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Leslie Van Stavern Millar, owner of the Brunswick Arts Studios and Gallery is hosting "We the People," a politically themed group art exhibition, this month at the gallery. 

TOMMY MARTINO, Missoulian

There were no shortage of ideas or contributors when Leslie Van Stavern Millar began discussing a politically themed art show.

"Without any effort or any pre-meditated curating, it came out of conversations with friends," said Millar, a longtime Missoula artist who owns the Brunswick Arts Studios and Gallery on Railroad Street. It came up with friends, and grew into a full group show, "We the People," that's open through the end of the month at her gallery.

Some of the artists are members of the Pattee Canyon Ladies Salon, a group that regularly meets for sessions and shows their work at the Brunswick. Others aren't, but will be familiar to art lovers.

Dana Boussard, a well-known Arlee artist, contributed finely rendered symbolist drawings augmented with text, in addition to a series of photographs of a performance piece, "Like Mother, Like Daughter." For the piece, she painted her daughter, Ariana, with text from books by white supremacist author Ben Klausen, deliberately overlapping the words until they become unintelligible.

Stephanie Frostad often seeks literary and historical sources for her narrative paintings, which Millar said can be political although quite subtle about those messages.

"Tricoteuse (Madame Defarge)" depicts a character from Dicken's "A Tale of Two Cities," his novel about the French Revolution. In Frostad's portrait, Defarge knits a long, flowing scarf — bright red against an otherwise muted palette. In the book, she knits the names of her enemies into the patterns.

Millar, who paints in gouache, revisits a series, "Ideal Girls," that originated about 15 years ago. They were inspired by a book of vintage educational "charts," or instructional posters, from India, that depicted positive behaviors for boys. She adapted the concept for American girls, in particular choosing admonitions for tangible things (gardening, reading, etc.) during the rise of smartphones and digital lifestyles for a solo exhibition at the Brink Gallery in Missoula.

After the November election, she decided to revisit the series in a slightly different manner: "Ideal Girls and Strong Women." (Adding women allowed her to include a piece encouraging women to vote.)

One piece, "Ideal Girls and Strong Women Stand United," was painted after President Donald Trump's "Muslim ban." Another, "Ideal Girls Keep Communication Lines Open" circles back to her technological concerns, showing various modes of staying in touch (phone, writing) along with two figures meeting in person (the preferred method). She's printed postcards of the paintings, should viewers want to mail something to their representatives.

Humor, often barbed, naturally plays a part in the show. Retired Missoula Art Museum curator Stephen Glueckert contributed a series of drawings of an anthropomorphized mammal named Ronald Skunk with a characteristic blonde coiffure and red tie. In cartoon dialogue bubbles, he asks, "Is there a locker room in the White House?" and says, "We will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it."

Kristi Hager submitted works in four different styles and mediums. Her fabric works were crafted from camouflage material in often non-camouflaging color schemes such as pink, purple and orange. Some are stitched into flags, others are arranged on a small table as napkins for a dining set.

Hager, best known for her paintings, produced small pieces of Trump's head emerging like genies from a lamp; and a small painting of the outline of the contiguous United States on a blue background. The surface was cracked, like paint exposed too long to the elements.

Millar said that piece "combines elegant artistry and a political statement" toward an "emblematic" result.

For an assemblage piece titled "Pax Mundi," or "World Peace," she painted a bowling ball like a globe and placed it on a table in its open case.

A few of ceramic artist Beth Lo's works defend the role of the press in scenarios painted on porcelain plates. A wall piece, "East to West," comprises a row of three Chinese figures suspended by balloon. Lo, whose parents emigrated to the United States from China, has often drawn on issues in the latter country in her work. In her artist statement, she writes that this piece "addresses China's rise as a world power, and the accompanying Westernization, which has fostered an obsession with money and violence." The figures each hold a grasp a telling object in their small porcelain hands. The first is Mao's little red book, the symbol of the Cultural Revolution, the second is a dollar bill, and the third figure ominously brandishes a gun.

The piece dates back several years, and is rooted in Lo's five trips to China over the course of 20 years. During her first visit in 1995, her relative still wore Mao jackets and lived in dim, concrete apartments. By 2013, they had computers and IKEA furniture. Lo certainly doesn't idealize the previous era (hence the inclusion of the red book), but said the problems with capitalism were troubling: pollution, alienation, violence, income disparity, rapid development and alienation.

She thought the piece would be a "warning" for how the switch to capitalism "can change the social situation and the social order in the world."

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