Archive for Sunday, January 24, 1999

FATHER, DAUGHTER CONCENTRATE ON HUMAN FORM

January 24, 1999

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"Femme Forms and Father Figures" showcases two artists' shared fascination with the human body.

As a kid, aspiring sculptor Tanya McNeely didn't have to look far for a role model. Her father, John Haller, worked as a commercial artist.

"He had his art table set up in our living room," McNeely remembers. "I would always go in and draw, and then I just got so intimidated for a while because I thought I could never be as good as my dad."

Inspired by her father's example but inhibited by his talent, she found the road to becoming an artist a rocky, winding way. But after enrolling at Kansas University, she found nothing interested her more than sculpting.

"I loved it," said McNeely, who graduated in 1991 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. "And then I wished I hadn't been so scared."

Haller, for his part, remembers only an occasional attempt to discourage Tanya and her sister, Michelle -- a silversmith who also graduated from KU -- from following in their father's footsteps.

"I tried not to tell them what they could or couldn't do," Haller said. "Beyond that, they took their own paths. I had no idea where they were going to end up."

Now father and daughter are exhibiting their work together for the first time. "Femme Forms and Father Figures" will hang through Jan. 31 at The Jazzhaus, 926 1/2 Mass. The collection of Haller's pencil drawings of nude figures and McNeely's sculptures of human torsos showcases the pair's shared fascination with the human body.

McNeely employs a variation of a molding compound used by dentists to make body casts which form the basis for her inventive sculptures. She then adds details like ribbon roses or painted-on flames and tattoos.

"Growing up we had nudes in our house all the time, and I never thought that was taboo, I just thought there was a beautiful figure," McNeely said. "My little friends would come over, and they'd say, `Oooo, there's a naked lady on the wall!' I never thought of her as a naked lady; she was a nude. It might embarrass people to look at a nude form, but I think it's beautiful; it's not a dirty thing."

Haller's accomplished drawings of nudes in erotically charged poses are rendered with watercolor pencils, charcoals and conte. They mark a departure from his commercial work with computer graphics.

"This has been almost like going back to square one, because I'm relearning the value of the line," he said of his return to fine art. "It has been a rebirth for me."

The exhibit includes the duo's first collaboration -- a McNeely sculpture painted with a Haller drawing -- that shows how far they've come from the days when McNeely shied away from even showing her work to her father.

"I hid my work from him," McNeely recalls. "Finally, at the end of my college career, I said, `OK, Dad, look at all this stuff and tell me what you think.' I was just afraid of him not liking it and not being good enough.

"It was really important because I valued him and looked up to him. And I know that intimidation just made me work harder."

Haller credits his daughters with reviving his own interest in the fine arts.

"I was very impressed with what I saw. In fact, it made me feel guilty because I wasn't working as much in fine art. I was working in ad agencies and taking care of business that way."

The death of Haller's wife nearly five years ago also nudged father and daughter to rededicate themselves to their work.

"I think that was a big push for me, because I started to think about what I was going to leave behind," McNeely said. "I needed to do something. That was what I did. My art -- that's where I have to leave my mark. So that's what pushed me."

"When my wife was dying, she said, `Maybe now you can quit doing commercial art and just draw and paint,'" Haller recalled. "Well, I couldn't totally, but I'm doing an awfully lot of fine art now and just doing some graphic art."

-- Steven W. Hill is a part-time writer for the Journal-World.

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