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Bethel grad’s art ‘a visual commentary’ on the ordinary world

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College will feature the art of a North Newton native and one of its own graduates with the next show in the Fine Arts Center Gallery.

“Linked in Spirit: An Exhibition of Mixed-Media Collage, Clayboard Drawings and Mosaics” by Lora Jost opens Friday, March 5, with a reception that day outside the gallery from 3-5 p.m.

Jost is a freelance artist with a studio in Lawrence. In addition to her work as a studio artist, she teaches collage and sketchbook journaling classes at the Lawrence Arts Center, works as a freelance illustrator and occasional muralist, leads projects with community groups and writes.

She has completed several artist residencies in Glasco with support from the Kansas Arts Commission’s grassroots/project mini-grants program. One of her favorite projects, titled “The Experience of Farmers,” involved making mixed-media collages and clayboard drawing based on interviews with Kansas farmers, in which she incorporated text from interviews into, or juxtaposed with, visual images.

Jost was the co-author, with Dave Loewenstein, of Kansas Murals: A Traveler’s Guide (University Press of Kansas, 2006), recognized as a Kansas Notable Book for 2007 by the Kansas Center for the Book, and funded in part by the Kansas Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. Jost has served on the board of the Lawrence Arts Commission.

Jost grew up in North Newton and has also lived in Washington, D.C., Madison, Wis., and Bloomington, Ind. The daughter of Mary Ann and Walter Jost of North Newton, Lora Jost is a graduate of Newton High School and Bethel College. She earned an M.F.A., with an emphasis in nonstatic forms, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has also studied at American University and the University of Kansas.

Jost has lived in Lawrence since 1996. She is married to Chuck Epp and they have a son, Nicholai, 7.

Of her exhibit “Linked in Spirit” and making art in general, Jost says, “Life is a curious thing, and that’s what motivates me to look at it more closely through art. My art is a visual commentary on experiences, from the surprise of cracking open a two-yolked egg – industry destroys two-yolkers – to the trouble of trudging into a strong headwind, or maybe a strong-headed political wind, to the emotional flood of laughing to the point of crying – or maybe it’s the other way around.

“I am drawn to themes that are mundane, whimsical and socially urgent, and like to mix them around to find how they link in spirit,” she says. “While based on experiences, my images are never realistic-looking – a bit of fantasy always comes into play. And sometimes I abandon ‘reality’ altogether by creating my own characters in scenes that are fully imaginary. But even these are intended to say something tangible about how special or beautiful or infuriating or ridiculous this ordinary old world really is.”

Since “Linked in Spirit” includes work created in three media – collage, clayboard and mosaic –Jost notes that she is “interested in the way my work in one media influences my work in another. Making painted mosaic-like patterns in my collages grew out of the textures I was making in scratchboard. Then one day my brother [Scott Jost], also an artist, said to me, ‘Why don’t you make mosaics?’ Now I love making mosaics and am finding myself incorporating pieces of cloth that look like mosaic tiles into my collages.

“The visual unifier in my work is my interest in pattern and surface texture,” she adds. “Making each piece takes a while, and the process becomes a sort of meditation. Other interests that span media include layering images to show two things going on at once. I also emphasize postures and gestures, and find myself distorting things to help communicate an idea.

“More recently, I have begun using symbols from the natural world to convey human psychological states – birds, for example. I love the hummingbird’s nervous energy, the goose’s aggressive stance – and the blackbird, beautiful and ominous. Some of my birds have sprouted legs. I suppose that’s my way of making the human connection clear. I’m now just beginning to play around with foxes, based on one that visited our Colorado campsite several times last summer.”

Jost’s exhibits are comprised of two-dimensional pieces that hang on walls and sometimes include found objects that support her themes and occasionally some enlarged related images painted on the gallery wall. “Additional content for my work is based on interviews, personal writing and research that go beyond spending time alone in my studio,” she says, “although I do plenty of that, too.”

“Linked in Spirit” will be on display in the FAC Gallery through April 2. Regular gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 2-4 p.m. (closed March 20-28 for Bethel’s spring break). Admission to the gallery is free.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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