A candid conversation about aging is bubbling up in the Twin Cities with the opening of an art show in St. Paul.
Who doesn’t wonder what it’s really like to grow old?
Four Twin Cities women artists, all in their 60s and 70s, have unveiled their perspectives on later life in an exhibit making its debut in a seven-week run at the College of St. Catherine. Two public forums for frank talk about aging are planned (one on Monday, Nov. 3) in tandem with the exhibit that opened recently in the college’s Catherine G. Murphy Gallery, where exhibit-goers already were starting a conversation. The exhibit runs through Dec. 19.
Even the show’s title, “Vanishing: The Wonderland of Aging,” exposes the complexity of life in later years. The title’s ambiguity is intentional, said Lucy Rose Fischer, the artist and retired gerontologist who spearheaded the project. “On the one hand, there’s a sense of kind of disappearing from society and also facing death,” she explained. “But it’s also a time of discovery. It’s an opportunity to look life in the face.”
Themes in their art range from memories and evolving relationships to changing self-image, grappling with losses and the blurring of time. Whimsy and nostalgia mix with pathos and poignancy, conveying emotions of sorrow, resignation, defiance, vitality and desire. The media the artists individually work in — from knitted fiber and painted glass to charcoal drawings and black-and-white photography — are as diverse as the images of aging their art portrays.
Changing bodies, changing roles
Artist Karen Searle playfully reminds us of our little-girl selves with her miniature fiber re-creations of five girls’ dresses hung with tiny clothespins on a line. Her subject matter becomes more provocative in a youthful, curvy woman’s form from neck to waist, encased in the fuller-figured, less shapely shape of an older woman. Its title is “Woman Within.”
Fischer’s paintings on hand-blown glass in the shape of plates and bowls remind us of changing roles as people age. A girl, her mother and grandmother sit together in a homey living room. In a vibrant globe-shaped bowl titled “Community of Souls,” girls, boys, men and women of all ages move and dance together.
Jody Stadler’s work offers two diverse self-portraits created in the same year. Her “70th Birthday — 2,207,520,000 Seconds” mirrors the smiling artist in vivid pastels. The other reflects a somber Stadler in black and white and holding her face in her hands. Its title: “The Artist at 70: Wondering.” Her other works in the show portray much older women, always with dignity, despite their expressions of disconnection or dismay. One is titled “Maureen at 101: In Her Wheelchair.”
You decide what it means
Bette Globus Goodman’s provocative work, derived from her self-portraits in black-and-white photography, easily invite viewers’ interpretations. A large triptych includes images of a wrinkled, age-spotted hand resting on the soft, time-weathered flesh of a breast and a shoulder. Titled “Searching: The Interior Years,” it reflects “how we all interface with our interior lives when things happen that are not what we expected,” she said. While the word “Vanishing” in the exhibit’s title might be popularly interpreted as becoming invisible in society, Goodman said she sees it as something else, too. It can mean “the things you had at one time that now you don’t have.”
The ways individual viewers relate to themes in the exhibit will be a key topic as St. Kate’s hosts a forum Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the college’s Visual Arts Building, which also houses the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery. Another forum will be Dec. 1 from 7 to 8:30 p.m., sponsored by SHiFT, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit member network helping people to align work and values.
“So many people see their own lives in this,” Fischer said of the exhibit. “It’s almost a freeing thing that you can really talk about it.”