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James Bockelman's 'A Sidelong Glance,' an illuminating exhibition curated from artist's studio

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A table sits in the center of the Lux Center for the Arts gallery, covered with pieces of broken glass, the top of a wooden chair, an egg carton covered in plaster, a wooden shoe block and a slab of an old wall.

Surrounding it on the walls are painting on panels, drawings on paper, some collages and a few paintings on canvas -- all transported from Seward to Lincoln for “A Sidelong Glance,” an exhibition curated from the studio of James Bockelman.

“The idea of the show was to take a long view of what’s in my studio,” Bockelman said. “I wanted the opportunity to show things that are in the studio that I look at every day that are not part of the front-and-center project.”

But “A Sidelong Glance” turned out to be more than that, becoming an illuminating look at Bockelman’s process, the repurposing of tools into art, a demonstration of connections within his work and, importantly, a show that works without any knowledge of its origins.

Perhaps the best illustration of all of the above are a half-dozen collages that began as stencils that Bockelman cuts to create precise, hard-edged shapes in his larger oil on canvas paintings.

Because they’ve been used for their original purpose, the paper is covered or sometimes merely dabbed with lines and drips of multicolored paints. Then Bockelman places a sheet behind the stencil, filling in the space with carefully chosen colors -- a stack of pastels in a long rectangle or stair-stepping shades of green in a triangle.

The result is a collage that, unlike most cutouts, doesn’t privilege the top, cut-out layer over the underlying sheet while being a tool, the stencil, turned art.

The drawings are similarly process-rooted as they’re made on paper that Bockelman uses to provide an edge in painting. So, the edges of the paper get smeared with color. Add repeating black lines, other geometric shapes, fold the paper to create creases and more edges and you have the drawings -- which are smartly hung unframed in a rectangle.

The lines in the drawings echo lines or stripes in the large oil on canvas works, sometimes, as in the case of “From Afield,” as a multicolored border box around the green intertwined lines inside, and sometimes, as in “Sifting,” making up the entirety of the piece, covered from top to bottom with stripes of an inch or smaller made of layers of paint.

The lines on the paintings and drawings also connected with the hunk of wall on the table, a piece Bockelman calls “Wagon.” Put a frame on the piece of wall, hang it and you’ve got a found object artwork that visually and logically connects with the created pieces.

Even the painting panels have a nontraditional origin. Concordia University, where Bockelman teaches painting as a professor of art and is curator of the Marxhausen Gallery, changed the manner in which it stored sheet music and the small panels were no longer needed. So 150 or so made their way to the art department to be utilized as painting support.

Those panels let Bockelman continue to develop the abstract painting he began at a 2013 residency, allowing him to explore juxtaposition of color and shape, often inspired by the world around him.

While much abstraction is done without deliberate intent, responding as it were to shape and color with other shapes, colors and lines, there are pieces that are more intentionally created, such as “No Entry,” an oil on canvas that Bockelman designed to abstractly reflect the Trump administration anti-immigration effort -- a red, white and blue border, with brown circular passages trapped inside.

All of the background, be it the use of the paper drawings and collages in Bockelman’s painting or the Duchampian found object understanding, isn’t necessary to appreciate “A Sidelong Glance” as a show of abstract painting and drawing.

But with it, the exhibition becomes an illuminating study of process and result, reimagining, repurposing and simply locating art within the artist’s everyday environment, the studio.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or

On Twitter @LJSWolgamott.


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Entertainment reporter/columnist

L. Kent Wolgamott, the recipient of the 2018 Mayor’s Arts Award, has written about arts and entertainment for Lincoln newspapers since 1985, reviewing thousands of movies and concerts and hundreds of art exhibitions.

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