PHOTO: Gallery Visio patrons peruse the art in “Aqueous,” the exhibit of works by artist Caitlin Funston, on display until March 11, 2015. Photo by Cate Marquis for The Current 2015 ©

 

By Cate Marquis, A&E Editor for The Current

Detail of one of the paintings in "Aqueous" by artist Caitlin Funston, on display in Gallery Visio until March 11, 2015. Photo by Cate Marquis for The Current 2015 ©
Detail of one of the paintings in “Aqueous” by artist Caitlin Funston, on display in Gallery Visio until March 11, 2015. Photo by Cate Marquis for The Current 2015 ©

The octopus is a sea creature that has long fascinated the human imagination. While legend and fiction might paint these creatures as menacing, the octopus is actually shy and uses a variety of disguises to conceal itself. Artist Caitlin Funston paints the octopus in friendly, neon-bright pastels, turning upside down both the scary fictions and the creature’s own true secretive nature.

“Aqueous” is Funston’s colorful, playful, imaginative octopus’ garden of delights, a collection of gouache watercolor paintings and multi-media sculptures. The exhibit is currently on display at Gallery Visio, the student-run University of Missouri-St. Louis art gallery, located in the lower level of the Millennium Student Center.

Paintings in the "Aqueous" art exhibit by Caitlin Funston, on display in Gallery Visio until March 11, 2015. Photo by Cate Marquis for The Current 2015 ©
Paintings in the “Aqueous” art exhibit by Caitlin Funston, on display in Gallery Visio until March 11, 2015. Photo by Cate Marquis for The Current 2015 ©

The art exhibit opened Wednesday, February 11, with a reception starting at noon. Artist Funston was in attendance, discussing the inspiration behind her art works, as gallery patrons viewed the art, mingled, and munched on a buffet of light refreshments. All but two of the colorful paintings in the exhibit are offered for sale.

Funston is a recent UMSL graduate in fine arts. The artist has long been intrigued by the octopus, tracing back to a childhood encounter at an aquarium. As a student, Funston continued her aquatic connection by working in a seafood restaurant. But while the octopi the artist encountered in that job are gray and lifeless, the octopi in her paintings are vibrantly alive with color.

“Aqueous” features several paintings and a pair of sculptures, which fill the space with eye-popping color and a sinuous sense of movement created by twisting tentacles. The artist notes that the octopus’s appendages are more properly called “arms” rather than tentacles, as is the case for starfish. Many of the paintings in the exhibit draw a visual parallel between the octopus and the starfish, by focusing on the arms and the suction cups underneath them. The sculptures, which resemble neon-bright seaweed, are displayed in the corners of the gallery space, creating a kind of natural environment for these imaginative octopi.

Paintings and sculpture in the "Aqueous" art exhibit by Caitlin Funston, on display in Gallery Visio until March 11, 2015. Photo by Cate Marquis for The Current 2015 ©
Paintings and sculpture in the “Aqueous” art exhibit by Caitlin Funston, on display in Gallery Visio until March 11, 2015. Photo by Cate Marquis for The Current 2015 ©

The paintings also have a sinuous quality, looping around the space, and overlapping against a backdrop of swaying seaweed and other elements of the creature’s undersea habitat. Paired with the bright contrasting colors, and the dimension produced by the gouache painting technique, more opaque and textural than plain water-color but just as fluid, the paintings in “Aqueous” almost seem to move.

The use of bright, neon colors for the paintings makes them visually very appealing. Funston uses that palette of colors in her work frequently but, in this case, she made that choice for specific reasons. First, the colors acknowledge that the usually hidden octopus is actually very colorful, able to change color like chameleons. The octopus uses its shifting colors and patterns to either blend in with its surroundings, or confuse potential predators or prey. In her art, Funston uses color and pattern to do the opposite – reveal, rather than conceal, the octopus.

“Aqueous” is an appealing, fun art exhibit, one that offers students a refreshing change on a drab winter day. The exhibit runs through March 11. Gallery Visio is open Monday through Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1p.m. They can be contacted by phone at (314) 516-7922 or by email at galvisio@umsl.edu.

© The Current 2015