Keeping it real - Cape's newest art group is young, modest and grounded

Friday, November 4, 2005
In front: Utahna Hancock and Becky Winkler. Back row, from left: Hana Hart, Rachel Martin, Jake Wells and James Thurman.

Jake Wells shares the kind of tempered realism many of his fellow 20-somethings possess. His worldview is one shaped by growing up in a time in which nothing is sacred, everything seems to have been done before and celebrity is next to godhood.

Wells dreams of becoming an artist who can support himself through his work, but realizes that the dream may not be quickly or easily attained.

"None of us are well-off," Wells says of he and his colleagues in the Modest Living Artists, what could be Cape Girardeau's newest -- and youngest -- art cooperative. "We'd all like to think of our art supporting us one day, but it's going to be a while."

That tempered realism is what defines the Modest Living Artists -- Wells, Rachel Martin, Utahna Hancock, James Thurman, Becky Winkler and Hana Hart. The group was formed with the concept that none of them can be art gods overnight, and that the more realistic goal is to make art that will provide a modest return, but most of all to enjoy the craft.

"We're just trying to maybe sell some stuff so we can maybe pay our bills," said Thurman.

Nearly all of them are college students or recent grads, except for the middle-aged Hancock. All of them work in the conceptual and abstract realms of the visual arts, both two- and three-dimensional.

And all of them are real people.

"We're not the kind of artists who wear berets and bitch about art," Wells says as he stands in his studio, at ease despite the fact that he's talking to a complete stranger. This room is his work space, piled with paintings and the tools used to create them, where he works two days a week on his craft while he listens to Beck, The Flaming Lips and Stone Temple Pilots.

For now, Wells is content to live with his parents as he seeks admission to grad school. A little over a year ago he graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with an undergraduate degree. Growing up can be a little slower sometimes for this generation.

"Since I'm trying to get into grad school, I still consider myself a student," he says with a smile.

His parents' home is also a home for art -- both Wells' paintings and the works of his locally famous artist grandfather, also named Jake Wells. Wells grew up constantly exposed to his grandfather's art and love of nature. But where his grandfather mostly painted landscapes, the grandson filters those landscapes through a conceptual frame, changing them and giving them new attributes and symbolism.

Wells' work is probably the closest to representational art among the six, said Martin. Martin was the force behind the group's beginnings this summer, helping organize them for an art show in Buckner's Riverview Room, where they'll be showing their work today.

Martin, currently a senior at Southeast, said most of the artists have been friends for a while, and their styles complement each other well. The idea behind the group is strength in numbers.

"If you're going to do a solo show, you can only produce so much work, and to do a solo show every two or three months would be impossible for a student," Martin said.

Having a group allows the members to each contribute a few pieces to make a whole show, one that can be put on display every month or two.

As a college senior, Martin has plenty of studio time through class work to create, unlike Wells. But she still has demands on her time, like her three-year-old daughter.

Martin will often take her daughter to her parents' house, put her to bed at around 9 p.m. and work until 3 or 4 a.m. in the university painting studio. At one point the reality of being a mother almost caused Martin to trash her artistic dreams.

She didn't know if she could support her daughter on art alone, so she changed her major to art education, a program that took her out of the studio. The change didn't work out -- Martin couldn't resist the urge to create.

"After you have a child your perspective changes a lot," said Martin. "I do have to look at it realistically, but now I'm trying to keep it open."

Now she wants to get accepted to grad school and get an assistantship somewhere, but she'll always be a creator.

As Wells and Martin try for grad school, Thurman works the midnight shift at Famous-Barr, stocking items. Teaching isn't in his blood, so he hopes to be an independent artist one day. He hopes the Modest Living shows can help get him some exposure for his solo work.

The realism-colored shades the Modest Living artists view the world through show them that the local art scene is still growing, not yet a large and thriving subculture, more like a toddler.

Wells is more of a pessimist than Martin, wondering whether or not the area will ever truly embrace abstract and conceptual pieces on a large scale.

"Maybe two percent out there grooves with the conceptual and abstract art," Wells says, a conceptual painting hanging in front of him as an example. "Everyone wants to see barns and landscapes."

But 250 people showed up for the Modest Living group's September show, and six pieces have been sold in three shows.

"Which isn't bad," Wells says with that tempered realism coming through again. "It's better than nothing."

But Martin remains more optimistic. The local arts community has experience great growth in the past few years, she said. And she expects that growth to continue.

"I think the fact it's growing is opening the doors to a lot of people," Martin said. "Had it been a couple of years ago, I don't think we would have even had this opportunity."

335-6611, extension 182

Want to go?

What: Modest Living Artists First Friday show

When: Tonight, 6 to 11 p.m.

Where: Riverview Room, third floor, Buckner Brewing Co.

Info: 334-4677

Other First Friday receptions

Where: Arts council galleries at 32 N. Main St.

* What: Arts Council of Southeast Missouri: Borders juried art exhibit, the wood sculpture of Lawrence Oliver and the Visual Arts Cooperative show

* When: 5 to 8 p.m.

* Info: 334-9233

Where: Garden Gallery

* What: Photography by Susan B. Marcussen and Christmas Open House

* When: noon to 9 p.m.

* Info: 332-7123

* Where: The Artist Studio

* What: Watercolors workshop showcase with Stephanie Depro, Lesa Hinton and Radha Rohatgi

* When: 5: 30 to 8: 30 p.m.

* Info: 651-4464

Where: Edward Bernard Gallery

* What: Art glass showcase and music by local acoustic guitarist Nick Mayberry with a country theme and Western-style food (chili and hot cider)

* When: 6 to 9 p.m.

* Info: 332-7733

Where: Gallery 1.2.5

* What: First Friday opening reception featuring a collection of prints, oils and accessories

* When: 4 to 8 p.m.

* Info: 335-2699

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