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Birds And Bowls And Rings 

Exhibit examines nature and how we relate to it

Currently at Hidell Brooks Gallery at the South End Steel Yard is an exhibit of recent works by artist David Kroll. Given the economic times, it's surprising that nearly all of Kroll's work on display was sold during the recent opening. Fact of the matter is, most people just aren't spending money on things that aren't genuine necessities -- it's just not in the budget these days.Considering the scope of Kroll's talent, however, it isn't surprising that the show was a near sell-out.

Kroll's work is odd. But in a very good way.

Using oil mostly on canvas, the artist recreates birds he's seen in the world and generally balances them atop delicate porcelain bowls, perhaps throwing in a piece of jewelry, such as a ring or two. Then it's all cast against a backdrop of a terrain of some sort that usually varies depending on the mood he's trying to create.

It may sound a little unusual, but it's really not. In fact, some of the images are so breathtaking, the odd quotient falls to the wayside.

His use of color and texture and a surrealistic portrayal of commonplace items combine to make his work practically irresistible. Just ask the mostly sold-out Hidell Brooks Gallery.

So what makes a man like Kroll create the work he does? The combination of regular things in everyday life -- bird, bowl and rings -- presented in an unusual way, are actually rather reminiscent of some of the unusual concoctions created by Salvador Dali.

The similarities end with the presentation, however -- Dali's work is a far more surreal and modern acid trip. Kroll's work, while surreal, is friendlier. It wraps itself around you and -- for lack of a better phrase -- makes you feel all warm inside.

Kroll looks to 19th century Dutch still life painters and landscape artists Frederich Church and George Inness as influences.

"I admire Inness because he treated the landscape with a sense of reverence and romance," Kroll offers.

Clearly, Kroll has a reverence for his landscapes, as well. But what is the meaning behind the odd conglomeration of items?

"There are consistent themes that go through the paintings," Kroll explains. "The predominant one is about the fragility in life with things like relationships. Both the bird and the bowl are fragile -- so they represent that." Kroll's juxtaposition of the forefront items over a terrain landscape is nowhere more dramatic than in the painting "Rings."

Three brilliantly colored birds -- perhaps finches of some sort -- are balanced on fragile red and white porcelain bowls. Behind them is a darkened, heavily wooded terrain, distinctly reminiscent of an ancient redwood forest.

"The landscapes grew out of an interest in landscape and nature," Kroll explains. "I went from doing very narrative pieces with made up imagery to what I'm doing now. This is about nature and how we relate to nature as human beings."

Kroll's fondness for nature and birds began when he was still a resident of Chicago.

"It's near the Great Lakes, you know, so I would see so many unusual kinds of birds migrate," he recalls. Trips to places like Arizona and Seattle often influenced his artwork, as well.

"I would see landscapes in the world around me," he concurs, "and then I would incorporate them into my work."

The fondness for nature actually prompted Kroll to leave Chicago's urbanity behind, in search of something a bit more down to earth. Seattle was where he decided to make his new home. "It's prettier than Chicago," he explains. "It's smaller, not quite so busy and there are mountains. I expect it to impact my work tremendously."

Kroll's next show at Hidell Brooks won't take place anytime in the near future -- singular artist exhibits usually occur every other year or so. That's probably a good thing for Kroll, especially considering his creative process.

"I let the paintings develop over time," he explains. "Sometimes it can take six to eight months and I'm never really sure what I'm gonna do when I start out. One day I may be out somewhere and I'll see a bird that will appear in the painting the next day. I have to let the painting just organically develop."

If you hurry, there are still a few pieces of Kroll's work available at the gallery. Chances are they won't be there for long.

David Kroll's exhibit, Recent Works, continues through June 7 at Hidell Brooks Gallery, 1910 South Boulevard. For more information, call 704-334-7302.

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