Earth, space/ceramic, paint

New Grounded exhibition at Dayton Visual Arts Center

By Benjamin Smith
Photo: From the Grounded exhibit at DVAC through Feb. 28; Beth Holyoke, Rabbit Head, 2013, ceramic cut out

Rightly or wrongly, “grounded” may not be the first word that immediately springs to mind when you think of artists. Yet, a new exhibition at the Dayton Visual Arts Center (DVAC) featuring the works of Ohio artists John Kortlander and Beth Holyoke might change some connotations and foster greater appreciation for the visual arts.

Eva Buttacavoli, DVAC’s executive director, clarified the idea behind Grounded: “As with all DVAC exhibitions, we seek to make compelling, relevant and playful art experiences for the community and connect to what’s happening in the art world today. The title ‘Grounded’ was suggested by our exhibitions and program committee. Both artists come from a very spiritual place in their work and are committed to the messages that they impart in their craft – it was mentioned they both seem quite ‘grounded’ in their concepts.

“And then there is also a sort of ‘so obvious, it’s silly’ nod to the fact Beth’s ceramic originates with the earth – the ground – and John’s style is notable because there often is no ground – objects seem to be flying around in space […] a very contemporary concept in narrative painting. Also, sometimes certain titles just sound cool.”

Kortlander, a professor at the Columbus College of Art and Design, has made a splash with his short films and paintings throughout the United States and in Europe. His works have appeared in exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution, the Studio Arts Center International in Florence, Italy, and the Kulturrathaus in Dresden, Germany. Holyoke, whose ceramic works have been exhibited in galleries and shows across the state, might be best known locally for her highly-praised “Springs” sign in Yellow Springs’s Bill Duncan Park. She has also served as an art instructor at the John Bryan Community Pottery cooperative, the Rosewood Arts Centre and the Dayton Art Institute.

Kortlander and Holyoke were selected to appear at DVAC from its 2012 Biennial Call for Exhibitors. (Out of 117 applicants, only 29 were chosen to be featured during the course of the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons.) While the two work in different mediums, their artistic visions could be considered similar – though subtly so.

“Both artists’ work are characterized by a unique combination of realism and surrealist abstraction,” Buttacavoli said. “Storms, towers, gothic arches, crosses, soccer balls, ladders and machine guns all swirl together like photoshopped metaphors for life and loss in Kortlander’s large-scale paintings. Holyoke’s otherworldly ceramic ‘heads’ – like Lotus Lady, Garden Girl, Rabbit Head and Mini Me – explore the interconnectedness of art and nature.”

As a result, Grounded should attract a wide range of attendees.

“Artists will love the wildly disparate applications of paint in Kortlander’s work and Holyoke’s mastery of patina,” Buttacavoli said. “The curious will love deciphering and critiquing the connections between Kortlander’s floating objects and Holyoke’s wondrous facial expressions, and her affinity for birds, animals and gardens. And art lovers will love Kortlander’s discordant juxtaposition of modern imagery on great big canvases – much like the groundbreaking work of the neo-expressionists of the 1970s and 1980s – and Holyoke’s ceramic hybridizations.”

Although they may be challenged by the exhibition at certain points, attendees will certainly be educated. This is crucial because Grounded is part of the REACH Across Dayton program, which promotes cross-cultural understanding and education between communities in the Miami Valley.

“REACH Across Dayton provides an integrated exploration of the similarities and diversities of cultures by studying the arts, humanities, beliefs and traditions of these groups,” Buttacavoli explained. “Besides exhibitions and events running concurrently at each venue, exhibiting artists and scholars convene each year for a full day of performances, workshops and breakout sessions in the REACH Across Dayton Studies Conference at Sinclair Community College. This year’s conference will take place on Friday, Feb. 28.”

Of course, the appeal of Grounded will likely transcend the Gem City, and raise awareness outside the Miami Valley about what the DVAC has to offer.

“We believe in supporting artists first and catalyzing their work to create public engagement,” Buttacavoli said. “The DVAC is not driven by a presupposition about what the audience might be ready for. I like the tension that develops in that. I think for anyone working in the arts in a smaller city, you’re always comparing yourself to the bigger organization and that’s something you have to find peace with. As a cultural producer, it’s an impossible measurement. Your budgets don’t align and your spaces are very different. But I think there’s value in being present and being committed to building something there that contains a broader perspective, but also has real value for the particular city and region.”


Grounded runs through Friday, Feb. 28, at the Dayton Visual Arts Center, 118 N. Jefferson St. Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. For more information about the DVAC, please call 937.224.3822 or visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Smith at

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