Heu and Wubbena art show

Thursday, September 27, 2007
Benjie Heu stands with his stoneware piece titled "Wheels On the Bus Go Round and Round."

In college, Chris Wubbena was asked to leave a painting class because he wanted to paint with tar on wood.

When Benjie Heu's wife, Kim, found one of his grade-school spelling books decorated with some of his earliest drawings she pointed out that his work hadn't changed all that much. "Even as a kid I was drawing these creepy little things," Heu said.

"Benjie Heu & Chris Wubbena: Current Work" is the first show on display at the new River Campus Art Gallery through Oct. 5. A reception for the artists will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Oct. 5. The two sculptors are assistant art professors at Southeast Missouri State University.

Wubbena's work combines concrete, steel, text and sound, an amalgam that springs from his background. His father worked in a factory that made cranes. The tar paintings gradually became more sculptural and larger and started turning into steel.

Heu's ceramic work at the River Campus Art Gallery is a personal narrative of his wife and their children, Dylan and Camilla, his growth into a man and a father.

Chris Wubbena stands with his piece titled "System" which is made of steel, wood and paper and includes an audio element.

Wubbena is new to the university, coming here from the University of Southern Mississippi. He studied art at Northern Iowa and received his MFA from San Francisco State University.

The multilayered work at the gallery is part of his "de minimis" series, which grew out of some stream-of-consciousness poems he wrote, "a series of rants." The Latin term means "trivial matters" or "minimal things."

"I started thinking, what is a small matter?" Wubbena says. He concluded that the smallest thing each of us can be reduced to is our belief system and decided to explore how each of us authors our own lives through that system, hardly a small thing at all.

"Maybe what I proved is there's nothing trivial," Wubbena said.

Heu's work is playful and fanciful in the best sense. "Super Family" is a three-dimensional, subjective snapshot of his family as his daughter was about to be born. "We're all pregnant," he says. "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round" is another family portrait that looks like a huge bronze trophy. It's like a diary filled with inside jokes -- look for his wife's thing for Reese's peanut butter cups -- and the joy of getting his first real teaching job.

This is Heu's third year at the university. His road began in Vacaville in Northern California, where nobody he knew was an artist. He could draw, though, and received a scholarship to a state university in Alabama. Like all art majors, he made some pottery. He started making lots of pottery. "Then I realized I didn't need to make little pots anymore," he said. He wanted to know everything about working with clay, "the turning of it, the physicalness of it. I love the firing, the science part."

"Pottery tells the story of a culture," he says. "Clay tells the story of me."

Despite the title of the show, most of Heu's newer work is on display at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary, a gallery in St. Louis. That show is titled "Character Development" and is less overtly personal. It explore more universal themes, cultural history and pop culture. "I kind of loosened up," he said.

The artist as reinventor of belief systems is one of the themes in Wubbena's work at the gallery. "A lot of us keep going through our lives without analyzing what [our belief systems] are. They have to be reinvented by each person. You can take whoever you are this day and decide to change it if it's necessary," he said.

He is being paid $50,000 for a 15-foot sculpture he just finished for the corporate headquarters of the Mississippi Power Company in Gulfport.

His new work is a departure, he says, more expressive and rawer. "I don't care if the work gets scuffed. It's part of what those pieces are about, being true and being honest."

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