Drawing on memory

Local fine artist J.M. Culver's wall-size paintings at The Stevens Square Center for the Arts explore memories of childhood through art.

"Bliss" is one of J. M. Culver's explorations of memory. PHOTO COURTESY J.M. CULVER

John Sand

âÄúConjured MemoriesâÄù WHERE: Stevens Square Center for the Arts, 1905 3rd Ave S., Mpls. WHEN: Mar. 6 âÄì Apr. 4 The chronicling, repression and reexamination of memory is a process thatâÄôs been analyzed throughout history. From hypnosisâÄô claimed ability to retrieve repressed memories to psychiatryâÄôs capacity to medicate, there are hundreds of different ways to sort through childhood emotional issues. âÄúConjured Memories,âÄù the new exhibition at the Stevens Square Center for the Arts, is an exploration of those processes. The show features the work of local fine artist J.M. Culver, whose enormous black-and-white works mirror the often-hazy and dreamlike quality of the past. Like dreams, the work is punctuated with sporadic bouts of sharp imagery that stand vividly against an obscure background. The layering of sketches, charcoal and white acrylic paint imagines the way that the mind fully sketches some details and leaves others smudged and unfinished. CulverâÄôs work for the show was inspired by her youth, which was spent in the presence of a schizophrenic grandfather. The mood of the works finds ecstasy and horror in convergence to create a hurricane of emotional overload. The effect is overwhelming and hyperbolic, never complacent. âÄúI want to physically work out my frustration and anxiety,âÄù said Culver, âÄúbut also [the artwork] needs to confront the viewer.âÄù This is accomplished partly through the massive proportions that she works in, with a single piece often consuming an entire gallery wall. The shadowy figures tower over viewers, and force the audience into the same plane as the mental image. Works like âÄúBliss,âÄù in which a young girl licks ice cream innocently, merge fear and euphoria. Her back is turned from a towering, shouting man reminiscent of the illustrations in the âÄúScary StoriesâÄù series of childrenâÄôs books, with hazy outlines and deep-set black eyes surrounded by circles of charcoal. In the corner, several tumbling birds, mid-spasm, have been âÄúerasedâÄù with a coat of white acrylic paint, as though to insist that birds are implicated some way in this memory, but their direct relation cannot be quite recalled. Culver explained that her process works through an exploration of âÄúthe duality of the self, [and the divide] between the artificial self and real self.âÄù What is extracted is a surprising way to bridge her own mind with the confusing, enigmatic thought process of her grandfather. The gulf between her own encrypted, mysterious memories parallels her grandfatherâÄôs division of illusion and reality, as well his role as a figure both past and present.