By Clare Howard
Pamela Ayres and Kaz McCue perceive problems and joys of life through the context of art. The genesis of their marriage is art. The focus of their work and play is art. Their love and bitterness are expressed through art.
An exhibit of their work, “Tongue in Chic: 2 Perspectives,” is hanging at Illinois Central College in East Peoria through March 4. An artist’ reception open to the public is from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday. The show in gallery 305A of the college’s administration building includes more than a dozen installations with nearly 155 elements. Some are interactive pieces.
The couple work in different states, at different universities and in different media. Ayres, 37, is director of university galleries, exhibitions and collections at Peoria’s Bradly University. McCue, 40, is director of the University Art Gallery at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind. They are curators, teachers, artists, and spouses.
The couple met in graduate school at Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus, where they both received masters of fine arts degrees.
“I was immediately attracted to her. I loved her work. She didn’t want anything to do with me,” McCue said.
Ayres countered that she was focused and working hard. They gradually became friends and then allies for each other’s work. They were married 1997 and continue to evolve as artists and allies.
“Artists should play a more important role in community. Art should be used as a healing tool. Artists are shamans,” Ayres said. “We don’t look at art as jobs. It’s our life…a tool of expression and communication.”
"Artists who are married communicate through visual media," she said.
The two worked together with inner city kids teaching art to children with disabilities.
“All kids today have fewer channels of expression. Art is a vital channel of expression. When that is removed, expression is more difficult,” Ayres said. “In other societies, art is embedded in the fabric of culture. Here there is a disconnect.”
He said, “In American culture, art doesn’t make society better. That’s one of our problems with our kids. We are not giving them adequate ways to express themselves. Computer games don’t give kids adequate opportunities for self-expression.”
The two cite a government study showing inner-city programs that expose children to the arts can document corresponding improvements in analytical abilities and test scores.
Philosophy, ideas and outlook on art are communicated through the works of both artists. An appraisal of the exhibition said it features a variety of innovative works that play with the relationship between form and concept: “Ayres’ work is materially sensitive and contrary while McCue works towards sarcastic insight.”
One of Ayres’ pieces in the show includes dozens of tongue prints in different colors denoting talk about art, emotion, truth, and knowledge.
One of McCue’s pieces is “Forget,” a mixed media installation with video. The two panels show images of his mother and father and evoke connections between memory, dementia, aging and family.
McCue’s elderly mother lives with him. He says the piece is not a sentimental communication about loss of a mother’s memory. “Forget” worked as a trigger that forced him to evaluate his own thinking about aging and relationships.
“I was a different person before my dad died when I was in high school. I was an honor student and athlete at one of the best Catholic high schools in the country,” he said. “I went from that to pissing away my life after my father died. I came back through art. This piece helps me reconnect with some of my memories.”
He compares his work to an onion with many layers that can be pulled away. He usually buries meaning in his pieces.
The couple have been included together in exhibits in the past, but never before the ICC show have their works comprised the entire exhibit. This opportunity came about at the suggestion of Stephen H. Knight, associate professor of art at ICC and assistant gallery director.
“They are a very unusual team. They are a married couple, and their relationship is reflected in their art. This show communicates well,” Knight said.
McCue’s background is photography, ceramics, sculpture and printmaking. Ayres’ background is painting and sculpture. They both curated at The University Gallery/University of Bridgeport in Connecticut before accepting their current positions.
As a team, Ayres said they magnify their impact.
“When we work together, there are four of us instead of two of us. We have drive, energy and skills that keystone each other,” she said. “Together, we are able to do what individually we couldn’t do.”