New River’s Edge Gallery show features the work of Audrey Pongracz, Ingrid Blixt, and Corey Scillian 

Surreal talk

Audrey Pongracz, 35, of Southgate, has been with River's Edge the longest. A self-taught oil painter, Pongracz started when she was 13, but waited for her son to start going to school before she started taking it more seriously. "They were the first gallery I ever got to show at," she says of River's Edge, giving her a show when she was 27. "They gave me my first chance. Every year I try to do something with them."

She says she was a big fan of Salvador Dalí when she was growing up, and adored the Pop Surrealism of Mark Ryden when he came to prominence in the late '90s. "When I was introduced to his work, of course that had a huge effect on me," she says of what was dubbed the "Lowbrow" scene. She arrived at her own illustrative style evocative of Lowbrow that uses women as the central figures.

"I've always just loved paintings of women. I think a lot of people do," Pongracz says. "I've tried to paint men. I guess it's just because I'm a woman, it comes easier. It's kind of a reflection of me and my thoughts."

Also in the show is Ingrid Blixt, 36, of Lansing. Originally from Romania, Blixt attended the University of Art and Design in Cluj-Napoca, where she wound up first visiting Michigan with a program for students 14 years ago. She returned the next year after she finished school and has lived here ever since.

Blixt works somewhat unusually, creating graphite drawings on a plaster surface she applies on wood panels. She arrived at the method 10 years ago, after a time she spent painting murals and drawing on walls. "It's such a great surface to work on," she says. "I decided after that to make my own walls. I'm using a finer, more durable plaster. The binding agent is strong, so it's a very nice hard surface. For the very fine details, I can scratch the graphite away. I get very nice, fine lines through scratching."

Blixt works mostly in black-and-white, which gives her work a solemn, sort of dreamy quality. A number of drawings in this show are from a series centered on World War II. "They're historical drawings. The people depicted are real," she says. "The women are SS officers. They're pictures of the moment that they were arrested by British troops."

She says her interest in World War II imagery came from books her father had. "The images were very graphic, of course," she says. "They just stuck with me." She says that though her family was not directly involved in World War II, she is still fascinated by stories from that era. "Even today I'm still thinking about it, so it must be so powerful," she says.

The final artist involved in the show is Corey Scillian from Grosse Pointe Park ("Do I have to tell you?" Scillian replies when we ask her age). Scillian differs from the other two artists in that she primarily works in ceramics — though her work is equally surreal and symbolic.

Scillian says she originally came from an education background. She didn't really get started in art until later in life, when she was 35. "I never considered being an artist or being an art major," she says. "I really can't explain why. I think at the time I was very [practical] minded in figuring out how to support myself."

Scillian says once she graduated from school, she felt "this kind of urge to be making something." She says she inherited it from her parents — her father was a dentist who made stained glass and jewelry on the side, and her mother made fiber art and refurbished old furniture. "They were very hands-on, DIY-maker types of people," Scillian says. She says she spent 10 years trying to figure out how she would scratch that creative itch before she put my hands in clay. "Then it was like, ding! Found it!" she says.

She took a class at Pewabic, learning how to create functional pottery. "I was voracious about learning how to throw (on a wheel)," she says. "I could not think about anything else but mastering that skill set." She says there was something about the athleticism and precision of being able to throw that was appealing to her.

"I did that for a long time, but as I got better at it, I also started to think, 'Well, this is fun, but I want to do something else now,'" Scillian says. After injuring her back, she could no longer throw on a wheel, and sought a different way to use clay. "As soon as I realized there was a way to tell your story through clay sculpture, it took me to a completely different path," she says.

Now Scillian works figuratively, often incorporating animal and human forms into her work. She tries to tell a story with her work, which sometimes uses non-ceramic elements — such as "True North Roulette," which combines a clay goat head and weather vane elements.

"If you look at the compass part of it, all the directions go north. The inside of it is actually a roulette wheel," she says. "The concept at that time was that people kind of come up with whatever reasons they need to make the decisions that they make work for them, so that their personal true north is often a game of chance."

Scillian says she tries to have her sculptures fully conceived on paper before she starts building them. She also says her work usually has an element of humor to it. "One of my greatest joys is to watch someone who doesn't know who I am look at the piece and read the title and watch them smile or laugh or get the joke," she says. "Not everyone is going to respond that way. but when you connect, when you have that one connection, it's magic."

Breathe Fire. Drink Water. Repeat. has an artists reception 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 19 at the River's Edge Gallery, 3024 Biddle Ave, Wyandotte; 734-246-9880; Runs through Oct. 5. — mt

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