When Beth Herman Adler found herself trapped inside after the onset of the global pandemic last year, she turned to what she knew best — art and printmaking — to process what she was feeling. Works from the COVID-19 era and other periods in the artist’s development go up in a solo show at Oliva Gallery (3816 W. Armitage Ave.) opening this Friday, June 18
The Chicago artist began her response to the pandemic by creating daily collages and then a series of small, 3D “houses,” which she made using COVID-19 reports clipped from various newspapers and magazines. Each of the houses marks one month in quarantine.
“The houses were my diary for this period, keeping track of the progress of the virus,” Adler said. Each of the structures, which contains a small candle, also serves as a memorial to those who passed away during the pandemic. “So many people died, and I wanted to remember that,” Adler said.
The artist’s Covid Houses join a wider selection of her work in the Oliva Gallery show, called “Shape Shift.” The show runs through July 10.
Curated by Kate Roth, “Shape Shift” explores the changes that Adler has experienced over the last several years, in both life and her art. The show begins with “Land Shift,” a series of illustrations created in 2017 during a difficult personal time for Adler and moves through several phases before culminating in her most recent series, “Luna.”
Adler studied printmaking and graphic design as an undergraduate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her first job, as a graphic designer for the Field Museum, helped her to further develop an eye for pattern and shape, thanks to the institution’s storehouse of natural and cultural history specimens, Adler said. She went on to work as a graphic designer for more than 25 years and continues to bring design thinking to the creative process today as an artist and printmaker.
All the work featured in “Shape Shift” employs Adler’s printmaking skills and often incorporates drawing, painting, folded sculpture, collaging and stitching in various ways. Her “Inspired by Modernism” series features biomorphic shapes and colors of the 1950s and ’60s, inspired by artists such as Ruth Asawa and Ray and Charles Eames. “Land Shift,” on the other hand, draws on maplike patterns created by paper marbling and supplemented by pen, chalk and ink.
As 2020 drew to a close and it appeared that an end to the pandemic may have finally been in sight, Adler’s work morphed again. She began what became the “Luna” series, “mixed media pieces that start with a black ground and develop from dark to light,” using a combination of hand and press printing, Oliva Gallery said in a press release.
“Each piece in the ‘Luna’ series incorporates an image of the moon, indicating that even in darkness there is light,” Adler said. “The moon is a reminder that there is a continuous cycle of renewal and hope.”
Featured image: “Covid Houses,” courtesy of Beth Herman Adler