with a piece, or intimate with it, I’ll draw it. It’ll take me longer, and I’m really just fleshing everything out. But when I paint, I use my painting as, like, a lot of emotion. I just want to get it out and I don’t want to waste a lot of time. I want people to see the emotion in it.”

In other words, his paintings earn him a game at Rucker Park in Harlem, his drawings – his primary passion – get him on the court at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. 

Washington grew up in Pontiac, Mich., and from an early age, he drew Saturday morning cartoon characters for fun. Despite showing promise, he never thought about pursuing art professionally. 

“How I grew up in a poor neighborhood, art wasn’t seen as a way out. You either rapped or you played basketball – those were the popular things,” he says. “I stuck with art. I always said I wanted to go to college and do the art thing in hopes it would eventually take me there.”

Even in college, however, Washington often had to be pushed by professors to enter his work in shows or pursue a career in art. Instead, he says he took on 9-to-5 jobs in order to “make some money,” the most recent of which was as a United States Postal Service mail carrier – a job that left him feeling unfulfilled.

To fill the creative hole, he’d come home from work to draw and paint, often posting the results on social media. The chorus of those encouraging him to focus solely on art – his wife, his friends, even his co-workers – grew louder, and he eventually decided to pursue art full time. The results? Fulfilling. 

“Powernomics” (Man), 2019; graphite and charcoal on Bristol board; 19 x 24 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

In the first Northeast Ohio show Washington’s work was included, the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve’s “New Now 2018,” he received the People’s Choice Award – Honorable Mention as voted on by viewers. Not long after, he was awarded an honorable mention award at Valley Art Center’s 47th Annual Juried Art Exhibit.

Amid those successes, Washington endured what could’ve been a serious setback. In November 2018, he suffered a stroke that left the entire right side of his body numb, including the hand he uses to draw and paint. He persevered and has since regained full use of his hand. He also gained a renewed sense of confidence.  

“I feel like I gained an actual super power with that,” he says. “At first, I’d second guess myself, but I think maybe that part of my brain died and made me feel like, ‘Hey, screw it, I’m going to just go for it and try it and see what happens.’ It gave me … (a sense of) no fear. That super power of ‘no fear,’ I feel like that’s what happened after that.”

From the beginning, Washington’s art has been rooted in personal experience and representative of his surroundings. The 1992 assault on Malice Green by two white Detroit police officers that killed Green, who was black, left a mark. 

“That always stuck with me,” he says. “I always said if I ever did art and was able to go into museums and do it professionally, that I’d paint about those types of things.”

“Black Family” (The myth of the missing black father), 2019; acrylic paint on canvas; 24 x 30 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Among the topics he explores in his art is the parallel he sees between antebellum slavery and the disproportionate imprisonment of African-Americans in the United States. It’s a complex subject, he admits, but one – like others – he hopes to make “more digestible” to a broader audience through his art. Washington says his goal isn’t necessarily to change minds, it’s to get people to listen. 

“I’m just trying to be a voice for the voiceless,” he says. “Sometimes, people in the black community don’t have an opportunity to tell their stories. So, if I’m going to be in front of people, I feel like, ‘Hey, this is me, I’m letting you know what’s going on around me. These are the people talking through me, from my ancestors to now.’

“When viewing my art, just give it a chance. … Because I talk about some heavy stuff, some people probably are afraid to latch onto it, but don’t be afraid to look past the racial element and find something in it for yourself. A lot of times, like I say, I always speak from my perspective, but you can also get something from it because we all go through the same stuff. We’re all human, so we go through human stuff.” C

On View

  • “The Art of Realism” will remain on view through Oct. 31 at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (5300 Riverside Drive, Cleveland) as part of the airport’s Temporary Art Exhibition Program.
  • “Fabulism” will be on view from May 9 to June 28 at YARDS Projects in Worthington Yards, 725 Johnson Court, Cleveland.
  • “Rooms to Let CLE” will take place the weekend of May 18-19 at various locations throughout Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood.
  • “seenUNseen” will be on view from Sept. 20 to Nov. 16 at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, 1834 E. 123rd St., Cleveland.

“Antwoine Washington’s art succeeds in bridging cultural divides. Its subject matter is urgent, its delivery impassioned and its ability to spark important conversations significant. On several levels, it connects – and Northeast Ohio is fortunate to be home to an artist of his caliber and potential.”

Michael C. Butz, editor, Canvas 

Years 40 • Resides & Creates Cleveland Heights • Learned BA from Cleveland State University

Story and photography by Michael C. Butz

Danté Rodriguez isn’t new to the scene. He emerged as an artist several years ago, receiving an honorable mention at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s prestigious “The NEO Show” in 2005 and even co-founding his own gallery, Wall Eye Gallery, which showcased artists from 2009 to 2011 in Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood.

