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Vault Gallery to open ‘Figures and Fables’ show this month

By Dominik Stallings

The Vault Gallery is hosting the show opening for  “Figures and Fables” on March 25 from 3-5 p.m. The show features work from Joe Nivens and Grace West. Both artists have connections to Tuscola and will have their work on display until April 15.

“The show is a mix of things. There are a few puppets in there, a few small sculptures, metal casts and a few larger-scale puppets as well, and a small diorama piece,” said Nivens.

The mixed media sculpture artist and animator said his work is all influenced by his background in animation and stop motion. He experiments with different materials and techniques. Niven’s side of the gallery doesn’t have one cohesive theme but is rather a retrospective of his work.

West graduated from Unity highschool in Tolono in 2018. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Eastern Illinois University in studio art with an emphasis in painting and a minor in art history in 2022. She is currently enrolled in the graduate program in Painting at the Eastern Illinois University Department of Art and Design. West’s works intertwine the concepts of figure and communication. She researches different ways to present the figure within primarily feminine topics.

West experiments with utilizing everyday objects to discuss personal issues. Emotional words such as “shame,” “forgiveness,” and “acceptance” are used transparently. According to West’s artist statement, the figure is rendered honestly and beautifully whilst dealing with body insecurities instigated by societal standards.

Nivens went to school in Tuscola from his middle school years to his junior year in High School. He later graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy in 2007. Joe completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in 2012. He then completed his Master of Arts from Eastern Illinois University in 2017 and then his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) was completed from Louisiana State University in 2021. Joe teaches animation at the LSU College of Art & Design in the Digital Art program.

Nivens has constantly been exposed to art his entire life. His parents both were art teachers. Even in his middle school years, he knew he wanted to work in the creative world. He won a contest to design a poster for the fire department. That recognition made him focus his time and energy into art at school.

“I was as invested as possible at the time. Sort of like how other kids are into football or sports or something. I put my all into it,” said Nivens.

He started out with painting, printmaking, and even metal smithing and sculpture work at Interlochen. However, His passion was for animation.

“I think the thing that sparked it all, I was actually in champaign at a gallery opening,” said Nivens. The gallery was for an animator, Chris Sickels, from Red Nose Studio.

“At the time, he had a gallery full of puppets up there. They were climbing up the wall and climbing up the ceiling,” said Nivens. “ I just saw that art opening and was mesmerized by it.”

Sickels spoke about how animation worked at the gallery.

“I went home the weekend after that and made my first stop-motion animation,” said Nivens.

Nivens has a long history in the animation industry as well as an instructor. Before starting at LSU, he worked in props and puppet and set fabrication for the studios Lift Animation, Screen Novelties, Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, and Netflix. While at LSU, he has taught courses in 2D Animation, Storyboarding, Stop Motion Animation, Experimental Filmmaking, 2D Design, and 3D Design. Lift Animation created the short film “Henrietta Bukowski,” which was nominated for an academy award.

“Stop motion was an amalgamation of all those things. When you’re making a stop-motion film, you’re building the backdrop, the props, puppets, cameras, lights, voiceovers, and voice acting. I was just always attracted to those art forms and combining all the things I learned into one thing.”

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