A gallery view of “Convergence/Transcendence” at The Rourke. Contributed photo/The Rourke Art Gallery + Museum.
Twelve years ago, MSUM Art Professors Zhimin Guan and Brad Bachmeier became colleagues, art collaborators and friends.
At first glance, one might not see many parallels between the artists’ works. Guan, a native of Anhui province in China, works in the abstract world on a canvas surface to translate the story of our external and internal surroundings.
Bachmeier, a native of Anamoose, ND, is known for employing ancient clay techniques and modern sculptural concepts to invoke the most elemental aspects of human’s connection to nature and spirituality.
“Zhimi and I collaborated on an exhibition for the first time ten years ago at The Rourke, for which we used the title ‘Confluence,’ ” Bachmeier said. “I think at the time our work didn’t pair as easily, but it did give us the chance to collaborate on a few pieces, which we both found challenging and exciting.”
Like most artists, however, the two have been more intrigued than anything else by the challenges of converging their seemingly separate genres, styles, themes and imaginations.
Where the two artists undoubtedly converge is in their belief in nature’s benevolence. For the past several years, Guan and Bachmeier have been exploring America’s national parks, both together and separately, in hopes of “transcending some of the barriers and differences that we encountered during the first exhibition,” Bachmeier said.
Guan began painting scenes from national parks about five years ago, while Bachmeier started his journey more than a decade ago when he started working on his “Conservation Through Clay” series, which has taken him on nine stints as a National and State Parks artist in residence.
“The national parks are a great American concept and invention,” Guan said. “They are so vast and awesome, it only can be conveyed by expressive colors, large confident brushstrokes and vital gestural action during the painting process.”
“Cloudscape/Badlands,” a painting by Zhimin Guan, is paired with Brad Bachmeier’s sculpture, “Twin Sisters,” in the exhibit.
Converging and transcending
The results of their labors have now come full circle in their co-creation, “Convergence/Transcendence: The Art of Zhimin Guan and Brad Bachmeier, now showing at The Rourke Art Gallery + Museum through March 19.
“Convergence/Transcendence” features Guan’s oil paintings and watercolors, and Bachmeier’s wheel-thrown and hand-built ceramics. A number of selections, or “pairings,” focus on their collaborations.
“We found that the work really paired quite naturally and beautifully in color, theme, texture and concept,” Bachmeier said. “Bridging the gap between applying color and glaze to the ceramic work is still challenging, but we created a number of successful works and very much enjoyed the process.”
Fargo-based art critic and writer Pamela Sund describes the collaborative pieces of the exhibit between Guan and Bachmeier as a “tour-de-force” made up of many parallel explorations.
“While Bachmieier hones in on particulars and delicate finishing touches, Guan goes for the cosmic, the genesis in geological forms, presenting wildly energetic textures and swaths of color, singular strokes packed with vital energy in several solo works,” Sund wrote in her review.
What’s more, perhaps, is the boldness found in all the pieces Bachmeier and Guan chose for the exhibit. Giant sculptures and hunter-orange pops of color hit the eyes and force us to reckon with the vastness and power of nature—an experience akin to visiting the Grand Canyon at sunset or watching wild horses dominate The Badlands. It’s all there for us to witness at national parks or even in our own backyards.
Bachmeier plans to complete his tenth National Park Artist-in-Residency this summer and will create a body of work based on the experience. “This will nicely conclude this decade-long investigation and body of work,” he said.
For Guan, he hopes to take what he’s learned co-creating with Bachmeier and encourage other artists to take on similar collaborative projects. “We hope this collaboration can inspire local and regional artists for their efforts for collaboration. It is a great learning experience for me. I observed how a master ceramicist deals with forms, textures, colors and compositions. I will apply that knowledge in my own work in the future.”
Read more about the exhibit at The Rourke’s website.
Follow Brad Bachmeier’s work
Follow Zhimin Guan’s work
About the author
Lonna Whiting is a freelance writer and owner of lonna.co, a content marketing and communications agency located in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a frequent contributor to The Arts Partnership’s content library and also provides strategic communications consultation to the organization.