It’s a matter of perspective

Size does – and doesn’t – matter at the Outsiders and Others’ Teeny, Tiny exhibit

by Erin Adler

In preparation for an upcoming art show, artist Amy Rice spent hours fashioning miniscule shoes and handbags out of polymer clay.

When she was done, she promptly put the pieces where she thought they belonged – in the garbage.

For Rice, it was an act of frustration. As one of 12 artists invited to show work in the Outsiders and Others gallery’s Teeny, Tiny show, she accepted the challenge of creating work that was small enough to fit in the palm of a person’s hand.

Like many of the other artists who were accustomed to working larger, she found the assignment daunting.

“After making the handbags and shoes, and realizing I didn’t like them at all, I thought, ‘Ooh, this sucks. Doing this is going to be really challenging,’ ” she said.

The complexities of the exhibit – more than 200 tiny pieces are on display through Aug. 13 – are immediately apparent. Their craftsmanship, along with the emotion their size evokes, proves that works measured in inches can command at least as much attention as those measured in feet.

Designed to challenge

The Outsiders and Others gallery is built on a foundation of challenge – assisting artists coping with various challenges and challenging the perceptions of outside viewers.

From its inception more than two years ago, founders Beth Parkhill and Yuri Arajs aimed to manage an “all-inclusive” space where artists “outside” the mainstream or the art world could show their work.

“Outsider” means many things to many people, executive director Arajs said. It can refer to an artist who is untrained, a person who creates nontraditional art or people from groups marginalized by society. The latter includes members of various ethnic groups, poor or homeless people, and those with physical or mental disabilities, among others.

The gallery sponsors approximately 10 themed shows a year at its Park Avenue location and two to four in other spaces.

Regardless of location, all artists receive “equal respect, equal space, equal everything,” at the gallery, Arajs said.

Outsiders and Others focuses specifically on mentally ill artists, hosting the Mental Health Awareness show each spring. Arajs and the gallery also participate in an ongoing one-on-one artist mentorship program for people with severe mental disabilities.

Size matters (sometimes)

Rice, an art instructor and mental-health advocate, met Arajs when he visited the day treatment center where Rice works. He was looking for potential artists among those with severe mental disabilities.

Soon Rice, who is self-taught, was showing and selling work herself at the gallery. She works mostly with various types of paint and hand-cut stencils.

For this show, she had to pare down her stencils significantly, but the pieces still retain a graffitilike appearance.

Rice said a set of four “Untitled” pieces are among her favorites in the show. In each wooden, 3-inch “canvas,” a petite stenciled woman has either eggs or birds on her head or a bird in her arms.

“I’ve really been into birds lately. Now I want to try to do those pieces (the birds and women) much larger,” she said.

Even after the shoes-and- handbags fiasco, she used polymer to create miniature people and animals. In “Gloria’s Favorite Dream,” a little girl in red shoes rides a toy duck, her minimal features and tiny “O”-shaped mouth reminiscent of folk art.

Other artists used the size requirement to do something they hadn’t tried before. Kristen Hayman used her hand and purple ink to make 3-by-1 1/2-inch prints. In “Hilltop Village in Mist,” it’s difficult to believe the tiny cityscape was not originally representational.

Mary Bowman Cline created the smallest works in the show, painstakingly painting 37 half- inch cubes with chairs, fruit and other things in her “Untitled” series.

Finally, Bridget Riversmith made both drawings and three-dimensional works for the show. “Red Rabbit Caught by the Man in the Moon” is a circular music box, 4 inches across, made of jagged aluminum and tin. In it, a rabbit (representing Riversmith herself) attempts to escape the grasp of the moon (a magnet painted with silver glow-in-the-dark paint). When wound up, the somber music adds to the bittersweet feeling of the piece.

A little bit hungry?

Curating a show composed of all small work is more difficult than one might think, Arajs said.

In addition to the extra labor of hanging four times the pieces he normally would, he said, he wanted to demonstrate that small work can fill space and stand alone.

He hung diminutive, 2-by-3-inch oil paintings by Ben Olson on their own long, white walls to make his point.

“Those works (the Olson oils) are painfully strong and work on their own. I think they’re great,” he said, gesturing at one of many shiny, haunting faces.

Arajs said the opening for the Teeny, Tiny show was filled with the sound of people laughing, awestruck at the whimsy and detail of the work.

“The thing about this show is that it’s fun. It’s not often we do a show that’s this light,” he said.

The show’s closing party will feature a contest that extends the miniature theme. Along with some residents of the Twin Cities who regularly do so, attendees are encouraged to prepare tiny food items, with a prize going to the most creative.

Despite some early setbacks in “working small,” Rice said she is anticipating the Teeny, Tiny food show.

“I’m gonna win that, by the way,” she said. “I’ve already got such a good idea.”