Friday, December 16, 2011

"Todd DeVriese: Systems of Mapping" Memorial Exhibition at Illinois State University

Todd DeVriese's work makes statements about the world in which we live. It's a body of work that speaks about history, the nature of topography, cartography, chaos, order, re-order, change and constantly altered territories.  DeVriese combined pre-printed matter, in this case global maps with collage, to create a 'New World order" a series he was known for prior to his untimely death last year. These collages of the world as we already have known it, seen it online and traveled it via any method available, show DeVriese's hope for the world, and his dry sense of humor.

The piece above is a re-constructed view of the world. The United States are front and center, totally surrounded by water. It's north and south extended neighbors have been removed to completely isolate the States as an island. The 'moat' further disconnects it from the rest of the world. This pointed message was most appropriate after 9/11 when the nation wanted to insulate itself from that attack. We felt alone, vulnerable confused and unsure who was the enemy.  The moat's larger mirror-shape of the States echoes our feelings of separation. It was an uncomfortable time.

DeVriese said of this work that he was once explained his artwork 'as an investigation of the tendency to romanticize the past.' He talked about the fact that when cartographers were working, their knoweldge of the map-making was evolving. The definitive parameters of countries and continents has also evolved with the Earth's natural changing over the years, our history was always in flux. In some places of the world this is till true and territories in the Middle east continue to be debated ad re-drawn. 

On a lighter note I am intrigued with DeVriese's curiosity to start this project. I understand it in a sense, coming from a very small Midwestern town, and venturing into the world. DeVriese did the same, originating from a small central Illinois town and crossing the globe with his work, and with his career. 

How many of us remember as a kid  playing with our grandparents' Atlas map booklets when we traveled in their car? I used to pour over those maps  looking at all the little back roads and small towns, and then seeing how long it would take us to travel from one city to another, and would think that if I could just make up an 'imaginary'road to get to our destination, we'd get there a lot sooner than the trip often took.. The same was true about the Encyclopedia Britannicas we had at home. I could travel, at least in my imagination, to all those exotic places through those maps. I can envision the same was true for Todd, but in his case he really did get to travel to far-flung places and see things firsthand. He had an adventurous and curious spirit, and from his travels, he gained greater insight as to the people of those other cultures, and the artwork being made there. He got a chance to interact on a global scale with artists and educators. His accomplishments toward a global interaction and understanding of common artistic and cultural concerns were well noted.

DeVriese' Systems of Mapping, has recently been commemorated with a memorial exhibition at  Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.  Normal Editions Workshop Director Richard Finch and Assistant Director Veda Rives, along with contributions from his many friends, colleagues and family, coordinated this exhibition in honor of  DeVriese' achievements as an artist, educator and arts administrator. The exhibit featured six of the artist’s most recent mixed media work.  "DeVriese’s explorations of mapping prompt reconsideration of history, borders and the policies that inform nationality." 

I will make a side note here to say I knew Todd as a fellow student when we studied printmaking at Illinois State University. We worked together with Professors Jim Butler, Richard Finch, Harold Boyd and Ray George. They were a great group of teachers, and the core of that group of undergraduate and graduate students was stellar. In fact, they continue to be a tight-knit group to this day, each fulfilling our personal and professional ambitions. 

I always remember Todd was working, listening, printing and quietly keeping a steady pace acquiring knowledge for his craft. He was funny, sincere, and great to work with. He was also ambitious, and as I mentioned before 'curious' about how things worked. I am glad to have known him as a person, and as an artist. His work will remain with us to enjoy and appreciate for years to come. 

One of our colleagues said to me after we'd heard of Todd's passing, that he felt 'one of our family has died.' That's true. For anyone not already familiar with this, the bond of printmakers is notoriously a strong one, and we feel it intensely when one of the 'tribe' leaves. This has been a hard piece to write, because I think often of Todd. From time to time, I see his smiling Facebook profile picture show up on my list of friends and it catches me off-guard.  Seeing his smiling face always makes me smile. I can still hear his voice and I miss him. We all do, and we will remember his intellect,  his sense of humor and his gentle spirit for a very, very long time....

DeVriese's extensive accomplishments were celebrated on Friday, December 16, 2011, as he was inducted into the university's Alumni Hall of Fame.

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