Between a rock and a hard place

Published by Megan Majercak, Date: October 6, 2019
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Professor Heather Hertel looks at some of the photographs in the Between a Rock and a Hard Place exhibit. The exhibit is on display until Oct. 24 in Maltby.

Sometimes, the true beauty of something is not appreciated unless you see it at its darkest moments. That is why Katherine Mickle, an art professor at Slippery Rock University, decided to take her sabbatical to venture solo to the White River Badlands in South Dakota last November, to car camp in freezing temperatures and capture nature through her artwork.

Mickle opened her exhibition, titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” in the Martha Gault Art Gallery, located in Maltby, Monday evening.

“The big inspiration [to go] was that I have never been to this area during any different time of year than May or June when everything is really lush and green and lovely and that’s not really how it is most of the year so I felt like I was a getting false perception,” Mickle said. “Nature becomes an avenue for me to identify and interpret life experiences.”

Mickle had taken the trip eight times before, first in 2006, as part of the Badlands Working Group, an interdisciplinary research project led by Dr. Patrick Burkhart, professor of geography, geology and the environment at Slippery Rock University.

“My artwork touches on themes of personal concern including: aspirations, the passage of time, grief, self-doubt, perseverance and social justice,” Mickle shared in her artist statement.

Mickle gathered photographs during her solo trip so that she could compare photos of the same place to years earlier, when she had taken the trip as part of the Badlands Working Group.

One way Mickle showed the passage of time in her artwork was with lenticular photographs and a specialized printing process that accentuates moving or 3D images by covering specifically prepared graphics with a thin plastic sheet. This way, when viewers see her artwork from one angle, they see a photo she took of a landscape in 2014 and, from another angle, the photograph changes into what the exact same landscape looked like in 2018.

Mickle also experiments with photographs, plein air drawing and using repurposed plastics as part of her art. Many pieces in the exhibition also focus on contrasting the difference the park shows between seasons as well as over the years.

Other pieces in the exhibition showed the passage of time metaphorically. One piece had an original poem about grief written on it.

“One piece I did about grief, so that’s a different sense of passage of time and loss,” Mickle said.

Fiona McKenzie, senior communication major, shared that she really admired Mickles’ work.

“Mickle’s photographs do an amazing job at capturing the Badlands for what it really is and how it changes over the years,” McKenzie said.

Along with the White River Badlands, Mickle was able to visit Toadstool Geologic Park in Nebraska, Hells Half Acre in Wyoming and Dinosaur National Monument in Utah.

“Going alone was really nice, something about being on the road and being free… it was lovely,” Mickle said.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place will be on display in Martha Gault Art Gallery until Oct. 24.

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