Yellow’ examines Iraq war impressions through color

Lindsay Minnema

Contributing Writer

Is it better for people to be aggressive like bees or peacefullike birds?

Evanston artist Jennifer Ratcliff, 31, posed this questionThursday evening during an open reception at the Dittmar MemorialGallery on the main floor of Norris University Center.

Ratcliff’s four small pieces, entitled “Birds or Bees? #1-4,”currently are on display at the gallery. The small wood panels,covered with bee pollen and egg tempera, are part of Ratcliff’slatest show, “Yellow Ground,” which partly was inspired by the warin Iraq.

The show features a total of 23 abstract pieces.

Ratcliff said she became intrigued with the color yellow whenshe “was looking at images of (the war in Iraq) on TV and innewspapers and magazines and realized (it) was everywhere.”

Ratcliff found that yellow permeates images of the desert sandstorms and clouds of dust in Iraq. It also serves as an importantindicator in the U.S. terror alert scale, she said.

Clippings of magazine and newspaper photographs Ratcliffcollected served as inspiration for the shapes she transferred ontocanvas in greens, pinks, blues and other colors.

“I had magazine images and photos of war, clouds of smoke, theshape of helmets, the horizon line of the desert,” Ratcliff said.”The paintings are abstract. In one (piece) might be part of ahelmet or part of a boot and several horizon lines with the pushand pull of space.”

One story out of Iraq that inspired Ratcliff was about somemilitary convoys who carried pigeons to use as an early warningsign in the event of trouble. The story served as inspiration fortwo large rectangular oil-on-canvas paintings entitled “An UneasyRide with a Pigeon #1-2.”

The show is both “time appropriate and school appropriate”because it addresses current events and is based on a well-thoughtout thesis, said Weinberg senior Layla Bermeo, who coordinatesevents for Dittmar.

Many other of Ratcliff’s paintings remain untitled because shesaid she wanted the pieces to be viewed as a “visual experiencerather than a conceptual experience.”

“The paintings give you a different impression if you standclose to them versus far away from them,” said Jenny Mangun, 27, ajewelry designer in Chicago. “They look different depending on howyou look at them. Whoever is looking at them may interpret themdifferently.”

All of Ratcliff’s 23 pieces are abstract with a variety ofcolors and shapes. Mangun said they reminded her of community andlandscape, while others found them to perfectly portray the chaosof war.

“I thought even before (I) read the artist’s statement that (theshow) had to do with war,” said Evanston resident Lynn Hahn, Medill’71. “It’s (Ratcliff’s) use of yellow. It’s more of a sienna than acheerful yellow.”

Hahn added that the show seemed to portray an anti-war message,but Ratcliff denied that politics played a role in her work.

The show is not a political statement, she said, but the chaosof her paintings is “simply about the emotional quality of war andthe quality of the paints and the materials.”

Ratcliff’s paintings will remain on display at Dittmar untilOct. 17. The Dittmar Memorial Gallery is located behind theinformation desk at Norris University Center and is open to thepublic seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission isfree.

Reach Lindsay Minnema at [email protected].