Three artists explore their creative liberties in ‘Trapped in a Vortex’

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Caris Avendaño Cruz is a Filipina writer and author of MARIKIT WEARS THE MAP TO THE ENGKANTOS, a Middle Grade fantasy book that features an all-Filipino cast and local folklore, debuting in FSG BYR Macmillan, Fall 2022.

In a world that feels trapped in the middle of a pandemic, art becomes freedom—at least to artists Rita Bard, Cheri Ibes, and RJ Ward, who are set to astound with Trapped in a Vortex. The exhibit was arranged to be shown earlier this year at Molecule Design in Santa Fe, NM, but is rescheduled to 2021 as an online virtual exhibition. Inviting viewers to be swept in spirals, this group of work reflects “on the notion of a vortex.” Cheri Ibes further describes it as “not simply in the sense of a visual graphic or an environmental phenomenon, but as a social milieu—an ideational rumination that simultaneously suggests entrapment and humor.” With all three artists converging at the junction of social humor, this alluring art exhibit promises to take a jab at political satire without losing the essence of the soul.

Vortex, by Cheri Ibes
A taste of Trapped in a Vortex by Cheri Ibes

Cheri Ibes

To Cheri Ibes, the best inspiration is found in the most common objects—coils of wires, broken tables, metal pipes, and scraps of linen left on the ground. There is a sheer thrill in unraveling discarded things, and Cheri pulls her ideas from this fascination; a new thing out of the old, the possibilities out of an object’s end. Cheri, with her unusual fondness for the quirky, fashions out art, breathes new worth to the discarded pieces. After all, in a vortex, all life is swept in a cycle that has no end.

This wonder of a wire invites a second look |
Old books that appear like withered flowers or sea urchins, among Cheri Ibes’ most beloved installations |
A close view of the pages as petals |

Cheri Ibes’ art screams joy out of a creative overhaul. She pays attention to the unique shapes and forms that somehow made more elegant by time and distortion. Discarded wooden frames look like windows echoed by mirrors. Curves of old wires are knotted and wrangled into strangely flowing forms. Newspaper cut-outs form a new message in unusual shapes. Favoring installation art over smaller pieces, Cheri Ibes draws the attention of the onlooker to the quirky truths and then urges them to ask questions.

In 2014, the Cheri Ibes unleashed her work Catchment, a symphony of metal pipes displayed against the arid ground, looking as if the objects sprouted from the earth. In the previous year, Cheri worked on ice, one that wasn’t delicately carved into winged swans as often seen in many swanky hotels. Her ice installation was the opposite, called “Swarms,” 25 different ice objects—none of which are intricately and intentionally formed—were displayed under mood lighting, making the visual narrative look ethereal. The glacier-like shapes were formed through trial-and-error. Found elements, such as plastic tubes, balloons, and tilted water bottles, were used to mold each ice sculpture into uncommon silhouettes that featured the raw, jagged texture of the element. All these are enclosed in translucent plastic lining and are displayed inside a storage shelf installed in a cold-storage step van.

With a fondness for found materials, Cheri Ibes transforms familiar objects into refreshed masterpieces, giving each object a new story—or, with cheeky humor, a satirical splash. After recreating art from discarded shoes, piano hardware, and newspaper prints, she continues to explore the organic messages from mundane things, hoping to discover new visual forms while stirring conversation at the same time.


RJ Ward

Playing with kaleidoscopic colors, RJ Ward repaints the world with a haunting, almost-dystopian theme, escaping normal human perception and delivering dimensional experiences. His work can be pronounced as hyper-horizons; there’s a rousing delinquency to it, a spirit of restlessness that clashes with order. RJ admits that his concepts often sprints along with the joy of rebelliousness—traditional is boring. Instead of straight lines, his abstract images are not still and tamed; shapes scatter inside the frames that burst with a collision of colors that break the usual dimension.

A Catastrophic Collision, by RJ Ward
A catastrophic collision of colors | RJ Ward

High-key colors of gunmetal and chrome are always in his palette, perhaps invoking futuristic ideas into his digital paintings that hung on an eternal motion. These scenes are not unfamiliar; the pulls and plays of colors are present in 60s art, where graphic videos dance along with trance music, putting one in a state of nostalgic dreams.

