Illustrators draw up center stage

Form + Content Gallery curates personal works from local illustrators in a studio exhibition.

James O'Brien uses ink, gouache and a computer to create a digital print. The illustration, titled

Photo courtesy of James O'Brien

James O’Brien uses ink, gouache and a computer to create a digital print. The illustration, titled “Patch Man,” will be featured in “Illustrators’ Studio: the Art of Illustration.”

Brenda Tran

Throughout his long career working for clients ranging from Coca-Cola, Disney and General Mills, artist and illustrator Jim Dryden has noticed a reoccurring theme: a lack of opportunity for illustrators to show their noncommissioned work.  
“There is no line between fine art and illustration. There is no high or low art. There is only art, and it comes in many forms,” Dryden said — borrowing the quote from artist and author James Gurney. “It just sums up our show.”
Dryden is a founding member of Form + Content Gallery. Together with fellow artist Jody Williams, the two curated an invitational illustration exhibition. Titled “Illustrators’ Studio: the Art of Illustration,” the exhibition features seven highly recognized illustrators that use a wide range of mediums including pencil, watercolor and computer. The gallery hosts an opening reception for the exhibit on
In its beginnings, Form + Content formed as a co-op gallery. In addition to showing their own artwork, Form + Content artists also sponsor, support and curate shows from outside artists. A large part of the gallery’s focus is to provide coverage for more under-the-radar artists, as well as addressing social and political issues.
“We try to put together shows of work that we feel isn’t necessarily represented by other types of galleries, for example, commercial galleries and institutional galleries,” Dryden said. “It’s a broader mission than what you would expect from a co-op gallery.”
Another large difference between Form + Content and commercial galleries, Dryden and Williams said, is a greater emphasis on artists’ needs.
“We have several members that are in other commercial galleries, but they’re in Form + Content because they want to have complete control over what they show, whether or not it’s saleable or acceptable by the general public,” Williams said. 
James O’Brien is an illustrator and designer featured in the Illustrators’ Studio exhibition. O’Brien creates conceptual, decorative art, and design and has received recognition and awards from organizations such as American Illustration and the Society of Illustrators. 
O’Brien, a graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, helped initiate its digital illustration program from 1998 to 1999 and works as a mentor for its graduate program. 
Because most of his time is spent designing for clients — institutions like Target, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times — O’Brien’s personal artwork is usually shared through social media. Only on occasion does his personal artwork appear in exhibitions. 
“I do a few things with personal work. I put it on social media and throw it out there on the blog or on Facebook, sometimes I’ll tweet something I’ve been working on. But it’s not usually in an exhibit, only sometimes — like at faculty exhibitions,” O’Brien said. 
While all featured artists are recognized on a national level, they share a connection to the Twin Cities. The area is an ideal base for 
artists, Dryden and Williams said, is because of overwhelming  support.
“There are so many reasons — the Minnesota State Arts Board, Legislature and population support. … The general community really values artists and wants to help them in many different ways,” Williams said. 
Dryden added that grassroots support from the community also provides artists with a larger audience. 
“I think the Twin Cities has a pretty healthy art community,” O’Brien said. “With the Internet, we don’t have to move to a different community to work with larger clients. It’s a welcoming community, it’s less intimidating and it’s more affordable.” 
Illustrators’ Studio: the Art of Illustration opening reception
Where: 210 N. Second St. #104, Minneapolis 
When: 6-8 p.m. Saturday
Cost: Free