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Charlie Rees and Bob Ashley: The Language of Art

By Bryan Hiott

L to R: Polish Horses (One of a Two-Piece Set) by Charlie Rees and Untitled Assemblage by Bob Ashley.

The Language of Art exhibition opening on July 7th at Capizzo Studio pairs Charlie Rees and Bob Ashley, two Saugatuck area artists who share similar ideas about materials, composition, and visual design. Both use repurposed and recycled materials for their art. To frame the figurative mosaics in Each Piece Has a History, Rees uses cast-off items from local thrift stores, finds that include vintage mirrors, silver-plated trays, porcelain dishes, and modern Crate & Barrel plates. Working in abstract assemblages, Ashley frequents Goodwill stores and other venues, collecting everything from broken toys, chicken wire, and corrugated cardboard to slices of tree limbs, discarded art, and jet engine parts.

L to R: Untitled Stained Glass by Charlie Rees and Untitled Assemblage by Bob Ashley.

Rees and Ashley begin their work with preliminary sketches, moving toward more realized designs as they explore ideas in their studios. They emphasize the importance of line, color, and balance of forms, creating visual focal points while allowing viewers to move freely in different directions to take in the entire work. They agree that art isn’t created as a result of “happy accidents,” but rather as a result of planning and informed, intuitive responses based on training and experience. Rees attended the Chicago Mosaics School and had a well-established studio practice in Chicago for years before pursuing art full-time in 2009. Ashley attended Kendall School of Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and worked as an illustrator for Hallmark before launching his own studio, allowing him to pursue fine art while also working as a freelance corporate designer and illustrator for magazines and children's books.

Charlie Rees (L to R): Untitled Watercolor and Untitled Stained Glass from Into the Woods.

When Rees moved to Saugatuck a year and a half ago, he took a long walk in a nearby nature preserve, which led to his experimentation with watercolor for the first time. “I did some very quick studies,” he says, “and used that as the basis of a new stained-glass piece.” The synergy between the mediums is important. The watercolors are gestural and intuitive, creating the sensation of light filtering through a canopy of trees. He brings that idea to his new stained-glass series, Into the Woods, hoping that viewers will have an experience of luminous color and movement of light akin to being in a restful oasis, a respite from the clamor of everyday life and bombardment of our senses.

Charlie Rees, Three Lines of Verse from Scripts.

Use of line is an important aspect of Scripts, Rees’ recent body of abstract work. Scripts are comprised of individual lines quickly executed with black ink and brush against a lighter ink background on paper. In this series, bold primary colors predominate, particularly in Three Lines of Verse, and the lines give a sense of rhythm and grace and have an affinity with characters in Japanese calligraphy.

Bob Ashley, Untitled Assemblage

To create his intricate abstract assemblages, Ashley spends hours sourcing materials and sketching the designs as he would like for them to be resolved in material form. “Get your thoughts on paper,” he says. “It's essential to transfer your imagination and creativity to some kind of paper and then evolve from there.” This is a rigorous studio process that involves five different steps: 1) create a composite composition, 2) photograph the composite, 3) take the material off, 4) create a color composition, and 5) begin to glue the pieces together until the work is finished. “I know where I'm going before I get there,” he observes. “Sometimes I will take a diversion, or I'll redirect the traffic so to speak, but pretty much I know where it's going to end up because I've done it so many times.” His artistic expertise makes the resulting symmetry of his assemblages look deceptively simple.

Bob Ashley, Untitled Assemblage

The Language of Art will be on exhibition at Capizzo Studio during July 7-10 and July 14-17 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The opening reception for the artists will be held on Friday, July 8 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.


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