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An Activist, Finding Escape Through Art

Jill Van Sickle's show, titled “Fauna...,” opens tomorrow evening at Gallery 360.

Though she describes herself as fiery and political, you won’t find any incitements to protest or hidden activist messages beneath the surface of Jill Van Sickle’s skillfully crafted botanical paintings. In fact, she hopes you’ll find the opposite, a glimpse, perhaps, of what the paintings are to her: a respite from the noise and chaos of an often unnerving world. 

“Art is my escape from the whole world,” Van Sickle said. “If I can steal away a couple hours and find a way to deal with something that’s not heartbreaking or shocking or political, then maybe someone can look at my piece and feel that way for a second too.”

Van Sickle’s paintings are uncomplicated compositions of simple beauty — inspired largely by the natural world around her, the varied and colorful gardens of South Minneapolis. 

“It’s as simple as walking the dog and saying, ‘That’s what I’m going to paint when I get back,’” Van Sickle said.

The artist, who is originally from Northfield and bought a house in South Minneapolis over the winter, said her recent move influenced much of the work in her upcoming show at , “Flora...,” which opens Saturday. The tumultuous experience of purchasing a foreclosed house in need of repair in the dead of a Minnesota winter left Van Sickle painting in a way that was more fluid and spontaneous than her usual, tighter approach. The experience is visible in the collection on display at the gallery, which has an air that is both emotional and effortless. 

Traditionally, Merry Beck of Gallery 360 waits at least two years to feature the same artist in a gallery show again because, as she said, that’s generally how long it takes for an artist to evolve into new material. This was not the case for Van Sickle, however, whose last show at the gallery was 18 months ago.

“If you were to look at pictures from that show, you’d sort of recognize it as the same artist but this is really different work,” Beck said. 

Beck sees the pieces in this show as evidence of Van Sickle’s blooming, if you will. 

“It’s much more abstracted, much more painterly, she’s really just coming into her own,” Beck said.  

For the works displayed in “Flora...” Van Sickle utilized a method she’s been perfecting over the last few years, which involves using oil pastels over water-soluble oil paint over an acrylic base. The technique of working with both oil and acrylic rather than one or the other like most painters is fitting for Van Sickle, who embraces nearly any art form she can get her hands on, from glasswork to photography to textile art (which was her major in college, and through which she once produced a dress made of coffee filters). After all, she said, for her it’s not really about any specific medium or even category of art; it’s about the act of creating.  

With an intuitive and intriguing color palette and organic imagery, Van Sickle invites us inside a little bit of her world — the quiet she creates to escape the everyday chaos.

“It’s my meditation,” Van Sickle said. “And how lucky am I to find something that really works for me that somebody else can respond to?”

Join Van Sickle at an opening reception for her show at Gallery 360 Saturday evening from 7:00 to 10:00pm. 

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