Portrait after portrait lined along a gallery wall hardly ever inspired Lori Oden, but the many faces of Gertrude Stein unexpectedly caught the Oklahoma City curator’s eye when she visited an exhibition in Washington, D.C., nearly two years ago.
The exhibition, Seeing Gertrude Stein, held at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, displayed works from Stein’s many famous artist friends who used her as their muse. Oden said although all of the pieces were essentially portraits of Stein, each one differed in appearance and evoked the individual artist’s perception and reverence of Stein and their friendship.
Oden, curator of exhibits at the Oklahoma History Center, and five of her local art friends decided to model the greats following Oden’s experience. Their collective portraiture show, The Company You Keep, opens 6 p.m. Friday at Individual Artists of Oklahoma Gallery.
“It is about the examination, not only of each other, but what friendship and community is to each of us,” Oden said. “I would venture to say that it is also about asking people to examine that for themselves.”
The show features 30 pieces of varying media and six original songs composed by musician Bonnie Allen.
Visual artist Romy Owens said portraiture is not her strong suit but found contemplating each of her friends and how to represent them to be a deeply reflective process.
“Most people get so familiar and comfortable with the people they spend time with that they don’t think about their quality traits and why they love them and why they care about them,” Owens said.
She put an aesthetic spin on traditional silhouettes by cutting the profiles of her pals from an acrylic material similar to Plexiglas, thus modernizing the portraits.
Jennifer Barron, executive director of the Paseo Arts Association, also created unconventional, more abstract pieces that embody each of the women through splashes of color and a picture of their individual key rings that contain the different keys they use in their daily lives.
“I’m really curious to see my friends’ reactions to the paintings and see them in person,” Barron said. “It’s pretty rare to have a group of close friends who are all artistically inclined.”
Kelsey Karper, associate director of Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition (OVAC) and Stephanie Ruggles Winter, program assistant at OVAC, also will show their work in the group exhibition.
“As much as I’m excited for them to see the art and appreciate the effort and the talent amongst us, I’m really more excited for people to have that experience of being contemplative about their own relationships,” Owens said.
The six artists invite the public to a closing reception on Jan. 4. It will be a community potluck, bringing an end to an exhibition that was, according to Owens, a large “bonding experience.”