Odes to nature and nonconformity: Two bright and bold painting exhibitions will deck M State's halls this winter

December 21, 2023
A piece from Jenny Field's "Nature's Alchemy" exhibition. Painting of bright red mushrooms.
A piece from Jenny Field's "Nature's Alchemy" exhibition.

Two bold and colorful art exhibitions will be brightening the walls of Legacy Hall this winter, at M State’s Fergus Falls campus.

“Nature’s Alchemy,” a collection of nature-inspired acrylic and oil paintings by Otter Tail County artist Jenny Field, and “Thirteen: Nonconformity,” an exhibit of finger-painted flowers and powerful representations of young people by northern Minnesota artist Alice Blessing, will be showing at the Charles Beck and Waage galleries, respectively. “Nature’s Alchemy” will run from January 10 to March 21, while “Thirteen: Nonconformity” will have an extended run from January 10 to May 4.

There will be a shared reception with both artists on Thursday, Jan. 25 from 1-3 p.m. in Legacy Hall. All are welcome and there is no cost to attend.

Lori Charest, M State ceramics instructor and art show curator for the college, says, Both exhibits are wonderfully colorful to brighten the winter days. Each artist uses color in ways that bring their images to life.”

With highly pigmented and textured paintings of flora, fauna, the four seasons and other elements of nature, Field’s exhibition is based on the beauty and mystery of the natural world. It will include a cohesive mix of previous and new pieces, none that have ever been shown at M State before.

A painting from Alice Blessing's "Thirteen: Nonconformity" exhibition. A tween child with a large brightly-painted crown of flowers.
A painting from Alice Blessing's "Thirteen: Nonconformity" exhibition.

“Each piece is deeply rooted in my own perception of nature’s alchemy, which lives in the reality that nature is forever unfolding, dynamic, healing, often enchanting, and a continuous process characterized by the power of transformation,” Field explains in her artist statement. “The renewing and often mystical strength of bold color and nature is my direction. Natural surroundings…have always been sources of strength, healing and inspiration for myself and my work.”

Blessing, who paints with her fingers rather than brushes, began creating “Thirteen: Nonconformity” as her child was entering the tween years. She originally intended the exhibition to be an expression and celebration of the strength of young girls, using traditionally “girly” colors and large crowns of flowers to claim and display that strength. As Blessing’s work on the series of paintings went on, however, her original intent expanded and evolved into something more inclusive and representational.

“After I began Z’s portrait, my child told me that their gender is non-binary, rather than female,” Blessing says in her artist statement. “I had to examine my own antiquated ideas of gender, and I really struggled to evolve my core beliefs from a binary gender system to finally, deeply understand that gender is a spectrum. Through learning more about contemporary gender identities, my child taught me how to be more inclusive and understanding.”

“While trying to tell my own story, I found it would be irresponsible to do it without an intersectional lens,” she adds. “It’s vital that I, as a portrait painter, ensure representation of people who may not see themselves in mainstream media. Representation matters. Even though it isn’t only about girls anymore, this series is still about power. It’s about standing up for oneself, no matter how ‘other’ one feels, and loving one’s identity. At its heart, it’s an ode to nonconformity and inclusivity.”

Both exhibitions are free and open to the public. The Charles Beck and Waage galleries are open during regular M State campus hours. For more information on Fine Arts events at M State, visit minnesota.edu/fine-arts.