Potion Park: The Kaleidoscopic Garden of Steve Ehret and Kat Francis at Canton Museum of Art
Potion Park: The Kaleidoscopic Garden of Steve Ehret and Kat Francis, on view at the Canton Museum of Art through March 5th, merges the fantastical styles of these partner artists. Described as a “dream world” in didactics, the exhibition consists of only thirteen works. The show includes works by each artist, as well as pieces the pair created together. Perhaps the show’s most compelling facet is the crossover between Ehret and Francis’ artistic styles. It isn’t a seamless blend—but that makes the exhibition more interesting.
Kat Francis is an educator and contemporary mixed media artist. She earned her M.F.A. from Columbus College of Design (CCAD) and her B.F.A. from The Ohio State University. Change, rebuild, and community are common themes in her work. Steve Ehret (also known as Monster Steve) is a self-taught painter whose murals can be found around the Midwest. Inspired by the natural world, his goal is not realism, but rather a sense of gravity. The pair are based in Northeast Ohio.
Although playful at first sight, Potion Park becomes irrevocably sad the longer you spend with it. Transforming from charming to sinister, it takes more than one walkthrough to realize you thought you were looking at heaven but what you’re really seeing is hell. I couldn’t decide whether this show was uplifting or depressing until I finally realized it is both. Vibrant colors descend into chaos and darkness, with each scene caught in between living and dying.
A seasoned art lover will recognize the influence of historical movements. I felt glimmers of Surrealism and Mannerism. Even so, there is something alienlike and novel about this exhibition. The strongest (and weirdest) works in this show are the collaborative ones.
Witnessing these artists work together brings to light their differences. They apply color theory differently, with Ehret often placing warm tones in the background, and Francis putting more emphasis on central focal points. Ehret’s style is looser and more painterly, while Francis’ works are sharper and punchier. When you view the works they created together, you can see the discrepancy—it’s obvious who contributed what, and I enjoyed this characteristic.
Pale Blue Eyes by Kat Francis is haunting in subject matter, yet joyful and childlike in its colors. A child’s face split in two looks just beyond our shoulder—possessed by good or evil, it is hard to tell. Francis’ work brings dimension, painted on wood and[CG1] layered to add more visual interest. Bright hues distract from the ominous nature of the work, which evokes the fleeting nature of youthful innocence. You’ll find more detail and texture in Francis’ work, so it’s straightforward to spot her hand in the collaborative works.
Sun Shower by Steve Ehret is an apocalyptic scene that pulls us in through warm colors and a lush softness. Almost nothing is easily identifiable, but we find moments of familiarity through fine details, like the blurriness of the sky and the faint, feathery vegetation.
The artists created Evening Bloom on View at Geeze Mound together. Ehret’s Martian-esque background breaks into suggestive flora and shapes. Potion Park plays up focal points, and here, I’m compelled by the way the eyes convey emotion. We’re met with eye rolls that simultaneously appear to be looking beyond, yearning for something more. Whimsical imagery (flowers, a fox, and a daisy puking rainbows) are overshadowed by bleakness. Throughout the exhibition, the eye motifs never make direct contact with us and instead are peering ahead.
Conjuring a Spirit Guide from the Hardware Store Parking Lot, another collaborative work, is a flower garden turned radioactive waste dump. The fox’s face is brought into razor-sharp focus among a foggy landscape, and again—its gaze is slightly past us, into the distance. This is the strongest work in the entire show. Each artist’s style is so distinct, but together, they’ve created a scene that feels inviting and unnerving all at once.
The curation of the gallery left me wanting more. While negative space isn’t inherently—well, negative—it doesn’t match the idea behind this exhibition. What could have been a longer trip turned out to be a short dreamscape between waking and sleeping. Moreover, the work is hung in a very traditional and predictable way, which, although balanced and appealing to the eye, feels less immersive. Nonetheless, I applaud the Canton Museum of Art for going above and beyond to give local artists a platform to exhibit their work. Potion Park, as well as the other exhibitions on view, integrate Ohioan artists at different points in their careers and working in a variety of media.
The Canton Museum of Art is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sundays 1-5 p.m. Admission is free on Thursdays and the first Friday of every month.