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Review: Northlight Gallery spotlights ASU alumni's photography in fine art exhibition

Featuring work from three masters of fine arts alumni, 'Borders and Boundlessness' houses striking presentations

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Art pieces from the "Borders and Boundless" exhibit at Grant Street Studios in Phoenix on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022.

Tucked away in downtown Phoenix, just south of Chase Field and the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus lies the Northlight Gallery, a hidden gem filled with artistic photography unlike any other. 

When the sun goes down and the city lights come on, Northlight Gallery overlooks the broad, stunning Phoenix skyline. But from what I’ve discovered in my short trip down to the gallery is that the real views are inside the spacious brick building. 

The Northlight Gallery functions as a teaching laboratory for students who are earning degrees in photography who help establish and set up more exhibits like "Borders and Boundlessness," explained Elizabeth Allen, curator of the Gallery and fine arts specialist.

"Part of that process is understanding the intention of the artist whose work we're showing, and also reengaging with it to reinterpret the images to tell stories," Allen said.

"Borders and Boundlessness," as described by the etched prose on the wall, is a composition of projects from three masters of fine arts alumni Emily Matyas, Krista Elrick and Aaron Rothman that depict "issues of the land." 

However, walking through the vast gallery of art, you can tell just how strikingly dissimilar each artist's work is from one another, while still keeping with the overlapping theme. 

Rothman's methodically crafted exhibit "Signal Noise" portrays ambiguous portraits of landscapes that were gradient-altered images. A standout example was a rendering of the Milky Way that was nearly unidentifiable from up close. But if you take a step back and look at the larger picture, even through the alterations, you can make out our elegant galaxy in a brand new light.

Past that, Elrick's "A Country No More" is a wordless love letter to nature in the form of black and white portraits, landscapes and candids. Elrick's pieces weave seamlessly together in collages that procure strikingly different images to create a brand new image on the canvas. 

And finally, in a small nook just left of the door is the art exhibition from Matyas, "Sol y Tierra." 

Matyas, who graduated with her master's in photography from ASU almost 20 years ago, started her journey as a journalist. During the presentation of her work, she told the story of how "Sol y Tierra," a 30-year long photographic project, first begun with a foundation that traveled to a small village in rural Mexico. 

What had started as journalistic work transitioned into the making of something beautiful and artistic. Matyas described how her inspiration came from the beauty of daily life in the village.

"I could pay attention to things like the light or the shadow, and the composition and the character of the people too, that started to come through in the images because I knew that it was kind of like magic," she said. 

Displayed on the plaque labeled "Finding No Other," the first introduction of Matyas's work is drawn by a specific excerpt from her book that describes the work to be "an ardent love for a country not my own and people not related to me."

That love for Mexico is displayed in photos on plaques around a large expanse of four walls, through photos of people and faces unfamiliar that hold so many unspoken memories. Shots of rustic settings invoke a sense of nostalgia for a place you've never been. Matyas's art captures a world across the border in a way we've never gotten to see it before. 

"These two worlds always seem to be a mirror image of each other," Matyas said in reference to the differences between the U.S. and Mexico. "I just really started to feel like going across the border like that and getting to know people who lived in a quite different place than I did in different ways. It was a beautiful thing to just get to know them and find commonalities."

Guests like Buzzy Sullivan and Vanessa Brooks who were more than eager to discuss what Matyas' show meant to them. 

"I like to come here to Northlight; I think it's a really good photo community. And I especially like coming to this show — Emily Matyas's show — so I can see images of Mexico in the '90s," Sullivan said. "I think Emily has the unique ability of showing how rich the culture is in Sonora."

"It really captures a time and place that perhaps doesn’t exist in some ways anymore," Brooks said. 

Art shows and presentations, like Matyas', are some of the many overlooked masterpieces that ASU, and more specifically Northlight Gallery. With compelling images that hold so many untold stories and unspoken memories, there are countless reasons to come visit the "Borders and Boundlessness" presentation. 

"If people are interested in coming to see fine art photography that is in dialogue with issues of today and what's happening in the United States and the world they could come here and have and see those conversations happening on the wall," Allen said. 

The exhibit is open to the public until Feb. 19 and the next presentation talk with Elrick will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18. 

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Analisa ValdezEcho Reporter

Analisa Valdez is a reporter with the Echo, focusing on covering the arts and entertainment world. Analisa has been apart of the State Press for two and a half years and is in her third year at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

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