Now, the draftsman is re-emerging with experimental and potentially transformative techniques. His art has long grappled with identity – still does. But his focus has shifted from solely exploring personal, relational themes to examining his process and approach to drawing. He’s challenging the identity of his art. 

“Throughout art history, people have always questioned the idea of painting. ‘What is painting?’” says Rodriguez, noting the degree of experimentation the medium allows. “I want to do the same thing for drawing. I want people to question the reality of what I’m presenting, if it’s a drawing, if it’s a sculpture. The new work is related to that. Just, think differently. Shift your thinking a little bit. It still can be considered a work of art, for sure. A drawing? Maybe, maybe not.”

His boundary pushing can be seen in his “fur drawings,” recent works in which he cuts intricate designs into canvases of faux fur. The concept was inspired by his mother, a beautician. 

“I was thinking, ‘What else can I use to draw?’ And I was thinking about barbers – they cut into people’s hair, but it’s temporary. So, can we make it permanent?” he says. “I was just drawing with clippers instead of charcoal.”

“Self-Portrait,” 2017, charcoal and linseed oil on Yupo paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Rodriguez’s latest body of work involves yet another unique medium: charcoal mixed with linseed oil. He’s applying his “charcoal paint,” as he calls it, to found wood panels, metal objects, paper and fiber to conceal the identity of its form in a uniform black coating.

The masking darkness of that medium is intentional. In stark contrast to an earlier series consisting of brightly colored portraits of various Latino identities or his vibrant 2018 mural “La Ofrenda De Xochipilli” in the Gordon Square Arts District, both of which outwardly celebrate Latino culture, these new works – his Black Sun Series – convey sorrow, gloom and introspection stemming from personal hardships. The  relatable emotions emanate from his canvas and swirl in viewers’ minds and hearts.

“I’ve been going through a dark period of my life for the past year-and-a-half that has culminated in ending of my marriage,” he says, adding he’s also still coming to terms with learning at 21 he was adopted. “I’m also learning about how many of us adoptees experience trauma when we are separated from our birth mothers at birth.

“So, this new work is delving into my subconscious to face a reality that I’ve been fearful of facing. Between the trauma of discovering late in life my adoptive status to my current divorce, this new series of work has taken on a therapeutic nature of healing for me,” he says. “The feeling of covering objects or boards in black is symbolic of my memories and feelings buried deep in my subconscious.”

In that way, art is a safe space for Rodriguez. In the wake of learning of his adoption, as he wrestled with questions of identity and belonging (he was raised by a Puerto Rican family in Lorain but learned he was born in Mexico), art afforded him an opportunity to express himself and share his journey. 

“Being 12,” 2017, charcoal and linseed oil on Yupo paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

When he isn’t making art, Rodriguez is helping display it at the Cleveland Museum of Art, where he’s a mount maker within the exhibition and design department. In that role, he makes armature, custom brackets or whatever other support structures might be needed to make safe the relics the museum receives and displays.

Rodriguez credits having so many different materials in his hands at CMA with challenging him to try different things in his own practice – one of many inspirations that lead him to continually reinvent himself and his artwork

“One of the biggest critiques I got from one of the professors I loved was, ‘Danté, you have to pick a style and focus,’” he says. “You know, I’m not interested in creating a brand of my art, I’m just interested in exploring what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking – because how I thought 10 years ago is totally different from now. We’re constantly growing and always gaining new knowledge or insight, and I want my work to express that. … I don’t want to be stuck.” C

On View

  • “Fabulism” will be on view from May 9 to June 28 at YARDS Projects in Worthington Yards, 725 Johnson Court, Cleveland.
  • “Unidos per el Arte” will be on view from May 17 to June 21 in Gallery 215 at 78th Street Studios, 1300 W. 78th St., Cleveland.
  • “America’s Well-Armed Militias” will be on view from Aug. 16 to Sept. 27 at SPACES, 2900 Detroit Ave., Cleveland.

Adam Tully & John Farina

“Through his search for better understanding his identity, his journey has brought him into multiple art mediums. If you viewed his work during the CAN Triennial, you would see brightly colored faux fur works that were intricately shaved and layered. Also around that time, he dedicated time completing a mural next to Astoria Market in Detroit-Shoreway that depicts of Xochipilli, the Aztec god of beauty, poetry and dance. His homage is beautifully rendered in his striking color palette and the piece seems to undulate on the wall. We have been collectors of his work for years. We’ve seen his ideas change, but each time we see something new, we see something more refined and interesting.”

Adam Tully & John Farina, owners, Maria Neil Art Project

Years 59 • Resides & Creates Moreland Hills • Learned BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art

Story and photography by Michael C. Butz

Kimberly Chapman remembers well the moment she decided to leave behind her 25-year career in marketing to become a full-time artist. The fateful encounter occurred at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, where she was marketing director.

