Artist in Residence . . . or Not?

By: Kathy Kelsey Foley, director on January 13th, 2009

Trompe-l’oeil painter Eric Conklin is such a master illusionist that cynics among us might question whether his presence in the Woodson Art Museum’s galleries this week is real.

Put skepticism aside. He’s here. For real. And there’s a lot going on.

To get the ball rolling, exhibitions curator Andy McGivern and facilities manager Joe Ruelle along with Eric created a temporary studio in the gallery. In addition to providing all the essentials – easel, palette, paints, etc. – that Eric requires, works-in-progress complete the space.

Students from Wausau’s Riverview Elementary and Thomas Jefferson Elementary Schools were the first to watch Eric at work. “How does he do it?,” they wondered to themselves and aloud. On an old-fashioned chalkboard – what those of us of a certain age grew up with, long before “smart” boards – students wrote their names. Eric then painted their names using his signature trompe-l’oeil or fool-the-eye technique.

While the surface Eric is working on looks like a chalkboard . . . it isn’t; it’s a specially prepared oak board that requires a series of coatings of various materials, including rabbit-skin glue and whiting chalk, to ready it for painting. And even though the names look as though they are written with chalk . . . they aren’t. Eric uses oil-based pigments that he grinds and mixes from scratch the old-fashioned way.

This residency provides a terrific, firsthand learning experience and it’s made possible by a Community Arts Grant from the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin with funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board and the B.A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation.

Eric’s visit is just beginning. He’s in residence at the Woodson Art Museum through Saturday, January 17. He’ll work with school groups during the day on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday; offer a family hands-on program Thursday evening, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. (no sign-ups required . . . just come and try your hand at painting a trompe-l’oeil coin); talk with the community and demonstrate his work at a Friday evening reception, January 16, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.; and demonstrate Saturday, January 17, 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.

The forecast is for arctic-cold temperatures this week, but it’s warm in the Woodson Art Museum’s galleries. If only the cold weather was an illusion. Since it, too, is real, immerse yourself in art illusions to help beat the winter blues.

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