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Art contest ignites inspiration for local artists

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Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things has captivated fans around the world and is a pop culture hit. Fans laugh, cheer and cry watching the gang experience supernatural events during their teenage years in the fictional town of Hawkins through the show’s first three seasons.

Keaton Nelson, a sixth-grader at Ouray Middle School, is a fan, too. However, not even he could have predicted that underlying themes of the show would hit so close to home, years after the first season premiered.

“One day I was just kind of bored, and I’m thinking, while we’re in quarantine, I’m watching Stranger Things, and I’m thinking, I should really do something from the show as an art piece,” Nelson said. “I drew the Demogorgon, and I was thinking this is sort of how I feel on the inside during this isolation. I’m like mad and feeling really weird right now.”

Throughout the first season, fictional characters Eleven and Will Byers find themselves isolated, alone and afraid.

Byers is in “the Upside Down,” an alternate dimension, after being taken by the Demogorgon, a paranormal entity, and is alone, isolated and unsure of the future. Eleven, an outcast and psychokinetic, who befriends the main cast of characters, has to stay in “lock down” to avoid being seen and captured by the show’s antagonists.

“I saw the demogorgon as COVID-19, hurting people and keeping them trapped like ‘the Upside Down,’ a.k.a., people’s houses. I kind of feel trapped in my house, like the demogorgon ate me,” Nelson said.

The themes and comparisons led Nelson to submit his sketch of the demogorgon to the Wright Opera House (WOH) in Ouray. The venue announced on April 7 an open call for its new art exhibition — Art in Isolation: Coping with Quarantine.

“In the time of social distancing we really wanted to create a way for people to reconnect and share their experiences through art, and the goal is to make one large piece of artwork that consists of the individual submissions,” said Alyssa Preston, executive director at the WOH. “We are all dealing with the current health, social and political situation facing the world differently, and we know that art is one of the greatest tools we have to share our own unique stories.

“Ultimately we just want you to have the opportunity to be creative during this uncertain and challenging time.”

The call is open to all ages and levels of art-making, with all forms of creative expression encouraged.

“The Wright is inviting community members to submit works of art expressing how they’re dealing with the current health situation facing the world today,” Emily Ayers, marketing director at WOH, said. “I think that people in the community are looking for ways to reconnect and express themselves in a difficult time and what better way to do that than through art.”

Ouray resident Markus Van Meter is a photographer and plans to submit his art soon to WOH. Van Meter considers himself a storyteller before a photographer, so he found a story to tell during this pandemic.

“There’s definitely been a change in social behavior because of this,” Van Meter said. “Not only for how people have to go about their everyday lives of shopping, but utilities, exercise, being social and even conducting school. It’s had a huge impact on people.

“Isolation can come in a lot of different ways, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be contained to four walls to feel isolated,” Van Meter said. “You can feel isolated in very large spaces, and a lot of my photography outside of this project is to find big sweeping landscapes and getting people to think about how they interact with their environment, and think about the way they impact society. A lot of my images will be along those lines.”

With the shutdown and time in isolation, Carl Cannizzaro and his wife, Linda Cannizzaro, have had more time to come up with original ideas for their artwork. The part-time residents of Ouray created a topographic map of the town, which Linda submitted for the exhibition.

“This was finished during the quarantine,” Carl said. “We started thinking about it earlier in the year and said, ‘Hey, that would be really cool to do.’

“We wanted to do it as an art piece with the colors, so Linda came up with a color scheme. It’s really more of an art piece than it is an actual map.”

Visual art can have different meanings for people. Some may be inspired. Others may be moved. A few may find it visually stunning.

But it all connects back to reflection, Van Meter said, and connects emotions and experiences. With this exhibition, and common theme of isolation, there could be an abundance of that.

“One of the things that makes visual art appealing to people is they identify with emotions or experiences with what they see, and I’m hoping that they take away a piece of not only how it works for them, because I don’t think that my life looks like those people’s lives, but I think they’ll find a commonality and a thread in there,” Van Meter said. “That they’ll look at an image that I share and it will have a tremendous amount of insight, but it will also have a theme that they can identify with and understand.”

The submission deadline for the exhibition is April 20 at 5 p.m. The exhibition date is May 1. Digital submissions can be sent to alyssa@thewrightoperahouse.org.

Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press

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