Choosing Inspiration

Fechner taps outsider art, UWEC education in show

Marie Anthony

ALL HAIL THE KING! “The King and Mr. Sipps” is one of the pieces by Grace Fechner included in her solo show, “Show and Tell,” at the Volume One Gallery.

‘Angels don’t descend from the heavens and whisper ideas into my ears,” explains artist Grace Fechner. For a writer struggling to explain Fechner’s work on paper –  everything filling my mind seems too simple and too complicated all at once – the words are both a comfort and a challenge. Why am I waiting for the heavens to open up and pour a flood of inspiration over me when I have all the inspiration I need in Grace herself?

“My work is not a question or an answer, but somewhere in between.” – artist Grace Fechner

Angels may not descend from the heavens for Grace, but the more I read her words and studied her art, the more I realized that I need to let go and learn to see what is right in front of me. Maybe – in some ways – I’m envious that Grace is able to do that. When I asked her about what inspires her, she told me, “Inspiration is a choice I have to make. I have to decide to pick a topic, set aside the time, and do the work. If I’m not paying attention, then I’m not making anything.”

In between residencies, working odd jobs, creating artwork, eating, sleeping, and making sure to live life like a “normal person,” the UW-Eau Claire alumna created the works that make up her first solo art show, “Show and Tell,” which kicked off Sept. 1 at the Volume One Gallery.

Fechner found her inspiration for “Show and Tell” during her three-month residency in Stodvarfjordur, Iceland. “I was in a village with a population of only 200 people, surrounded by mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. I shared a small apartment with a rotating group of strangers, who eventually became my friends,” she says. “We were only allowed to get sick on Wednesdays because that was the only day the doctor was in town! Being out of my comfort zone in this specific situation amplified social efforts.”

Face-to-face encounters and the ways in which we socialize and communicate are themes threaded throughout “Show and Tell.” Grace employed childlike techniques (scribbling, tearing, using neon construction paper and awkward smiley faces, etc.) in order to – as she says – “echo the learning process through which people are taught how to communicate who they are to others.” Grace says, “I pondered how and why people are socialized a specific way, and I wanted to partially revert back to a time when I didn’t know any better.”

It’s very apropos, then, that Grace’s art takes shape in her childhood bedroom (now her studio). “My process is a balance of careful plotting and allowing room for surprise,” she shares. “The final product is a subtle variation of what I had planned because I allow room for mistakes that I work into the final composition. This is why there are usually many layers to my work.”

When it comes to what influences her aesthetic, Grace credits Art Brut or “Outsider Art,” which is a term coined to represent works created by untrained artists, many of whom suffer from some kind of mental illness. “I am oftentimes trying to harness that sort of raw, awkward naiveté,” she says. “It is pitted against my formal training, so my work is the result of those two things clashing and/or working with one another.”

Through her work, Grace hopes to achieve greater human connection. “My work is not a question or an answer, but somewhere in between,” she says. “There are no hard-and-fast conclusions to be made. It’s not going to save the world in an immediate and tangible way, but art does have a purpose ... it creates empathy. It circumvents polite conversation and decorous behavior to get directly to the root of something deeper.”

“Show and Tell,” an exhibit of work by Grace Fechner • through Oct. 28 • The Volume One Gallery at the Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St., Eau Claire • FREE 

Visit Grace Fechner's website »

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