Nicolaysen Exhibits

Curator Eric Wimmer hangs a painting for Michael Copeland’s show 'It’s Only Make Believe' on Monday at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper. The work, along with Sarah Williams' 'Midwest Noir,' will remain in the gallery through May 25. 

Alan Rogers | Star-Tribune

One artist depicts small-town America through moody images of homes, barns and gas stations. A lone porch light, or perhaps the blue glow of a television, illuminates buildings from the surrounding darkness.

Another artist tweaks the traditional, using humor and allegory to share his message. His colors are bright; his images larger than life.

The contrasting styles will be apparent when the Nicolaysen Art Museum's newest exhibitions open today in downtown Casper. They feature the work of two very different artists. Sarah Williams is a 29-year-old painter from Missouri who’s show, “Midwest Noir,” draws from the rural town of her youth. Michael Copeland’s “It’s Only Make Believe” is a four-decade retrospective on the 68-year-old New Mexican’s career.

“It will be an interesting contrast,” said Nicolaysen Curator Eric Wimmer.

‘Midwest Noir’

Williams’ show revolves around small town life in the Midwest. But unlike classic representations of rural life, which often appear idyllic, her paintings have an unsettling edge. They are set in the final moments of dusk, or at night. The darkness creates a sense of isolation.

But with the quiet, Williams offers hints of the people who populate her buildings. They show up in subtle clues: tracks on the driveway or a single light inside a house.

“It’s a sense of the people without showing them,” she said. “It allows the viewer to put together their own story line.”

Williams grew up in Brookfield, Mo., a town of about 4,500 in the northern part of the state. She attended graduate school in Dallas and the disorienting change spurred her to paint the places of her youth.

“I guess I was so homesick, and felt out of place, that I almost needed that subject matter,” she said. “I almost didn’t realize how much I needed it until I moved back to Missouri.”

‘It’s Only Make Believe’

While Williams’ show focuses on a single concept and medium, Copeland’s spans nearly 40 years and includes paintings, photography and collages.

“I really like to leave it open,” he said. “In my studio, all the materials are open and available. What suits me is what I choose.”

Copeland’s contemporary pieces are notable for their bold imagery. But his art hasn’t always been that way. In the 1970s, his work was almost exclusively monochromatic. He moved to subdued colors in the ‘80s before arriving at the brilliant colors he now incorporates.

The Alamogordo, N.M., resident doesn’t expect he’ll ever return to subdued colors. He prefers the lightness to the gloom.

“I’ve looked these days far more on the positive and to the brighter side of things.”

Though the show spans almost four decades, there are common threads that run through the work. He mixes allegory and humor, taking images and reversing their traditional meaning.

Along the way, he creates a story, though he leaves the conclusion to the viewer.

“I want everyone to have their own interpretation,” he said. “Sometimes people don't like that very much. They want me to define it more, but I don't like to do that.”

Contact Joshua Wolfson at 307-266-0582 or at josh.wolfson@trib.com. Visit http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/wolfjammies to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson.

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