How deep the rabbit hole goes

New Saper exhibit threatens to peel the skin off the real world

While browsing the eclectic works along the walls of East Lansing’s Saper Galleries, it’s easy to feel like you’ve tumbled down one hell of a cultural rabbit hole. The pieces come from eras throughout time and from all over the world, with styles and media as varied as the subject matter. If there’s could be a factor that lends consistency to this artistic smorgasbord, it’s the enthusiasm for the works by the gallery’s owner, Roy Saper. With energetic aplomb, Saper can illustrate the ways of how well deserved an exhibit’s home on his walls can be.

On the gallery’s walls, you’ll witness the all out naval combat of John Bentham-Dinsdale’s warships as well as serene windows into early 20th century life by Fabienne Delacroix. But if Saper’s new collection of still-life paintings of fruit and jars by Colombian born artist Juan Carlos Ospina Ortiz seems a little dry at first, don’t be so quick to dismiss it. Just think of Saper as Morpheus from the late ‘90s cyberpunk actioner “The Matrix” in the pivotal scene where he proffers the film’s hero with a perception-altering choice: Believe what you want to believe and walk away or listen to Saper and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

“This guy is a master of his style and that is evident by his technical skill,” Saper said while admiring one of Ortiz’s pieces. “That’s the kind of artist that deserves attention and that’s why we brought his collection here.”

The works in Ortiz’s collection convey a complexity that the casual observer might not notice at first glance. The still life works feature the subject matter one would expect from the form: Bowls of fruit and pitchers set atop platforms that are draped in cloth. But it’s when the duration of your viewing passes a “moment’s glance” that the works really come to life. Everything down to the leaves on the grapes is rendered in stunning detail. Those very leaves are one of many details that Saper feels serve as testament to the mastery conveyed in the works.

“A great artist sees details that others don’t see,” Saper said. “You might see a leaf, but (someone like Ortiz) sees 30 shades of green. When you look at them in the painting, you feel like you could touch them.”

But the rabbit hole goes deeper still. Ortiz repeats several objects in the works that have reflective surfaces like steel pitchers or glass jugs. These objects might initially seem banal or incidental at first, but if you look closely at the reflection of the surfaces, it’s almost like an entire other work.

The tiny details of the environment in which the work was created bend and diffuse around the object in a manner that you almost expect to see your own face as you look at the painting. You can even see the lamp that brightly illumined the workspace and dictated the lightning dynamic of the objects that were rendered.

Saper receives thousands of submissions per year, but he admits Ortiz’s garnered his curiosity. It wasn’t until Ortiz’s works were in front of him, however, that Saper’s attention was piqued.

“Ortiz is the Tiger Woods, the concert master of the orchestra,” gushed Saper. “He’s a talent that just so excels, I just want to share it.”

The technical prowess on display in Ortiz’s work is undeniable. It would seem that no detail is too small for him tackle, be it the labyrinthine reliefs on a stand that holds fruit or the tiny reflections of light in the seeds of the fruit itself. If talent seeped in the classic style is not enough to give you moment to garner your interest, Saper has one more facet to share that may win your attention.

“It’s these kinds of works that encourage us to look at things in a new light,” Saper said. “It’s gives us cause to pause and reflect. To take in and appreciate all that’s out there that costs nothing to enjoy.”


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