First Street: Angels Over Eureka

Nov 13, 2006

Humboldt State University First Street Gallery is set to open a new exhibit: "Angels," a one-woman show by local artist Gwen Thoele. Her oil paintings will be on display November 28 through December 22, 2006.

Thoele’s angelic images are as beautiful as they are diverse, often expressing hope humor and sometimes—angst. She is not making religious statements, but paints these images because they are so open to her imagination and interpretation.

Thoele has an infectious laugh and a warm spirit that comes through in her paintings. An avid bird watcher, her love for birds surfaces in the depiction of feathers as angel wings. Her sense of humor comes through in most of her work; it is subtle in pieces like Panama Angel #4 and more pronounced in pieces like The Angel Takes Me for a Stroll.

Panama Angel #4 is a portrait of an elderly friend, Grace, who Thoele met on a bird watching trip to Central America. A large bird is perched on the subject’s head as she smiles from behind her large, thick glasses. The painting seems to glow as the background displays a mosaic wall of painted copper leaf. As the light hits it, the angel-bird on her head is illuminated.

The Angel Takes Me for a Stroll is a self-portrait of the artist as a small girl. She is walking hand-in-hand with a girl angel who appears to be only a few years older than herself. In the angel’s other hand is a devil mask bearing a long nose and an evil smile. It is unclear where the two are headed or what will happen to the child, but the gold glitter sun seems to cast an assuring light.

Some of her other paintings question the purported immortality of angels, as in her paintings Are Angels Born? and Do Angels Die? In Are Angels Born? we are invited into a private moment of childbirth. The mother angel stands alone in an illuminated pool of water, surrounded by color and light. The scene is serene and peaceful. Do Angels Die? portrays an angel entering a barren landscape while weeping. It is a skeletal figure with brightly colored, fractured dragonfly wings wandering into the unknown. The pigments used in the painting create a mood of sorrow and loneliness through the use of muted color, while Are Angels Born? follows an opposite trend using rich hues, which gives rise to hope.

Thoele’s uses many images drawn from memories of Chicago, her hometown. One such painting, Maxwell Street Angels, depicts a scene from a Chicago street fair. The dark colored canvas reveals a classic Chicago blues-filled night as an angel gently strums his guitar. Laying in wait, another angel displays gold watches under his wing like a shady sidewalk salesman. The actions of some of her characters are not traditionally angelic and are shown sometimes in dark circumstances. By introducing her angels into mundane circumstances, Thoele’s imagery offers a creative variation on an otherwise traditional subject.

A reception for the artist will be held on Saturday December 2, 2006, from 6 to 9 p.m.

Humboldt State University First Street Gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m. and is located at 422 First Street, Eureka, California. Admission is free. Those planning group tours are encouraged to call ahead. For more information call 707-826-3424.