“Oracle” by Keely McCool.

Abstract works at 73 See Gallery
‘The Body Is Just a Metaphor’ by Monika Smerdel
‘Earth Works’ by Keely McCool
73 Pine St.

Artist talk Wednesday, July 26, 7 p.m.
Closing reception Sunday, July 30, 3-6 p.m.
Show runs through July 30. Noon-6 p.m. or by appointment. Gallery is closed Mondays.


Monika Smerdel’s paintings are full of color. Keely McCool’s sculptures are earth-toned and neutral (in fact, many are literally made out of earth). But the work of each artist complements the other’s, at 73 See Gallery through Sunday, July 30.

Smerdel’s show is titled “The Body Is Just a Metaphor,” while McCool’s is called “Earth Works.”

Both artists explore spirtuality in their work. Smerdel’s paintings explore light, said the artist. McCool hopes her work will encourage the viewer to delve inside themselves and connect to the material they see.

Smerdel, born in Poland, moved to the U.S. as a small child just before the fall of Communism. After briefly moving back with her family, she returned to the U.S., and now lives in Cranford.

McCool came to Montclair State University from Oregon to be near Manhattan. She ended up loving Montclair and settling here.

We caught up to both artists to ask them about their inspirations and goals. The interviews were conducted separately, but like their artwork, complement one another.

Local: Tell me how you got started as an artist.

Smerdel: My grandmother had a paint store in Poland, in the family for two generations. I used to go after school and just stare at the pigments. They were so vibrant and chromatic. I still think about it every day. It’s what inspired me to become an artist. In Poland back in the day, paint didn’t come in gallons. There were crates filled with pigments in them. A painter would walk in and say “I need a green color” and mix blue and yellow with linseed oil and other bases to create the paint.

McCool: Ever since I was a little kid I was taking my toys apart and resculpting them to something else, and creating different things. When there was “show and tell” at school I was drawing. I was always doing something creative, since I was little.

“Enraged” by Monika Smerdel.

Local: Talk to me about the title of your show.

Smerdel: It has a lot to do with my study of the Bhagavad Gita. I’ve been exploring spirituality more, and digging in more to my subconscious. The subconscious connects through light, and the title is the way I perceive light into the painting: it’s shining from underneath or applied on top.

McCool: (laughing) It’s a good title because I have three series in this show. Having a general title was more feasible. My new work is called “Impetus of Creation.” I’m interested in how humans create. I’m concentrating on the flow of energy from consciousness, the subconscious, the super subconscious, from thought to form. I’m referencing the physical world and the metaphysical world. This is my three-dimensional interpretation to try to incorporate this concept into being.

I also have my Basket Series, inspired by Japanese basketry. It’s called “Basket Series.” That’s how minimal I am. The last one is the Organic Series, sculptures that I made with leaves. the foundation is always minimal. I took just leaves and found a way of folding them to incorporate my forms. People rake the leaves and I’m here thinking “noooooo!”

Local: what inspires you?

Smerdel: Energy. Nature. Everything. I can look at something taking a walk and something will hit me. Everything is from within looking out. I can walk down the same street every day and see something different.
I collect information for a few months before I start a new series. It could take up to a year before I start digging in. I have a photographic memory and feelings, and want tog e that out onto a canvas. It’s very emotional, yet physical and visual state.

McCool: I’m inspired by nature. I incorporate what I’m inspired by. Most of my work is made out of mud and twigs. Mud becomes the foundation of my form. I add twigs to add texture and dialogue.

When I’m just going out for a walk and see things on the ground, because I’m so spatially inclined, I can see the forms, the natural materials spinning and forming into different sculptures. If I like it, I grab the material and go.

Also a current issue, and I collect words. Sometimes a word will mold itself into a form later. It might be the word “impetus.” If I could use just three right now they would be “evolution,” “revolution,” and “unity consciousness.”

Local: How do you want viewer to feel?

Smerdel: I like the viewers to experience whatever they need to experience through it. Everybody looks at things differently. One person might see a dog or a piece of fabric. Bright colors draw them in. People are attracted to color, just like children. That’s how you create energy in a painting, either through texture or color. It is two dimensional, not sculpture, which is three dimensional. [McCool] can go mellower, with three dimensional shapes that draw people to her work and the rawness of it.

McCool: I really want to make the viewer connect with the materials. Having a neutral palette means they connect with it, and have to go inside themselves to find the connection. It’s more of an inward connection, an essence connection, soul to soul. I want the viewers to feel all that I feel, with what inspires me. I’m trying to share it with everybody else.