Here and Now: A Review of “The Happiness Show” at Epiphany Center for the Arts
BY NADYA KELLY | JULY 18, 2023
For their latest group exhibition, The Chicago Alliance of Visual Artists (CAVA), an organization promoting the talents of artists over fifty, asked its members to answer the question—what does happiness mean to you, in the here and now?
Their response materializes in an eclectic collection of works across all mediums, from painting and mixed media to sculpture and photography. Even more varied is the content of their works, each providing a small window into an artist’s personal source of peace and pleasure. As viewers walk through the Epiphany Center for the Arts’ Chase Gallery, they can see that happiness is a dog sitting on a porch with no one in control of their leash (“The Porch,” 2023, Karen Kohn Duffy). Happiness may be found looking at the many faces of the moon that sit against a backdrop of shooting stars and ever-shifting galactic matter (“Moon Memories,” 2023, Bruna Srb). Happiness can also come simply from pairing limes with coconuts (“Limes and Coconuts,” 2023, Vicky Tesmer). Altogether, “The Happiness Show” displays joy in many forms that answer the question that prompted its creation with playfulness, attentiveness and sincerity.
To many artists in “The Happiness Show,” the definition of happiness lies with who makes them feel happy. Portraits of cats, dogs and family members add a streak of tenderness to the group of artworks. In one captivating portrait, George Lindmark paints his wife “Jacquette’” (2023) in oil, using an expressive gradient of light browns to convey the softness of her skin and darker hues of browns and blacks to the braids that cascade down the side of her face. We also see many artists in “The Happiness Show” create works that radiate feelings of happiness, such as Julia Costanzo, who layers various fabrics in her mixed media piece “Twirly Girly” (2023), presenting a young girl who wears a cheeky smile as she shakes her long orange hair, which forms a fuzzy nylon net halo around her head.
Xavier Nuez, “Lost and Found,” photograph: acrylic facemount, 16 x 24 inches
For other artists, their happiness can be found in a place. While walking through the gallery, my moments of rest came when arriving at paintings and photographs of natural landscapes. While Elizabeth Flatt transports the viewer to a white, wooden boat dock on the lush, mossy-green “Honey Island Swamp,” in Slidell, Louisiana, Tobi Star Abrams builds up layers of gray and white acrylic paint in his piece “Happiness in Alaska” (2023) to create jagged mountain rocks that extend out from the canvas. Some take the opportunity to imagine their happy place, like Xavier Nuez’s “Lost and Found” (2023), a photograph of an RV, the exterior of which blends seamlessly into a deeply saturated pink-and-blue sunset and a dark grassy field.
Though “The Happiness Show” features a wide range of subjects, mediums, and artistic styles, walking through this exhibition is a grounding experience because of its emphasis on the second half of their question—what does happiness mean to you right here, in this moment, right now? By zeroing in on the present, this exhibition forgoes the notion that happiness is elusive and demands a lifelong pursuit in order to be obtained. Instead, the show presents happiness as palpable, a feeling we can hold, a feeling we can reside in and a feeling that surrounds us in excess.
Chicago Alliance of Visual Artists’ “The Happiness Show” at Epiphany Center for the Arts’ Chase Gallery, 201 South Ashland, on view through August 26.