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Through a Crack in the Lake

Through a Crack in the Lake is a series of large-scale collaborative paintings by husband-and- wife team Patricia Opel and Timothy Norris. The paintings utilize Great Lakes shipwreck narratives, Michigan history, and issues of Great Lakes ecology as symbolic points of departure.

From tribal shamanism to twentieth-century Surrealism, floating or swimming in water has been used as a symbol of sleep, hallucination, sex, birth, death, and passage to other spiritual realms. Submergence underwater as a metaphor for the subconscious or the dream-state is a common feature found in many artists’ works. For Patti and Tim, this universal symbolism connects to local history. The show’s title is borrowed from sailor’s lingo describing the sudden and complete disappearance of a ship in a storm. But the title can also suggest a mythic descent into the subconscious. As a result, the artists’ intention has not been to illustrate events with historical textbook accuracy but rather to utilize these stories as intriguing psychological metaphors. Such a theme presented on a large-scale format corresponds to the European tradition of “History Painting”- a particular category of art in which the artist used biblical stories, ancient Greco-Roman mythology, or battle scenes as commentaries on the human condition.

Patti and Tim’s working method for developing a painting follows a basic pattern in which only one artist typically works on the painting at a given time. They strive to add elements that are unexpected to one another. When ideas are developed for the next step they are not always discussed ahead of time with the other person. In this way, each artist takes their respective turns at the canvas. The colors, patterns, shapes, and images are therefore layered up gradually and the paintings evolve over a lengthy span of time. This process is a visual dialogue in which the artists communicate back and forth by responding and reacting to each other’s visual marks and ideas. Fragmentary glimpses of art history (surrealism, minimalism, abstract expressionism, pop art, scientific illustration, etc.) emerge through the course of the process.

A few reactions to the paintings:

Through a Crack in the Lake rocks and rolls! To be caught in an undertow and paint that experience would be one analogy.”

Honore Lee, art critic, Kalamazoo Gazette


“My initial reaction to being surrounded by the large-scale, raging force fields of water was a distinct physical sense of compression that literally took my breath away.”

John Walson, art critic, Muskegon Chronicle


“These huge paintings of nautical dramas reflect hard lessons brought by human foible and nature’s unpredictability. While launched from narratives, they also establish a lyrical abstraction.”

Sherry Maurer, Director, Augustana College Art Museum


“These artists, who are intimately familiar with the Great Lakes, give a certain added sincerity to the project.”

Jim Houghton, former curator, Muskegon Museum of Art


“Children of all ages who visited the exhibit were completely engaged as soon as they walked into the room. They reacted immediately to the color and action of the paintings and were quick to engage in dialogue about the histories of each one. Their enthusiasm was catching!”

E. Jane Connell, Director of Collections and Exhibitions/Senior Curator, Muskegon Museum of Art

Through a Crack in the Lakehas appeared in Michigan at:

Art Center of Battle Creek

Lansing Art Gallery

Muskegon Museum of Art

Bobbit Visual Arts Center, Albion College

Rankin Gallery of Art, Ferris State University

Richmond Art Center, Frostic School of Art, Western Michigan University

The exhibit has also traveled to the Augustana College Art Museum, Rock Island, Illinois.

In addition, selected paintings from the series have been exhibited in regional competitive shows including the Kalamazoo Institute of Art (Second Place Award in 2007), the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and the Rockford Art Museum in Illinois. Portions of the series have also appeared in group shows at the University of Michigan- Flint, the Stubnitz Gallery of Adrian College, Michigan, and the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids.

Exhibit bookings can be made via Kook’s Eye Gallery.