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Alternate Dimensions at Miller Gallery presents whimsical creations in an all-female exhibition

Ethereal Expressions


Miller Gallery director Sarah Miller is excited to highlight multidimensional works with this exhibition - COURTESY MILLER GALLERY
  • Courtesy Miller Gallery
  • Miller Gallery director Sarah Miller is excited to highlight multidimensional works with this exhibition

The past and present collide in an avant-garde exhibition that Miller Gallery calls a "love letter to unconventional fine art." Alternate Dimensions features new work by Olivia Bonilla, known for her colorful cupcake statuettes, and welcomes three new artists to the space: Elise Thompson, Mar Hester, and Angela Blehm. The title fittingly suggests a collective otherworldly vibe, but it's also quite literal.

These pieces are anything but flat. They're multidimensional and engaging. They transform as the viewer moves around them. "I'm completely fascinated with people using mediums in unconventional ways," says the gallery's director, Sarah Miller. "There's a very clear connection between our mission and the show itself. I look for novelty. These artists are different from what you see day in and day out in Charleston." In Alternate Dimensions, lines are blurred as traditional forms are reimagined, vintage art is given a new face, and a sense of playful nostalgia prevails.

Bonilla's colorful cupcakes are a sugary tribute to childhood punctuated with grown up vices. Her statuettes are sweetly subversive with tiny toy guns, cars, diamonds, syringes, or pills wedged into cement icing. "This idea of indulgence and excess is something that I've been exploring ... attractions to the shinier or the louder," says Bonilla. "It started with this idea of society flashing all these things your way, and it's up to you to filter how you want to view it." Alternate Dimensions will focus on Bonilla's latest and largest work, tall cupcake statues with scoop after scoop of "icing" piled atop one another.

They exemplify her fascination with multiples — the power that repetition can have on a viewer. "There's so many different colorations. It allows your eyes to move up and down and become fixated on it," she says. "They tower over and have a decadent presence, but you also want to investigate and get closer and see where a drip ends, if it does end. There's interaction with it."

Thompson's bright abstract paintings contribute to the chromatic flow of the exhibition. Prismatic acrylics glaze the surface of clear vinyl. "I think about the color palates of my childhood, animations and cartoons, food and candy," says Thompson. "The paintings, they're very candy and fun upon first glance, but the processes and procedures I'm engaging in are loaded with concepts that I'm thinking about." There's a tension between control and release in her work. Acrylic paint dries and fuses to clear vinyl incredibly fast. Thompson has to decide quickly whether to guide the paint to her vision or to let go and allow the paint to move freely. "I'm constantly fighting between wanting full control of the paint and letting it do what it does," she says. "You can't control everything in life, so I feel like the medium of paint is poetic in that way. It's why I've always come back to painting: the action of the material."

  • Courtesy Miller Gallery

Thompson plays with themes of concealing and revealing, hesitance and desire, disclosure and self-preservation. Some of her paintings are separated by a translucent layer of vinyl. With others, wildly colorful paint strokes and puddled acrylic blobs rest on the surface. "When I'm doing the translucent paintings, I'm making a lot of moves behind the surface because there is a lot of activity going on even within myself," she says. "I think of these frosted barriers as just that, something to put up to kind of obscure what's underneath, a protective membrane. On the other side of that, the paintings that are sort of crazy and messy are just letting it go, releasing those inhibitions."

The exhibition moves from the psychological to the physical with Hester's photographic sculptures. Landscape photography is nothing new, but Hester took a routine form and made it into something entirely original. She mounts her photos to aluminum then bends them into angular structures that complement the landscapes they've captured. "Photography can be more than 2D images. And since we're bombarded with photos every day from Facebook and Instagram and all this social media is just image after image. At some point, it has to become something else in order to grab your attention," says Hester. "Landscapes are a universal language of the world around us. With my work, they're given a new twist because, in my opinion, the only way to evolve is to question what we know." Hester's sculptures challenge mindless interaction with the world around us whether in nature or on our cell phones.

While Hester reimagines the familiar, Blehm's wall sculptures draw on the past. Inspired by vintage fabrics and patterns, Blehm works with traditionally feminine concepts to create funky contemporary décor. "I've always been fascinated with anything domesticated and associated with women," she says. "I find ideas everywhere. It might be a color palette someone's wearing, or I'll see a composition somewhere and find it interesting." There's contrast in her work between the soft fabrics she's alluding to and the rigidity of the material. "I like creating the illusion and reducing it down, taking out all of the highlights and shadows and trying to see how far I can take it while still maintaining that natural movement," she explains.

Opening night will be a celebration for the artists — and attendees. "We'll have drinks and hors d'oeuvres and just have a good time," says Miller. "We'll be pre-selling artwork at the gallery and on the website. We're really excited to do something a little different and really highlight this movement with mixed media and multidimensional artwork that's going on right now."

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