Art Beat: Underwater world

Samantha French paints around the pool; plus, Sound.Art.MIA launches with Body/Head

"Aqua Sunrise" by Samantha French. Credit: Submitted image

LOWRY HILL — The artist Samantha French now lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y., but she’s been making paintings of swimmers since before she graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2005.

French has written on her website and elsewhere about her inspiration: Raised in Nisswa, near Brainerd in north-central Minnesota, she spent her childhood summers splashing in the area’s abundant lakes, and her dreamy paintings aim to recapture that sense of play, of the freedom of movement children discover underwater. Relocated to poolside, they glow with the warmth of summer.

French’s sun-kissed paintings at Groveland Gallery are a balm for the winter blues. They are, on the one hand, portraits, focusing on tanned, porpoise-smooth bodies in nearly weightless underwater motion. But they also offer the opportunity for colorful abstraction.

Refraction, the distorting effect water has on light, is as much French’s subject as the swimmers. She works from photos, many taken with an underwater camera as bright sun streams through the water, and her paintings capture in a near photo-realistic manner the way bubbles and ripples bend the light.

Viewed from beneath the water, the aboveground world is warped into Van Gogh-like swirls of color. The water is both mirror and window, and as bodies breach the surface they dissolve into camouflage patterns of color, mixing reflections of pink flesh with the aquamarine of the pool walls and cooler blue of the summer sky.

French creates a fantasy of youth and beauty, a scene that resembles Los Angeles much more than northern Minnesota’s cabin country. Appropriately, her swimmers keep their eyes closed underwater. They look like they’re dreaming.

Samantha French: Life Aquatic

WHEN: Through March 1

WHERE: Groveland Gallery Annex, 25 Groveland Terrace


MIA launches music series

WHITTIER — Acoustic Sunrise Live this isn’t.

The Cities 97 singer-songwriter series held its last Sunday morning concert at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts a few years ago, and with the launch of its new contemporary music series, Sound.Art.MIA, this month, the museum is moving in a definitively different direction. For one thing, Kim Gordon and Bill Nace will most certainly plug in.

As the arty, experimental guitar duo Body/Head, Nace and Gordon (late of Sonic Youth) practice an abstract and improvisatory approach to song making inspired by early psychedelic rock and other out-there sounds of a more recent vintage. Their songs feature a mix of textured, low-simmer electric guitar noise and Gordon’s breathy vocals.

An online video of a 2012 Body/Head performance at a Belgian art center gives a taste of what’s in store for Minneapolis. In it, Gordon whacks her guitar strings with a mallet while Nace’s instrument alternately chirps and drones.

For this new music series, the MIA partnered with The Current, the radio station behind its annual Rock the Cradle family music day as well as the super-popular Rock the Garden summer music festival over at the Walker Art Center. Although future Sound.Art.MIA dates haven’t yet been announced, MIA Marketing Manager Kim Huskinson said Body/Head sets the tone for what’s ahead.

“The Sound.Art.MIA event is strictly about music as performance art,” Huskinson said.

Who better to kick things off then Gordon?

Her former band, Sonic Youth, disintegrated in 2011 when Gordon separated from her husband and bandmate Thurston Moore. But the band’s fuzzy, dissonant sound and three decades of recordings are still influencing indie rock.

Gordon, 60, is also an art-world native. A post-separation profile of Gordon that ran in the New Yorker last summer covered her close ties to the New York City art scene, including her work as an arts writer and an occasional curator of contemporary art exhibitions.

This leaves just one question for the Sound.Art.MIA bookers: Where to go from here?

“Body/Head sets a really high bar,” Huskinson said. 

Sound.Art.MIA series kick-off with Body/Head and Paul Metzger

WHEN: Feb. 27

WHERE: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S.

INFO: Tickets are $20 in advance or $22 at the door.