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Denver artist uses her surroundings to inspire her work

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Bethel College Fine Arts Center Gallery is currently hosting an exhibit of art created “on the spot.”

“Site Inspired” by 1996 Bethel graduate Jennifer Miller of Denver is “an installation in four parts that are generated from this space at Bethel College, its architecture and the landscape of Kansas,” Miller says. “I look for out-of-the-way kinds of places you would consider as unimportant or tertiary and draw attention to them.”

Miller has been doing site-inspired installation since 2007 after learning more about it through her graduate program at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she completed a four-year master of fine arts program. Formerly a middle and high school art teacher, Miller now teaches at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver.

“Through the process of graduate school, everything I have made has been connected with the place in which it is made,” Miller says. “For many artists, like for painters, the context of the art is the frame. In installation, the room becomes the canvas.

“There’s also a certain amount of anxiety about it,” she says. “I always have to make sure to budget my time well.”

While working on her exhibit, Miller had assistance from several Bethel art students – sophomore Maggie Goering, Hutchinson, junior Erica Buller, Lenexa, and senior Lacey Parker, Lone Tree, Iowa.

“It’s cool how she’s making the art a part of the building,” Goering says. “It makes it more personal, and it’s more inspiring because there’s so much more thought that goes into it.”

In her presentation during a Bethel convocation Oct. 11, Miller gave students and faculty some insight into the meaning behind her exhibit at Bethel.

Each piece of artwork in the gallery is two-dimensional – everything is either drawn or painted to the wall – and a blue light is projected throughout the gallery, something Miller says she often uses to enhance her artwork.

“I found that [the two-dimensional artwork] was missing visceral qualities, so I turned to the use of light,” Miller says. “I’m not as interested in controlling the experience of the viewer – I want to control the space I work with.

“In the gallery here, I also had to deal with the challenge of having natural light leaking in,” she continues. “I worked around the clock to deal with all types of natural light.”

As a Bethel graduate, this is not the first time Miller has worked in this particular gallery.

“The thing that is interesting is that here I come with my initial present thoughts, but I’m also coming with four years of memories,” Miller says. “Each piece grows out of this encounter with the gallery, but also the Kansas landscape. The drawings are generated from various locations across campus.

“Each piece is intended to stand on its own, but will inevitably interact with one another.”

While some students in convocation expressed concern about not being able to understand what the exhibit is really supposed to be about, Miller explained that this is her intention with her artwork.

“I want to give just enough information, but I don’t want to spell it all out,” she says. “The most important element of all is to challenge people to take some time and think about what they see.”

“Site Inspired” will be on display through Friday, Oct. 29.

Opening Nov. 4 is “Heinrich Toh: Midnight Bloom,” an exhibit of mixed media work. An artist based in Kansas City, Toh will be the 2010-11 Greer Lecturer. The exhibit will be on display through Dec. 10.

Also on the 2010-11 schedule: “Ted Krone: Formal Order,” Feb. 1-25, 2011; “Heather Meeds: Organic Forms,” March 4-April 11; the annual student exhibit, April 8-29; and the annual senior art exhibit by graduating art majors, May 6-22, with a reception for the artists during Commencement Weekend.

Regular hours for the Bethel College Fine Arts Center Gallery are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 2-4 p.m. (closed Oct. 17-19 for the college’s fall break). There is no admission charge.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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