For Trapped in a Vortex, by RJ Ward.
RJ Ward is a filmmaker first, and many of his works reflect his ideals in motion

It’s the art of the old eras, but the way RJ Ward produced them is nothing archaic. He intelligently manipulates the celluloid images by frame, capturing all the details with his keen eyes. Swirls are constantly caught into an abstract vortex. Lines appear to be falling or rising or clashing upon one another. Unsurprisingly, the perfect angles of his hyper-trances are due to his roots: his background is film, having studied Film & TV at UCLA—and then pressing on to complete his BA and MFA. RJ Ward has worked as a screenwriter before diving into his own passion projects—composing music, founding a sound and art collective, and teaching Media Studies.

For Trapped in a Vortex, by RJ Ward.
The hint of the 60s stun with a sheer focus at the rebels and their revelries | RJ Ward

A colorful dissonance that sabotages the normal, RJ Ward’s version of a vortex are moving montages that depicts self and society into explosive paradoxes. There is always a discourse to his active millieus; in this era of immersive aesthetics, RJ Ward breaks through with a surreal time-lapse of tones that traverses one’s perception. Currently, he takes part in Foundre Contemporary’s Geometric Elegance: Art in the Age of Computational Beauty, by showcasing a five-story video projection on the outer wall of the exhibit’s building. Ward’s work has been displayed in various museums across the US, including the Los Angeles Municipal Gallery, Laguna Art Museum, Vital Spaces, and Santa Fe Collective.

Rita Bard

From painting, photography, and sculpture, Rita Bard integrates eras and found objects into her art, forming allegories that expose the unpredictability and imperfection of life. There is lingering humor to her work, exposed by a childlike language that makes use of unusual, ready-made objects: found toys, stationery, withering flowers, crumpled paper, pieces of old furniture, yarn, and discarded art supplies. Bright colors punctuate her work, usually framed with the stroke of her hands, emphasizing the vibrance of being alive, and perhaps, the many flaws along with it.

For Trapped in a Vortex, by Rita Bard.
Toys ahoy at Rita Bard’s colorful wonderland |

Before putting down roots in Santa Fe in 2004, Rita Bard has lived in both Germany and various US states, an experience which allowed her to inhale various visual influences and appreciate the sameness in places that seem to be too different to some. Instead of drawing a line between ambiguity, she uses her German American origin to tread on it, reshaping connections between two starkly different objects to encourage a harmonious relationship.

For Trapped in a Vortex, by Rita Bard.
An angel’s figurine becomes the jovial tank of this little plastic warrior |
a Bunny Sombrero, by Rita Bard
A bunny sombrero finds its way on the head of a carrot farmer |

In Vortex, a previous exhibition, Rita Bard sweeps wistful feelings with her grand assemblage of souvenirs and flea market finds. Each object, while possessing hints of their former owners, becomes a warning to modern mass consumption. In small dioramas, where figurines are set on a tableau, the unknown things become strangely familiar. Objects act out roles that are so relatable one may not help but laugh, and in this short loop of time, there is a pull of past experiences and memories, centering one’s heart and transforming them where it matters.

Rita Bard holds a BFA from Maine College of Art. She is also a master of glasswork, having possessed a Certificate of Apprenticeship of Art Glass Design, Theory and Praxis of Stained Glass Window Manufacturing Staatliche Glasfachschule, Hadamar, Germany. Rita has showcased her work in several galleries across the states, including the Center for Contemporary Art (CCA), Box Gallery, Eight Modern, and Launch Projects.

By Rita Bard
A table of seemingly unruly figurines remind one of a nostalgic child’s play |

In 2014, Rita Bard founded a freeform art space for guest curators to showcase underappreciated artists. In 2015, she launched the first Art’s Birthday at Santa Fe, collaborating with local art exhibitors and a network of creatives that rippled the message into the world. Art’s Birthday is celebrated internationally every January 17, where artists with interdisciplinary work showcase their mixed media pieces from different materials and techniques, encouraging onlookers to slow down their gaze and take time with their musings.


*Header image courtesy of Cheri Ibes.