In a highly unlikely pairing, Julie Cowan and Julie Meridian share the space at Perspective in Evanston. While Cowan’s “Lincoln” draws on historical documents and facts, Meridian relies on the fantasy elements of “Alice in Wonderland,” both artists push the boundaries of their telling, reaching deeply into their imaginations to create fresh, provocative work.
Julie Cowan uses photo-based tiled lithography enhanced with graphite, ink, colored pencil and pastel to join images of historic documents and other ephemera, in celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy. In “Kohn’s Gift,” an image of an American flag is over-printed with Hebrew lettering illustrating a story about a similar satin flag that a Jewish supporter presented to Lincoln when he left Illinois for Washington.
Cowan’s text explains that printing was increasingly popular in Lincoln’s time. “War Telegram,” a map intended for the marking of battles, appears to be a very early example of the “interactive.” There is a letter from Lincoln to a young war widow, “Understanding Grief,” adding to the overall messaging that Lincoln was a good person. A quote from Frederick Douglass appears beside an image: “Mr. Lincoln did everything for the Black man, but he did it not for the Black man’s sake but for the nation’s sake.” In all of Cowan’s work, Lincoln emerges as complex. This personal complication was the basis for all the work in this show, which grew out of an artist residency.
While we expect to enjoy viewing art, we seldom expect to be educated, making Cowan’s “Lincoln” a pleasant surprise. Not only is Cowan’s work beautiful and finely crafted, but it is also eye-opening and enlightening thanks to her extensive didactic material.
Julie Meridian, on the other hand, delves deep into the imaginary world of “Alice in Wonderland.” In Meridian’s work, book pages twist, turn, reverse and share space with objects and layered and reflected photographs, effectively portraying the Alice stories that we all know. Mushrooms, teacups, a unicorn and a bell jar follow the Alice tale directly down the rabbit hole.
Of particular note are the large unframed matte prints on the back wall of the gallery. Meridian is a master printer, and these images, unencumbered by glass, are stunningly beautiful. There is also an enormous grid—fifty-six pieces— filling the better part of one whole wall, but regrettably, quite a few are simply smaller duplicates of the larger prints.
In one of the most striking images, “May it Please Your Majesty,” the suggestion of a kiss by the Queen of Hearts with red smears delightfully tells a story, as do a variety of vintage photographs paired with pages from the book, in degrees of focus. Those prints matted and framed behind glass lose some of their velvety blacks in comparison to the unglazed prints, and the fact that the prints do not fit the mats in the frames is at first mildly distracting, and ultimately weakens this otherwise lovely body of work.
“Alice” and “Lincoln” at Perspective Gallery, 1310 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Through January 29. Both artists will speak on Thursday, January 19 at 7pm.