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The art of ‘Where We’ve Been’

Everything’s falling apart. The dilapidated house leans a little too precariously to the right. Inside is a reliquary for debris and dust worn objects of lives once lived. Green overgrowth snakes its way from the floor entangling itself in everything.

Turn the corner and there’s an overturned blue bird cage and something resembling a chrysalis.

What you’re seeing is “Where We’ve Been,” an exhibit about expression and questioning, growth and decay, realization and pain for artists and professors Jennifer Stoneking-Stewart and Mary Pat Turner.

Stoneking-Stewart and Turner’s thematic imagery demonstrates the transcendence of art, the ability to be many places, and feel many things, at once.

Personal, autobiographical elements paired with perspective and experience hint at the sublime, creating artwork both awe-inspiring and frightful.

Stoneking-Stewart deciphers death and decay with printmaking and layering images to create dimension. She addresses human mortality and frailty, while exploring uncontrollable facets of life.

“I can have so many layers, literal layers of ideas I’m thinking about that comes across in a work,” she said. “It’s a way of speaking to the world and leaving something semi-permanent behind.”

Her imagery derives from an early fascination with the relationship between man and nature in the way things develop and grow only to break down and pass away.

The idea of the sublime is integral in Stoneking-Stewart’s art, which draws on the notion of death, pain and absence while retaining a quality of poeticism.

Abandoned houses are motifs for decay in her silkscreen prints and photographs, with the backdrop of the rural southeast. The images of houses are interpretations of memories of places she’s visited. “I notice things that are starting to break down, that are no longer the same,” she said.

Floral, botanical wallpaper creates an environment that references nostalgia with its style and pattern. “It goes hand-in-hand with this idea of a longing for a place, or a longing for a particular era,” she said.

“Reverberating Lives” emphasizes departure and desertion with its gestural, silhouetted figures of a man and woman. “I really wanted somebody who was walking and looking back because it’s hinting at this idea of leaving something behind,” Stewart said.

Art is a mode of expression. It allows for the communication of ideas that words can’t seem to describe, she said. “It’s my cathartic release. It’s this way of releasing an idea,” Stoneking-Stewart said.

Turner, with colorful curiosity, questions elements of identity, relationships and the polarity of death as something both beautiful and grotesque. “Where We’ve Been,” for Turner, showcases memories of peculiar, almost traumatic moments.

“In my paintings, what comes out isn’t necessarily the type of art I like, but it’s how I deal with information,” Turner said. “What you see is actually how I think.”

The size and colors of the large-scale paintings collaborate in a way “to enter your space, to make you feel the things I felt,” she said.

“My paintings get really claustrophobic and all the information collides in on itself. That’s how I think. I don’t think linearly,” Turner said.

Turner’s art capitalizes on the awareness of material existence.

“Something happens that makes you realize the vulnerability of your own body, or the temporal nature of it,” she said. “It’s all related to a more abstract fear or desire about who you want to be, where you want your life to go and who you think you are compared to who you aren’t. It’s nothing but questions.” “Virgin,” “Mother” and “Venus” form a triptych, exploring facets of woman’s identity as innocent, emotional and complex.

Conceptually ambiguous, Turner’s art asks questions, but don’t expect an answer.

“I’m not showing anything concrete . . . the only thing that should be clear is the experience and the feelings you get,” she said.

“Where We’ve Been” is now on view in the Leu Art Gallery through June 17.

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