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In ‘Gravity,’ Artist Tom Torluemke Explores Climate Crisis Through Riveting Landscapes

The artist's solo exhibition "Gravity" features pandemic-inspired portraits and landscapes. It runs until Oct. 15 at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, 2320 W. Chicago Ave.

"Friendly Sumacs" (2021). Acrylic on paper on panel, 22" x 30”
Tom Torluemke
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — A new exhibition of landscapes at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art originated from a series of selfies the artist Tom Torluemke asked family and friends to take during the pandemic.

“Gravity,” Torluemke’s solo exhibition, features landscapes and portraits the Indiana-based painter created over the past three years, bringing humanity and nature together to depict the current environmental crisis.

“Gravity” is on view through Oct. 15 at the museum, 2320 W. Chicago Ave. Torluemke will have an Artist Talk at the museum at 1 p.m. this Sunday.

“The relevance of this exhibition is multi-faceted,” said Christina Wyshnytzky, assistant curator at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. “A post-pandemic show influenced by social isolation and angst, while also being a direct call for action for the climate crisis we are all enduring. We must adore our landscapes so that we can adore the ones we love, and love both as one.”

Torluemke said he had decided to take a more focal and serious approach to his landscapes before the pandemic hit but found himself strained by the tragedy of the climate crisis. 

During the isolation of the pandemic, Torluemke invited loved ones to send a selfie of themselves along with a picture of their favorite place in or around their home. He started a portrait series based on those images, and began to explore the relationship between humans and the landscapes.

The landscapes in “Gravity” compose their own independent body of work titled “Tragic Landscapes,” indicating how the environment is becoming more endangered, spanning across the four seasons.

Torluemke sketched inspiration for the landscapes outside, then built on the drawings back in his studio using his memory and imagination to convey the color and mood. 

“Pia” (2021). Acrylic on paper and hand carved frame 20″ x 12″
Credit: Tom Torluemke

Torluemke has included the selfie-inspired portraits of family and friends he painted during the pandemic in “Gravity.” He placed the portraits in frames shaped like hand mirrors, to be regarded as reflections highlighting the closeness he felt with his subjects. 

By facing the portraits and landscapes against each other on opposite sides of the gallery space, Torluemke said he aimed to amplify the fact that by looking at one, the audience is destined to ignore the other.

“The most poignant element of the show was taking place as the visitors were focused on the portraits. They had their backs to the landscapes. In other words, they were ignoring the landscape, the very environment that gives them life,” Torluemke said.

One of the most devastating pieces in the exhibition is neither landscape nor portrait. “Drag Race,” acrylic on canvas, depicts a horrendous scene where emaciated men drag other men through an industrial wasteland, fighting to be the first to cross the finish line as women outside of the race track cheer.

“Drag Race” (2020), acrylic on canvas. 76″ x 110”
Credit: Tom Torluemke

“If we don’t care for both the environment and people, something like the Drag Race will become a reality, or maybe it already is,” Torluemke said. “It seems we are dragging the earth and our fellow human beings to death with such beauty. It’s a shame.”

“Gravity” is open to the public through Oct. 21 at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. The museum is open from noon-4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; admission is donation-based.

Torluemke’s Artist Talk at the museum, 2320 W. Chicago Ave., will begin at 1 p.m. this Sunday.

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