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'Ludicrous Landscapes': Exhibit explores environment through exaggeration, humor

'Ludicrous Landscapes': Exhibit explores environment through exaggeration, humor

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WAVERLY – Katie Walberg’s exquisitely drawn and highly detailed landscapes on display at the Waldemar A. Schmidt Gallery on the Wartburg College campus deliberately create a sense of exaggerated reality.

Through drawings, three-dimensional sculptures and installations, the Cedar Falls artist “explores how we manipulate our environment through the physical structures we build and explores environmental concerns like urban sprawl, but with a whimsical sense of humor,” said Johanna Kramer Weston, art gallery director and exhibition manager.

“Ludicrous Landscapes” is on display now through Feb. 9.

Walberg’s artwork is primarily ink and watercolor on paper in two dimensions and ink, watercolor, paper and foam core board for her series of three-dimensional pieces.

“I liked the idea of building the actual buildings I was drawing. Sculptural pieces interact more directly with viewers because they protrude into the space and can be considered in a different way,” said Walberg.

A Maryland native, she earned her undergraduate degree in drawing and painting from the University of Tennessee, and her master of fine arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. She relocated to Cedar Falls several years ago from Knoxville, Tenn., when her husband, Scott Ellison, accepted a teaching position at the University of Northern Iowa.

Walberg describes her work as an “exploration of the human landscape — buildings, roadways, sidewalks, power grids, refuse) as being both a reflection and determinate of the social, physical and individual well-being in contemporary human life.”

By exaggerating everyday environments in her artwork and using such playful elements as a solitary green tree surviving urban sprawl, plumbing structures sprouting out of buildings, or power lines connecting a pair of large wall sculptures, she hopes to “make visible the absurdity of our constructed spaces in contrast to the natural spaces surrounding us.”

Her interest in environmental issues has evolved. “I find it fascinating, these really densely populated environments and how they function. I’m intrigued by urban planning — how do we make this work, and is it working? I grew up in rural Maryland with my nearest neighbors a quarter of a mile down the road. Moving to the big city was eye-opening for me and seeing how congested, how amazing and a little crazy it is. That’s what propelled me into this line of questioning.”

Her complex, large-scale sculptures are constructed from foam core board and bound together with paper. “It’s very much a puzzle and process-heavy, and it takes a lot of time. I cut incisions to strap the pieces together with paper so I know it’s going to stay together.”

Her smaller sculptures, including a series of clear spheres each enclosing a different landscape, are made from paper. “The hemispheres create a more investigative space, as if you are observing or studying it,” Walberg said.

The drawings are visualized and conceptualized ideas, while the sculptures seem to grow organically and appear somewhat awkward and rambling. This approach, she said, has challenged her idea of what can be accomplished by combining sculpture’s ability to interact with space and drawing’s ability to illustrate an idea.

And while she loves the immediacy of drawing, Walberg is excited about further exploring sculptures. “I would like to go bigger, or even smaller, who knows? I like the idea of filling up a room with these insane sculptures, or even an installation that you can walk through,” Walberg added.

Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily or by appointment. Admission is free and open to the public. The gallery is located in the Bachman Fine Arts Center.

Photos: Ludicrous Landscapes

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