Bennett Berry, “Mona Lisa Manhattan“
From Wednesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.
Gallery continues New Year’s tradition with ‘Metropolis’
An Oklahoma City art gallery is inviting people to start the New Year in a metaphorical city where fish wear business suits, the advertising has an early ‘60s vibe and the busy intersections look strikingly familiar.
The new exhibition “Metropolis” of paintings by Michele Mikesell and Bennett Berry, opens with a reception from 1 to 7 p.m. Thursday at JRB Art at the Elms. The show continues the Paseo gallery’s custom of starting the New Year by featuring groundbreaking artists with Oklahoma ties.
“New Year’s Day is a big tradition for our gallery,” said gallery owner/director Joy Reed Belt. “I thought it would be a good idea to have Bennett and Michele do a joint show since I knew they were friends. … Their styles and techniques are completely different, but dovetail in the theme.”
The artists based the dual show on the concept of a bustling city with a diverse population.
Berry, 29, a lifelong Oklahoma City resident, and Mikesell, 35, of Dallas, became friends while working on their master of fine arts degrees at the University of Oklahoma. They have kept up over the years and now are two of JRB’s most popular young artists.
Providing the inhabitants of the show’s “Metropolis,” Mikesell’s paintings depict animals with human characteristics. Many are ironic, such as “Fox in the House,” in which an elegant chicken-lady wears fox stoles, and “Eights a Crowd,” in which fish dressed in business suits are stacked in a sardine can.
“I paint about the ‘human condition’ by using animals because I feel like the animals’ features are less sentimental: creating human expression through an animal face lets everyone … create their own individual interpretation,” Mikesell said in an e-mail. “By placing them in a physical environment like a metropolis it gives a sort of stage for the characters to interact with.”
Some of Berry’s paintings are realistic cityscapes, based on his photographs of Manhattan, Seattle, Chicago and Oklahoma City. In others, Berry, son of Oklahoma artist Nick Berry, provides the commercial side of the “Metropolis,” with classically rendered figures against backgrounds with colors, patterns and text reminiscent of vintage advertising.
“It’s like some of the 1950s- and ‘60s Doris Day movies, the TV show ‘Mad Men,’ that sort thing, that sort of aesthetic, kind of very clean-cut, business suits and cocktail parties,” he said.
Along with the artwork, Thursday’s opening event will feature a spread of traditional New Year’s foods, including three different black-eyed peas dishes. Another opening reception is planned Friday night during the monthly Paseo Gallery Walk.
What: “Metropolis,” featuring the paintings of Michele Mikesell and Bennett Berry.
When: Opening receptions from 1 to 7 p.m. Thursday and 6 to 10 p.m. Friday. The exhibit runs through Jan. 31.
Where: JRB Art at the Elms, 2810 N Walker.
Information: 528-6336 or www.jrbartgallery.com.