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Five questions with: artist Maggie Vandewalle

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Maggie Vandewalle Artist Reception

Catiri’s Art Oasis — Saturday, Aug. 4 at 2 p.m.

Catkins — Maggie Vandewalle

Raised just outside Iowa City, Maggie Vandewalle went to the University of Iowa on an art scholarship and has been painting ever since. Although her studies at UI were focused initially on printmaking, she fell in love with watercolors.

Now, painting is her primary medium, and she creates beautiful, off-kilter work that makes you question the evidence of your eyes. Vandewalle paints what should be there instead of what is, teasing at a world existing beneath, or beside, our own. Her paintings are reminders of the truths we saw more clearly as children.

Vandewalle left Iowa for Tennessee 14 years ago, but her work is still carried by Catiri’s Art Oasis, a gallery in Amana that has grown up alongside her, carrying her early work when it first opened 17 years ago.

“It has been amazing to see her develop as an artist, going from a gifted young artist to a talented, accomplished, well-rounded one,” gallery owner Jenise Catiri said in an email.

This weekend, Vandewalle is heading back home to Iowa to open a full solo show at the gallery. She’ll have 20 “fresh-off-the-easel” originals as well as numerous prints. The opening reception, with Vandewalle in attendance, will run from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4 (the gallery is open until 8 p.m.). Vandewalle’s show will be up through the end of the month or “as long as it lasts,” Catiri said.

Vandewalle answered questions for Little Village via email in advance of her homecoming.

How have your 14 years in Tennessee treated you, artistically? What have you learned about your process, and how does place affect your style and your content choices?

Moving to Chattanooga has been a great experience for me. There is a thriving arts community here that really welcomed my work, and I’ve had great success rebuilding what I left back in Iowa. The city sits by the Tennessee River and is surrounded by mountains. There are so many trees!! I think if one thing affected my art down here it was the trees. In addition to being beautiful, they tend to close up open spaces. You don’t see the vast expanse of sky like you do in Iowa, and I think as a result my work shifted from being completely covered in detail to allowing for more open spaces, a place for the eye to rest.

Hare-brained — Maggie Vandewalle

The detailed realism of your paintings highlights and heightens the whimsy when it appears. How would you describe your mode of seeing? Do you concretize your ideas before they hit the paper or as part of your process?

Generally when I start a new piece I have a pretty good idea what I’m aiming for. There are surprises, however. One piece several years ago started with three hares sitting on big rocks. As I was detailing the rocks, from out of nowhere the Moai heads on Easter Island popped into my brain, and just like that the hares were sitting on giant heads and the title became, in fact, Easter Island. I’m very open to changing the direction throughout the process and allowing the work to dictate what needs to happen, though sometimes it’s hard to let go of the initial idea!

What lessons from the U of I do you feel you’ve most internalized as an artist?

The art program at the U of I gave me the ability to explore diverse mediums and to discover that I was much better at some than others. I found a love of sculpture there, though I didn’t choose to follow it. I also discovered that I wasn’t particularly fond of painting until I discovered watercolor.

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The Tipplers — Maggie Vandewalle

Looking at the narrative underpinnings of your work, what stories do you feel it’s most important to tell? Why do they move you to create?

I don’t know that it’s a story so much that I’m telling as it is a desire to create a feeling that there ought to be a story. I love humor and tongue-in-cheek titles, things that make people laugh outright when they enter my booth at a show. I also love the magic of the natural world and all those critters in it: the whimsy. I create to elicit those feelings.

Why did now seem right to return to Iowa for this show? How does the show reflect this moment in your artistic career?

Coming home for the show just seemed to be good timing. My schedule fit, the gallery’s fit — it all came together with rare ease. I think that at this point in my career I’ve mastered the how of a painting, i.e. I know how to paint a rock. Now it’s about why I want to paint that rock.


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