WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Old Friends Showing Together at Art Gallery

Macomb, IL – 50 years ago, two budding young artists met in a class at the Art Institute of Chicago. They've been friends ever since, and now they've united in western Illinois to do a show together.

The exhibit features surrealistic works by Robert Middaugh and Eleanor Spiess-Ferris. It can be seen at the Western Illinois University Art Gallery through April 15.

There is no admission fee. The gallery is open 9:00am to 4:00pm weekdays. In addition, it's open 6:00pm to 8:00pm on Tuesdays.

Middaugh says he began painting in a surrealistic style around 1970. He was showing abstract work in a gallery at that time when the gallery burned down, destroying all of his paintings.

"So I thought 'A-ha!' Here's the time I can make a change, which I did," says Middaugh. "I had been thinking about it a long time but then I started painting what you see now (in the exhibit at WIU)."

Middaugh says he was influenced by the architecture he saw while growing up in Chicago.

Spiess-Ferris grew up in New Mexico. She considers it a surreal place.

"I don't necessarily think of my work as surreal. I just think of it as a real world somewhere else," she says with a laugh.

She adds symbolism plays a big role in her paintings, but she is not concerned about what message people come away with after viewing her work.

"I'd like for somebody to come in and say 'I don't understand that painting,' and then start looking at it and saying 'Well, gee, now I see that these people are crying into tubes,' and then they make up their own story. That I like. I like people to just come in and make up their own reasoning because what I was thinking is not that important," says Spiess-Ferris.

Middaugh adds, "Any painter will tell you the viewer brings himself to the painting. All you have to do is give it time."

Middaugh now lives in Burlington, Iowa. His part of the show is called "Paintings and Constructions."

Spiess-Ferris now lives in Chicago. Her part of the exhibit is called "Sorrows of Swans, Paintings of a Suffering Environment."