A Glimpse of Clarity opens Fri., April 6, at E3 Convergence Gallery with a reception from 5 to 9 PM.
When Missoula artist Elisha Harteis found out she had the opportunity to do an installation show at Missoula’s E3 Gallery, she knew she wanted Butte-based artist Kelly Packer as her co-exhibitor. “Kelly and I have been friends for a number of years, and we’ve always loved each other’s work and wanted to do some sort of show together,” Harteis says. The thing was, neither had the time nor resources to collaborate on a whole new body of work: Not only were they both busy with their jobs and creative lives, they were both pregnant as well. So the two decided to come together with separate, individual shows that they had either already created or were in the process of creating, and see what sort of themes emerged.
While this may sound like the recipe for a disjointed or haphazard end product, the results couldn’t be further from the truth. They titled the show A Glimpse of Clarity (a phrase lifted from Packer’s artist statement) to describe the way both artists create art with an eye toward exposure and vulnerability, examining the spaces in memory and day-to-day life that allow for moments of lucidity or insight.
Harteis’ nearly life-sized sculptures of pensive children — often wearing pajama-like outfits, often juxtaposed with animals — are a regular sight in galleries around town. Her multimedia, three-dimensional ceramic and metal work traffics in ideas of childhood, imagination, play and darkness. In this particular show, a large, mythical creature — part bird, part horse, part elephant — stands in confrontation or communication with a child. Brightly-colored ceramic spheres hang all around them. Shadows cast by metal frames dapple the space. It’s an exploration in whimsy and sensory stimulation, but also a nod toward the power of the make-believe worlds that children inhabit, and the sometimes frightening things that happen there.
Packer, who went to school at the University of Montana, spent 10 years in Boise where she founded the Enso Artspace artist collective, and recently returned to Montana, landing in Butte. Her paintings and drawings are reminiscent of Richard Diebenkorn and Paul Klee, but perhaps even more abstract, making use of jewel-toned colors, sketched and scratched lines, and fantastic figures. “My work is more anatomically inspired, but it’s also pretty abstract,” Packer says. “I work from X-rays and bones and things like that.” Overlapping geometric shapes, the appearance of translucency and shadow, the rough form of a figure on a stark, dark background — it feels as though the viewer is, Packer says, looking at X-rays on a light screen, or perhaps leaning over a dissection tray. Her work elucidates the internal in a different way than Harteis, but she argues that they’re interested in similar emotional narratives.
“Our points of departure are different, and the outcome is very different too, but we’re both speaking about the same vulnerability,” Packer says. “I see my drawings as turning bodies inside out, which is more literal than Elisha’s work.”
Taken together, the two bodies of work resonate as though they were created with the intention of being displayed side-by-side. It’s perhaps a testament to the two friends’ long-standing conviction that their work always belonged in a joint show. Even though their visions took shape separately, they’re both engaged in the same ongoing conversation.