“Old Dogs” exhibits new work at Urbana gallery

The Cinema Gallery in downtown Urbana will be hosting Old Dogs Redux through September 27. Erica Magda

The Cinema Gallery in downtown Urbana will be hosting “Old Dogs Redux” through September 27. Erica Magda

By Emily Thiersch

Urbana has long been an artist’s haven, a place where Illinois artists and intellectuals – many of them University professors – can find an audience for their work.

Some of these artists say the University is in need of an artistic rejuvenation, claiming that it is not the dynamic, creatively teeming place it was 40 years ago.

“The University was at its peak in the 1960s and 1970s when there were fabulous people, exciting people,” said Frank Gallo, a retired University professor in FAA.

“Now, everything is business and sports. The University is not supporting the arts program, for reasons I don’t understand.”

But if the arts at the University are in decline, the ex-faculty – some of whom, including Gallo, taught at the University in the 1960s and 1970s – are still creating great art, some more prolifically than ever and invigorating the Champaign-Urbana art scene.

The new works of retired University and Parkland College professors are being showcased at the Cinema Gallery at 120 Main St. in Urbana.

The gallery is owned and run by Carolyn Baxley.

The “Old Dogs Redux” show will run through Sept. 27. Judging by the quality of their work, the featured ex-faculty members seem to be as creative and energized as ever.

In their latest work, these “old dogs” have played with new themes, working on every scale, from fist-sized sculptures to giant canvases.

In former University professor Dennis Rowan’s mixed media work, the artist mixes abstract forms with detailed pictorials in bizarre, fantastical landscapes.

One landscape example pairs mokeys and dolls in a seemingly disjointed narrative.

In his artist’s statement, Rowan writes that since retiring, he has “experienced a sense of focus and lucidity unlike anything I have known in the past.”

The Cinema Gallery is a converted movie theater lobby, opened by Baxley in 2001.

The gallery showcases the work of more than 50 central Illinois artists.

The gallery has, against the odds, thrived in the relatively small town of Urbana, bringing together local artists and art buyers in an intimate setting.

“Art galleries usually cannot succeed in a city with less than one million people,” Gallo said. “Many people have tried to open an art gallery in Champaign-Urbana. But only one with smarts, determination and a get-up-and-go attitude can make it work. (Carolyn) has made a great contribution.”

Gallo credits Baxley’s ability to put together “wonderful openings” and maintain a sizeable client list.

The rooms of the multi-leveled gallery space are filled with artwork, the walls stacked with paintings and vibrating with color in a way that makes any particular piece impossible to miss.

Faculty artists do have the chance to show their work on campus at the Krannert Art Museum.

But, the Cinema Gallery makes their art accessible to Urbana residents in the market to buy art.

“People are so used to seeing art that’s distilled and two-dimensional, online or on TV,” said Chris Berti, a sculpture professor at Parkland College. “Here they have the chance – if they have the means to do so – to actually bring it home, and it changes every day.”