Risk/Play/Reap:
Collaborative Works by Allison Carr, Danell Dvorak, Monica Estabrook, Amy Wolfe at Jan Brandt Gallery

By Ron Jackson

December 14, 2018

Estabrook, Wolfe,  Back Bone , 2018, archival pigment prints, print making paper, acrylic medium and washes, ink, thread. Image courtesy of Jan Brandt Gallery.

Estabrook, Wolfe, Back Bone, 2018, archival pigment prints, print making paper, acrylic medium and washes, ink, thread. Image courtesy of Jan Brandt Gallery.

Art making is usually thought of as a solitary activity, but what happens when that usually solitaire activity is opened up to the direct input of others? This show, consisting of the collaborations of four artists offers some experiential insight into that question.

A statement accompanying the show in part explains the collaboration process: “Each artist began a piece, then passed it to another for further development. Additions, alterations, and reconfigurations continued, until the group agreed a piece was completed, whether through lengthy, multiple cycles, or two to three passes.”

First of all, I noticed that when viewing the entirety of the show, the exchange of approaches within each piece had resulted in a variety of finished works that, at the same time, had a consistency of formal solutions. Layering, transparency, textural surfaces, juxtaposing of imagery, and often a sculptural (object) presence were in evidence in most pieces. On the other hand, variety stemmed from the use of different subject matter or formal approaches, format sizes and shapes, chosen materials, textural surface presence, flat optical or illusory pictorial space, and color concepts.

As the title of the show suggests, I sense in looking at the work that the challenge of collaboration caused each artist to think outside of their personal box of concerns, which in some cases might have lead to considering a greater complexity of execution and in others adopting a new simplicity of approach and concern.

The overall feeling of the show for me was one of packaging, in the sense of viewing successfully summed up situations. I don’t mean that characterization in a negative way, but rather in a complimentary way. It would be so easy in this coming together of egos for the results to end in confusing mismatches. Instead, seen in the conceptual context of the show, there is a feeling of inventive struggle but also successful resolution.

Carr, Dvorak, Wolfe,  From Within , 2018, acrylic, acrylic medium, ink, watercolor and printmaking papers on printmaking paper. Image courtesy of Jan Brandt Gallery.

Carr, Dvorak, Wolfe, From Within, 2018, acrylic, acrylic medium, ink, watercolor and printmaking papers on printmaking paper. Image courtesy of Jan Brandt Gallery.

Most of the titles seem appropriate to the images and I wonder if there was a literary component in the process, with the title being decided at the beginning of each piece, establishing a poetic content goal. Or was the title decided when the piece was finished? I also wonder what might have determined the response of one artist to another’s work. Would it be refinement of what was there, or would it be to regard the approach that was there as a stimulus to completely rethink and redo. It also raises the question of primary authorship. Would it be the person establishing the starting content, or the one making the most decisive alteration, or might it be the person who worked on the piece last? Perhaps primary authorship is not even a question? Artists often face the concern of how to grow in respect to the existing context of their work. Meaningful change can occur through reaction to novel experiences or reexamination of studio and conceptual assumptions. I wonder if the motivation for taking on this confrontational collaboration might have been in some cases related to a need for artistic change and growth. Since the show is essentially a conceptual show, it would have been interesting to have seen statements from the artists regarding their individual motivation for collaboration and what their responses and approaches to the process were.

Back Bone is visually a very immediate and accessible image. The formal arrangement of the image suggests a temple, with the symmetrical tree trunks reading as columns framing an entrance. The three fragmented pieces refer to, but conceal the spine of one of the figures while the other figure’s spine is vulnerably revealed with three very evident vertebra echoing the three fragmented pieces. The peeled back bark of the tree trunks again suggests an inner and outer reality. For me , the image has a very mysterious, ritualistic feeling and seems to be the one of the more subject driven pieces in the show.

Dvorak, Estabrook, Wolfe,  Black Dahlia , 2018 archival pigment print. Image courtesy of Jan Brandt Gallery.

Dvorak, Estabrook, Wolfe, Black Dahlia, 2018 archival pigment print. Image courtesy of Jan Brandt Gallery.

From Within has a strong object presence for a small piece. It is slightly suspended away from its mounting surface and consists of many layers of paper and its outer edges are irregular enough to soften the geometry of the format shape. The semi-transparency of some of the decorative, constructing layers results in a buried imagery effect which gives it a delicate feeling that satisfyingly contrasts with the boldness of the physical format. As the title suggests, there is a progressive illusion of depth which makes the piece seem much deeper than its actual thickness.

Black Dahlia refers to the sensational death of a young woman who was brutally murdered in Los Angeles in 1947. Her corpse was mutilated and the torso cut into at the waist. The image is similarly altered with a large tear down the middle of the page which suggests displacement and violence. The figure is “mutilated” by markings and anatomical distortions. Some parts are very recognizable and some parts dissolve into abstraction, like sections of a fading or damaged photograph. I would not call the image illustrative, instead it evokes some of the horror and shock one might experience in discovering the body.

The show is an engaging group of works and a provocative approach to shared art making.

Artist Biographies

Allison Carr is a mixed media painter, pastel artist, and archivist at OSF Healthcare in Peoria, Illinois.

Danell Dvorak is a painter, ceramicist, teaching artist, and gallery coordinator at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois.

Monica Estabrook is a photographer, conceptual artist, and art teacher at Bloomington High School in Bloomington, Illinois.

Amy Wolfe is a mixed media artist, found object sculptor, and art teacher at Bent Elementary School in Bloomington, Illinois.

This article is part of Sixty Regional, an ongoing initiative by Chicago-based arts publication Sixty Inches From Center which partners with artists, writers, and artist-run spaces throughout the Midwest and Illinois to highlight the artwork being produced across the region. This work is made possible through the support of Illinois Humanities, which is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Illinois General Assembly through the Illinois Arts Council Agency, as well as by contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations.


Ron Jackson is a retired Associate Professor having taught at Virginia Commonwealth University for six years and Illinois State University for thirty years. He received his MFA with distinction from the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of Art). He is a prolific artist having produced and exhibited work for decades.