Hip to be square

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Times are changing, and it's now cool to be square.

The square, equal on each side, has become the "it" shape of design and -- ever so slowly -- is being accepted in the art world.

Members of the Mixed Media Painting School of Steamboat Springs deny that they chose the "One Square Foot" theme as a rebellion against the traditional rectangular canvas, but it is exactly that.

Go to any art supply store and you will be offered hundreds of canvases in a variety of rectangular sizes. Since the time of the Greeks, the rectangle, divided in two by the Golden Mean, has been considered "aesthetically perfect."

Well, the rectangle can take a walk.

The idea for a show of painted 12-by-12-inch canvases came out of special necessity. River Art Studio and Gallery, where the show will hang for the next two weeks, is too small for 14 artists to display large work.

The Mixed Media Painting School is a group of more than 20 artists who meet Wednesdays at the Depot Art Center to share ideas and create pieces of mixed media art. The group has at least two shows a year, each based on a theme.

(In the past, they painted about "Transitions," "Works of Heart" and "Irregularities.")

"This time, we decided to focus on size instead of concept," artist Keri Searls said.

For several members of the group, the shape shift was a challenge, but for some, such as Searls and Susan Thompson, it was a chance to show the advantages of a shape they had been exploring artistically for years.

"They used to say, 'Don't use squares. They are so unartistic,' but there is something about squares. They are simple. They are safe," artist Susan Frederick said.

"I hate the traditional 8-by-10 and 11-by-14 canvases," Searls said. "I either paint on squares or on long and skinny (pieces of wood or canvas). It feels more contemporary to me."

With the "One Square Foot" show, Searls took her chance to begin a new series. For the past couple of years, Searls has been painting house imagery and exploring the concept of "home" in her work. With the end of a one-person show at Comb Goddess, she purged herself of every impulse to make art about houses.

Her new work focuses on the things people hide.

"I won't say what these people are hiding because I don't want people to generalize," she said. She only pointed to the rubber bike tube strips the painted characters have across their stomachs.

Like Searls, Thompson avoids the traditional.

Thompson almost always paints on square wooden panels. The piece she submitted for "One Square Foot" is based on the pattern of lichen. It replicates the unnatural look of the natural world as orange lichen eats away at stone.

At the time of the interview, the paint and encaustic was still drying on Thompson's painting.

"I am continually fascinated with the discovery of and appreciation for a quiet aesthetic found in unsuspecting places," Thompson wrote in her artist's statement. "'Lichen' exemplifies one of my more literal attempts to represent a natural abstraction."

The "One Square Foot" show will be on display for two weeks at River Art Studio. For the opening reception, they plan a coffee house atmosphere with records playing in the background. (Record album covers happen to measure 12 by 12 inches.)

The show is the first of 2004 for ArtLink. The nonprofit arts organization opens its gallery, River Art Studio and Gallery, to one-person and group shows.

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