After living in Massachusetts, Arizona and several states and cities in between, new professor of art Emily Stokes knew what she was getting into by moving to Orange City, Iowa.
“Orange City definitely fits in with my enjoyment of farm scenery,” said Stokes.
Although she has never lived on a farm or raised a prize-winning pig, scenes of 4-H livestock contests are prevalent in Stokes’ exhibit, which will be on display in the Korver Visual Arts Center through September 16.
Works such as “Under the Tent” and “4Hscape” show a piece of national culture to which many from the Midwest can relate—livestock proudly presented before a crowd of all ages gathered together in a tight dusty corral area. However, Stokes’ artistic style is the force that makes these scenes truly come to life.
Other settings found in Stokes’ art, which some describe as “cartoon realism,”include national parks, crowd-filled stadiums and cityscapes. All of these pieces were created based on locations in which Stokes has either lived or visited.
“A lot of places do inspire me,” she said. “I also like to people-watch and take in what I see.”
With quick, squiggly strokes and quirky, playful colorings, Stokes has a style of capturing the world that is completely her own. Rich with humor, characters that are eerily remindful of someone we all know, and an attention to the smallest detail, her works capture the feel of living a true, all-American upbringing.
Stokes describes the style of art featured in her current exhibit as many small sketches composited together. She enjoys playing with perspective and color choices and strives to make scenes come alive. Each piece contains more than what appears upon first glance.
A noteworthy aspect of Stokes’ works is her signature “ice cream cone man.” The cartoon character, which depicts the traditional vanilla soft serve sugar cone for sale at any ice cream stand in America, is featured in a majority of the pieces in her current exhibit. Even so, he has yet to receive a formal name. Born during Stokes’ time at grad school, the faceless treat, with arms and legs sprouting from his cone body, was a way for Stokes to represent traditional Americana in her works.
“He was an idea that came about as a way to unify my pieces,” said Stokes. After awhile, Stokes started to feel forced to come up with ways to fit him into her scenes.
“That’s when he and I had our ‘falling-out,’ and he was written out of the script,” she said.
“Muthscape,” perhaps the most recognizable of her works after appearing on posters promoting her exhibit, illustrates Stokes’ impressions of the Michigan town of Frankenmuth.
“It’s like Orange City’s Dutch fronts on buildings, but instead the whole town is decorated in a Bavarian Germanic way,” explained Stokes. Prevalent among the town is a celebration of all things Christmas.
“The town has a hierarchical layout with the huge Santa statue you see in my drawing at the front, and then it funnels down to the church,” she said.
Stokes’ related piece, “Muthscape: interior,” is based on the town’s enormous warehouse of all things—Christmas ornaments, decorations and supplies.
Stokes is quick to defend the people of the town’s good intentions. She also pointed out the way signs throughout the city point spell out “CHRISTmas” with an emphasis on Christ.
“The family that owns Muthscape holds Christian beliefs,” she said.
Each audience member may walk away with a different reaction toward the pieces. Some see a celebration of the holiday and traditions surrounding it, while others see a statement about the American overly consumeristic culture.
“Different people see humor, sarcasm or sincerity,” Strokes said. “You have to have a sense of humor about human culture.”
“Breezescape: 161,” the earliest piece featured in the exhibit, offers an intimate look of the city at night. Set late in the evening, the yellows coming from streetlamps, factories and automobiles create a dazzling effect against the night blue background of the piece.
Showing the intricacy and almost maze-like quality of the big city, “Breezescape: 161” does not judge the city lifestyle, but rather gives a sense of the excitement and adventure waiting around every corner.
Although it may not be as large or have as many people to observe, Stokes believes Orange City can give inspiration to future sketches.
“Even the corn is pretty in its own way,” she said. Stokes is looking forward to driving through and around the town and surrounding area and taking snapshots of sights distinct to the place. Stokes goes back to photos she takes to gain more inspiration for her artwork.
Without opportunities to draw from canyons, skyscrapers or national monuments in her backdrop, Stokes is content in this small Dutch town.
“As long as I have paper and materials, I’ll be happy,” she said.