“There’s a woman there I really admire, Sister Diane Pinchot, who came over for lunch one day. When I answered the front door, she had a beautiful pot she’d made and had kiln-fired – I swear it was still warm when she brought it – and I looked at that pot and thought to myself, ‘That’s it, I’m going back to school,’” she says. “It was black with these beautiful metallic blues. I just fell in love with it immediately and thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’ It was almost an immediate decision. She left after lunch and I called CIA.”

Fast-forward a few years and she has a BFA in ceramics from the Cleveland Institute of Art. And Sister Pinchot’s pot? It’s now in Chapman’s home studio.

“Heard ‘Em Coming Reliquary,” 2019; porcelain, glaze, luster; 15(l) x 8.5(w) x 6(d) inches.

Nearly as swift and certain as her decision to pursue art has been her ascension within the local arts scene. Within the first four months of 2019, her work had already been accepted into shows at Valley Art Center in Chagrin Falls, Heights Arts in Cleveland Heights and BAYarts in Bay Village – and with good reason. 

Her porcelain work is hauntingly beautiful. It’s both eerie and elegant, as moonlight and shadows, and its unearthly aura captivates. Chapman’s connection to the clay and her craft is evident in every piece.

“There’s something about clay, there’s something about ceramics – it’s very tactile. You always have to touch it; you always have to hold it in your hands and feel it,” she says of her medium of choice. “It’s so personal. Clay is a very personal medium. … It has such an incredible capacity for memory.”

Chapman’s work is turning heads across Northeast Ohio. In fact, one of her pieces was recently awarded best in show at the BAYarts Annual Juried Exhibition. 

“I always thought if I could get best of show maybe just once in a lifetime, wouldn’t that be amazing?” she says. “The jurors for that show really gave me a vote of confidence I don’t think I had before. So, you start skipping around thinking, ‘Wow, this might be possible for me to be a ceramic artist and to show my work and to have a message.’”

“‘A’ is for Active, ‘S’ is for Shooter” Series (combo image), 2018; porcelain, glaze; average 7(l) x 7(w) x 5½(d) inches.

Messages are central to Chapman’s art. The piece that won was from her “‘A’ is for Active, ‘S’ is for Shooter” series consisting of three pieces named “Sitting Duck,” “Be Brave” and “M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E Gas Mask” – costumed figures that represent children’s vulnerability and uncertainty at school that offer poignant commentary on the state of school safety. Other narratives include domestic violence and immigration. 

“What I’m most interested in is looking at situations where people are in a very difficult situation and how they survive. How do the asylum seekers survive these terrible trips they make to come to America or other countries in search of a better world? How do parents survive after losing children who’ve been killed in a shooting spree at school?” she says. “One of the things I’ve always been interested in is what’s left behind. When everything is over and finished, what’s left behind? What are the feelings that are left behind? What are the actions one might take with what’s left behind? I think I really like looking at struggle and human nature. How can you persevere against impossible odds or sorrow or loss?”

“Ghost Ship” & “Star Gazers” (combo image), 2019; porcelain, glaze, luster; “Ghost Ship” 24(l) x 22(w) x 6(d) inches / “Star Gazers” average 4(l) x 3(w) x 4(d) inches.

Chapman’s early success may make it easy to forget her art career is so young or overlook the fact that she earned her BFA not as a 20-something but at the same time she became a grandmother.

Her age and experience were assets. A strong work ethic and skills honed during her previous career – organization, writing, networking – have all helped her as an artist. She says she’s an advocate for education at any age and encourages others considering late-in-life career changes to become a nontraditional student like she was. 

“Go for it,” Chapman says. “If you have the opportunity to go back to school, take it, because there’s nothing like it in the world. It will expand your horizons and make you a better artist.” C

On View

  • “Observation/Conservation” remains on view through May 8 at Valley Art Center, 155 Bell St., Chagrin Falls.
  • “Emergent 2019” will be on view from April 26 to June 9 at Heights Arts, 2175 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights. Chapman will also take part in related programming – “Ekphrastacy: Artists Talk + Poets Respond” – at 7 p.m. May 23.
  • “2019 Summer Mash-Up” will be on view from June 7-28 at Ursuline College’s Florence O’Donnell Wasmer Gallery, 2550 Lander Road, Pepper Pike.

Mary Urbas

“Balancing beauty with the macabre, Kim’s nonfunctional porcelain sculpture centers on ‘what’s left behind.’ Childhood and ancestral memories loom large with a strong sense of home. Kim has an affinity for pure white, translucent porcelain clay because of its soft, sculptural and ethereal nature.” 

Mary Urbas, gallery coordinator and exhibition curator, Lakeland Community College