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On the Wall: Bergner, Mitchell set to shine in ‘Luminosity’

Jennifer Zurlini Staff writer

Infused with the powerful effect of light, “Luminosity” is an antidote to the gray of winter, just as the blues try to settle in.

The co-exhibition at University of Idaho’s Prichard Art Gallery features works by sculptor Lanny Bergner and mixed-media artist Surel Mitchell that emit light, warmth and radiant energy.

Juxtaposing the highly contrasting styles, methods and mediums employed by Bergner, who uses industrial, man-made metallic materials, and Mitchell, who works with natural, exotic fiber papers and glowing layers of natural shellac, intensifies the luminance and originality emanating from their works.

A free community kickoff reception for the artists celebrates the opening of the four-day, 42nd annual Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival, which received the nation’s most prestigious arts award in 2008, the National Medal of Arts, from President George W. Bush. A free shuttle will run between Prichard Gallery in downtown Moscow and the UI Kibbie Dome during the gallery’s opening reception, Wednesday from 5-8 p.m.

Tickets are available through TicketsWest or the UI Ticket office at (208) 885-7212.

Lanny Bergner

Bergner’s shimmering suspended sculptures seem to defy gravity and float on air, energized by their reflective light and size, flashing glimmers of light from within.

Spiraling strips of bright metal mesh swirl up and around a central cavity embodied with mysterious clusters of seemingly organic matter, forming transparent structures in unique shapes and sizes.

Up to six feet in length, the sculptures inspire thoughts of creation, referencing growth and formation at both the cellular and the cosmic levels.

“His forms speak equally to the micro and the macro,” said Prichard Art Gallery Director Roger Rowley. “By creating pieces on a scale roughly matching our own, it emphasizes the connections we have to what seems otherworldly.”

Bergner strives to mimic the natural world through the shapes and forms he sculpts from common industrial supplies, working out of context by turning sharp-edged, man-made metallic materials into airy, floating organic sculptures.

“I start with a preconceived notion,” said Bergner over the phone from his studio in Anacortes, just north of Seattle. But then, “the organic process takes over and the piece will decide to go another way.

“I buy 100-foot rolls of wire mesh and cut strips,” he said. He frays the edges on both sides. Working “by eye” he builds the sculptures spirally, beginning from a circle at the widest point and then wrapping the mesh strips to the top and bottom of the work, sculpting without forms or molds, aside from the foam core he uses to initiate the first ring.

Inside the structures, Bergner suspends groups of luminous colored spheres – Styrofoam balls coated in brightly colored glass frit, nestled in a tangle of twisted bronze wire branches. After twisting the wires together at the seams, his spiral structures, as in nature, have amazing uniformity and strength.

An award-winning artist who has exhibited internationally, Bergner is also an installation artist.He is recreating a wall installation at Prichard Art Gallery that he originated at the Bellevue Art Museum.

“Industrial Nature and the Big Bang” is an explosion of flat metal mesh circles, small glass-frit covered spheres and monofilament – fishing line – that extends to the adjoining walls and floor, creating illuminated, three-dimensional rays of light.

“I like to elaborate on something I’ve done before. Further evolve it,” said Bergner. “It will become a bigger bang.”

Surel Mitchell

Surel Mitchell’s artwork compels you to stand and gaze, meditate and bask for a while in the warm glow emanating from her large mixed-media pieces.

Just the thought of banana tree paper – the surface of her “Umbra” series of 8-foot-long mixed media works bathed in natural, amber shellac – can send your mind to warmer places.

“There is just a power to them,” said Mitchell, an award-winning Boise-based artist who has exhibited nationally. “I can only say that it’s human. I use very humble mediums. I really took it down to very natural.”

Simple, hand-drawn circles repeat throughout Mitchell’s work.

Her Umbra series references the shadows, and “what’s on the other side of shade,” said Mitchell, while “990 Imperfect Circles,” a 5-by 10-foot mosaic of circles on squares of textured handmade paper, hints of human frailty.

“They are a metaphor for human beings. We are all imperfect in certain ways,” said Mitchell.

The artist is also exhibiting small, handmade books and a series of shellacked, tightly folded handmade paper packages tied with waxed string titled “Sheltering that which is Fragile and Precious.”

Jennifer Zurlini can be reached at or (509) 459-5479.
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