An assemblage piece, paintings of grain elevators and old hotels, colorful minimalist rectangles.

Not many of those sparse descriptions likely come up when one thinks of contemporary art in Missoula, but three pieces like those were awarded top honors at the Radius Gallery's second annual Juried Exhibition.

"A show like this highlights the breadth and depth of talent in our state and beyond," said Kristi Scott, curator of the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in Great Falls. She served as juror for the exhibition with Hadley Ferguson, the Missoula painter and muralist; and Liz Dye, a member of the Missoula Art Museum's board of directors and an art collector.

The three were charged with vetting the final 100 works by 61 artists that were trimmed down from 550 submissions by 150 artists. The Radius held its first juried exhibition last summer as a way to open up the gallery to works by artists it doesn't represent. The response to the show, called "Scapes," was positive from both artists and the public.

Jason Neal, who co-owns the gallery with Lisa Simon, said it's an opportunity to open their entire gallery space for a variety of works by a large number of artists.

The jurors vetted the artworks during a blind process in which they couldn't see the artists' names. They reviewed them first online, and then took one more pass during a six-hour session at the gallery.


The ribbon winners were "Dust," by Portland, Oregon, artist Smith Eliot. The mixed-media assemblage piece opens like a case, revealing a black-and-white photograph of two figures wrapped in sheets, intertwined from the waist down. On the opposing side, Eliot arranged shelves with bones, tiny scrolls, what appears to a wasp or bee's nest.

The pieces are "completely conceived," Neal said, showing how the cases are completely decorated and can close. The outsides show those figures standing at opposite sides of the room, with the sheet extending the vast space between them.

Alan McNiel of Troy won a ribbon for a large oil painting of the Ceretana, a former grain elevator on Missoula's Westside.

In a phone interview, Scott said she admired that he wasn't intimidated by working on a large scale, in addition to the content of the canvas.

"I feel like people really connect it with our agricultural heritage in our state," she said.

Tyler Nansen of Missoula was awarded for two minimalist rectangles titled "Window No. 8." Each rectangle is divided into two halves: black and industrial yellow, and a red-orange and muted sky blue.

"They made for really enjoyable pieces that make very much a statement on the wall," Scott said.

Dennis Johnson, an acrylic painter who spends time in Palm Springs and Montana, won for "Roy's Motel and Cafe," a rendering of an old-school sign and outbuildings with crisp lines.

Montanans were awarded all four of the silver ribbons.

Missoula painter Stephanie Frostad's North Hills skyscape is called "Clouds Massing" (graphite, oil).

Lillian Nelson's "So It Goes," employs what Scott called a "novel idea." She constructed a small, rotating wooden box that's painted on four sides with imagery inspired by Kurt Vonnegut's World War II novel, "Slaughterhouse-Five." On the top side, she wrote out text from the book.

Missoulian Rick Heilman's "Tekka 1" is a raku vase with thick, black geometrical lines breaking up the colored finish.

Robin Earles' "In Progress" is an oil still life with a delicate palette and loose brush work that the judges "all reacted to," Scott said.

Scott noted that as Paris Gibson curator, she vets work frequently, including for its annual art auction.

The process relies on digital images and slides, which are often wanting.

"Oftentimes the quality of the image isn't representative of the work itself. That's why it's so important that artists learn how to master photography so they can represent their art well," she said.

From her post in Great Falls, Scott said she's exposed to artists from both sides of the state, from the mountains to the prairies.

Yet she still discovered many artists during the jury process, including some talents that she'd like to work with in the future.

"It is far-reaching, it is varied and never fails to surprise me," she said. "It was fun to work on the other side of the mountains and be introduced to other artists."

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