Art lovers at attention

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Longtime favorites, newcomers take top awards at Art in Gadsden



The 24th Art in Gadsden is an impressive exhibition demonstrating an impressive range of styles and subjects, with artists demonstrating impeccable choices in the presentation of their works and true mastery of their mediums. 

A combination of longtime favorites and newcomers claimed awards in this year’s show, which was judged by Kristen Miller Zahn. 


Miller Zahn, curator of collections and exhibitions for the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Ga., is an art historian who has served as president of the Southeastern Museum Conference and is widely published in the field. 


Of Art in Gadsden she said, “After viewing the exhibition of 121 admirable works that vary widely in approach, I had the difficult task of choosing the award winners. I selected works that most notably display strength in composition and design, skill in the use of materials, and overall inventiveness and creativity.”


Miller Zahn also demonstrated a strong preference for works of art offering compelling content. 


For the prestigious Best of Show award, Miller Zahn chose the large, colorful painting entitled “Between Classes” by Nan Liu. She said of Nan’s work, “I awarded Best in Show to (this work) due to its exceptional presence, superlative technique and intense color.” When Liu first arrived in Florida, he painted large, open landscapes with a small figure, often a self-portrait, in the composition. 


Liu had experienced the rapid industrialization in China, and said that over a 10-year period there, he found he could no longer see the sky. Lie’s earlier landscape paintings and current campus scenes from FAMU are eloquent responses to the artist’s environment.


Liu studied art as a child in China, excelling at Chinese brush painting and calligraphy. He came to the United States in 1999, studied Art Education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and earned a master’s degree in painting and doctorate in Art Education at Florida State University. Nan has exhibited and won awards for his work across the United States, and now teaches painting and art education at FAMU. 


Of the First Place Award winner, Miller Zahn said, “First Place goes to Philip Gleason’s ‘Bubbles,’ which beautifully contrasts positive and negative space using an unusual medium.” In this non-objective contemporary piece, Gleason uses materials many of us see as trash — Styrofoam, tempera and acrylic paint — and a concave carved design — to create the illusion of bubbles in a permanent metal or plastic material. 


Gleason, a native of Minnesota, earned his bachelor’s degree in sculpture from the University of Minnesota, a master’s degree in sculpture from Florida State University, and is an adjunct professor in the Florida State University Art Department. 


Gleason’s goal as an artist is to “challenge the viewer’s sense of reality employing artistic deception to visually defy the laws of nature.” Gleason demonstrates through his work that, although man believes he can defy the laws of nature, nature still rules.


Second-place award winner is longtime favorite and multiple Art in Gadsden award-winner Barbara Balzer. Her clay sculpture entitled “Hansel und Gretel Hunger Artists” tells an age-old fairy tale with a contemporary twist, commenting on the human condition and the challenges inherent in human relationships. Balzer earned two degrees: European Literature, a law degree and following a successful law career, a master’s degree in sculpture from Florida State University. 


A Tallahassee resident, Balzer is a national and European award-winning artist who has exhibited work extensively throughout the eastern United States and recently in Spain and Hungary.


For third place, she selected a newcomer to Art in Gadsden, photographer Amy Higgins, for her photograph entitled “Forgetting Oneself.” 


This image of a little girl conveys the presence of a place, and memories, like saying “Look, I’m still here and I matter.”


Higgins explores Southern country roads in hopes of finding once-loved places in a state of decline. Her images capture a sense of the former life of the place, showing neglect and the passage of time.


Be sure to see these award-winning works and more in the 24th Art in Gadsden exhibition, on display through Jan. 26. Art in Gadsden is presented by the West End Grille, Wesley Mullins Ameriprise Financial and The Gadsden County Times. 


The Gadsden Arts Center is located on Quincy’s historic Courthouse Square at 13 N. Madison St., 20 minutes from Tallahassee. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $1. The Mainstreet Café is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For tours and information, call 850-875-4866 or visit www.gadsdenarts.org.