"Works" by Michael J. Riha
University of Arkansas drama professor Michael J. Riha struggles with the idea of being labeled an "artist."
He says, "I hold the word 'artist' in such high regard that I find it difficult to place myself in that category." He prefers to think of himself as a "theatre designer," who takes the role of the student in the development of his artistic abilities.
"Works by Michael J. Riha," currently on display at Mullins Library, offers a tantalizing glimpse into the development of Riha's abilities in three forms. The exhibit contains still-life works that were created while Riha studied with a Russian set designer '“ Danila Korogodski, who, Riha says, "impressed upon me the importance of 'seeing, not inventing, what it is that you see before you.'"
Also displayed is a series of watercolors, a quiet celebration of Gulley Park trees before last winter's ice storm forever altered their shapes. Riha says he was inspired by a late December afternoon walk in Gulley Park with his wife. He says, "It was around dusk and as I looked up into the sky from underneath the trees, I was struck by the beauty of the colorful, vibrant setting sun against the barren, lifeless branches of the trees."
Riha says he chose the perspective, "almost that of a squirrel looking up the trunk of the tree," to make "the impact of the tree's canopy even more dramatic." Riha made a series of the tree images to "explore the depth and richness of the black silhouette against the dramatically colored and mottled sky."
The last set of images in the exhibit are sample set design renderings that Riha creates "as a means of communicating my ideas for the world of the play." The appearances of these pieces in an art exhibit is, says Riha, "unique in that they are used as a tool as opposed to the final outcome and are therefore rarely seen as 'art pieces.'" The striking stage renderings on their flat black backgrounds are, however, like the squirrel's perspective of a Gulley Park tree, an absorbing glimpse into a world most of us will only see from a more common, spectator's point of view.
Michael J. Riha, a native of Wisconsin, holds a bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin and a Master of Fine Arts in Scenic Design/Technical Direction from Indiana University. He is currently a Professor of Dramatic Arts at the University of Arkansas.
"Works by Michael Riha" will be displayed through the end of December, 2009. For more information, call the dean's office, at 497-575-6702.
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