Rojas' voice strong in song, visual art at Ulrich Museum exhibit

2:26:01 PM CDT - Friday, February 03, 2006

By Shannon Littlejohn

You'll see and hear Peggy Honeywell sing before you really get to know Clare E. Rojas, a San Francisco painter, filmmaker and songwriter who has been on campus since Saturday, Jan. 28, preparing for the opening of her exhibit at the Ulrich Museum of Art.

But Honeywell doesn't exist in the flesh any more than the surreal characters in the painter's work. Peggy Honeywell, herself a frequent character in Rojas' paintings, is a stage name, a pretend persona strong enough to merit several music CDs complete with reviews and sales information online where sometimes no one even bothers to mention Rojas, the real person behind the voice.

At the Ulrich Museum opening today (Thursday, Feb. 2), instead of the usual artist discussion, Rojas will show a short animated film and, as Honeywell, give a vocal performance. Then she'll mingle as Rojas with the opening day crowd at a gallery reception in her honor.

Katie Geha, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Ulrich Museum, has heard the artist perform.

"She's a really great singer and writes all her own music," said Geha, who will introduce Rojas/Honeywell before her performance.

Honeywell and other women, and men and animals, appear in Rojas' work as characters built on folklore and fairytale but clearly imagined in the artist's mind into their own mythological lives. They travel through surreal landscapes and face their own challenges.

The paintings, Geha said, are done on "luan," which is similar to wood paneling. Rojas works on large panels and also does small gouaches, which is a way of painting with opaque colors, on panels. Her installations tend to be large and often serve as the backdrop for Honeywell's singing performances.

Rojas will exhibit in one of the smaller gallery rooms, which she is welcome to take over completely if she wants, Geha said. The performance is tentatively scheduled there or in the next-door gallery.

For her own essay on Rojas, Geha led with the artist's observation about her own work: "It's half laugh and half cry."

Geha agrees that the work is both funny and sad, as it reflects complex realities of being female and the state of today's world.

It's tempting, Geha writes online, to think of Rojas as a folk artist with her painted references to such icons as Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs, Russian nesting dolls, and American comic books.

Certainly she creates a sense of community and culture but, as Geha notes in her online at essay at http://webs.wichita.edu/?u=ulrich: "It is a culture that is wholly imagined, a sheltered space for women containing broken fragments of narrative a constructed fantasy world where girls strum banjos on the back of striped horses and a bear woman tenderly holds a mustached man in her hands."

Although Geha has her own take online about Rojas, she said in an interview that she won't push her ideas on the Ulrich audience.

"I don't like to be too prescriptive about what people get out of the art," Geha said. "I prefer for people to view it and then have an intense conversation about it."

The Ulrich Museum of Art is exhibiting Clare E. Rojas' work from Thursday, Feb. 2, through Sunday, March 12 as part of its Ulrich Project Series. The artist will present a performance as Peggy Honeywell at 4 p.m. on opening day and will be on hand for the gallery reception from 5-7 p.m. For more information, call 978-3664 or e-mail ulrich@wichita.edu.

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