Alternative Beauty: The Work of Karen Jilly at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum is a 25-year survey of the artist’s career, including paintings, drawings and prints. Jilly was a 2016 proposal winner, selected by the museum’s curatorial staff, who generally approve two to three proposals annually.

Jilly was born in Los Angeles and relocated to Arizona in 1994, after doing some graduate studies in Long Beach. She divides her time between the two states (Paradise Valley here in Arizona), and her art has a significant presence in both. It is held in various public collections, including Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Arizona State University Art Museum, and the Janet Turner Print Museum at California State University in Chico. Private and corporate collectors also fill out Jilly’s resume.
The urban landscape is a dominant subject in Jilly’s work. Her pieces are filled with scaffolding, power lines, telephone poles and traffic signals. For her, these elements of urban life mirror the human journey. Through this type of architecture, she shows the depth and complexity of life and survival, and does it with an intricate hand. In “Footnote Power Tool Engraved,” a monotype from 2002, a bridge structure is shown from below. Composed of numerous fine lines, it emphasizes not only the intense amount of planning and thought that such a structure needs, but also the work it takes to bring it to fruition.

Jilly’s palette is often dark, and in this artist’s work that is more inviting than alienating. It lends sincerity and adds an undeniable power. Her deep colors unite with her line work—from fine and cutting to broad and chaotic—to give each object significant presence. Not only do we see one overall area in an urban landscape, we become very aware of its many pieces and attributes. But it doesn’t stop there. That particular mix of color and style allows us to see and feel the mood of the work. As Jilly brings these landscapes to life, she lets the viewer know that they are simultaneously delicate and tenacious, and she creates motion to show how time and space are fluid.
“Looking for the Golden Sun,” an acrylic on wood painting from 2016, is a stark vision of train tracks, stoplights and wires. It is cloudy, twisty and winding, with a perspective that nods to the infinite. The piece sneaks in a sense of hope with a bit of sunshine that forces its way through the gray.

The museum’s chief curator, Patty Haberman, appreciates how Jilly creates works that serve as metaphors for life’s journey. “What could be dark and moody,” Haberman said, “are, in these large-scale works, symbols of rebirth, growth and new beginnings—universal themes that resonate with all of us.”

Alternative Beauty
Through March 19
Artist’s reception on February 10, with musical entertainment, refreshments and cash bar.
Mesa Contemporary Arts
1 E. Main St., Mesa