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Blood Ties 

Both compelling artists in their own medium, Kay O’Rourke and Gina Freuen learned their styles in the same home.

click to enlarge Sisters Gina Freuen (left) and Kay O'Rourke in Freuen's studio - CARRIE SCOZZARO
  • Carrie Scozzaro
  • Sisters Gina Freuen (left) and Kay O'Rourke in Freuen's studio

Spend time with siblings and you may discover their secret language. Several conversations at once, inside jokes, knowing looks, the occasional flare-up of deep-rooted tensions.

When artists Gina Freuen and Kay O’Rourke get together, their secret sibling language suggests balance and synergy. While both inherited their mother’s artistic nature — she painted, ran an art gallery and taught art in the family home — the way her influence manifests itself is quite different, at least on the surface.

Freuen is primarily a potter, known for figurative teapots and similar forms in minimalist glazes created through a lifetime of experimenting with firing techniques. O’Rourke is primarily a painter, also figurative, and decidedly narrative, with surreal overtones and decadent color on her large oil canvasses.

Below the surface, however, there is a balance to the sisters’ work, a synergy in how they express themselves, which is what makes their upcoming exhibition at the Art Spirit Gallery so intriguing. It’s a rare glimpse into two

facets of shared and separate experiences, reflecting infinitely back on those experiences through the filter of each artist’s unique vision.

In Freuen’s Mead-area home they talk about process and control, about making meaning through art. Freuen pulls out three sculpted arms: one holds onto something tightly, another is letting go, while the third has completely released. Freuen said she looks forward to letting go more now, especially with a new kiln she built that allows her to gas-fire and wood-fire to create the spontaneous surface colors. We talk about how pottery necessitates a willingness to let go because of the firing process, and Freuen concedes that she has always tended to find comfort in structure.

O’Rourke, on the other hand, seems to embrace the unknown that emerges on her canvases, informed in part by the multitude of books she reads at any given time. Earth Knowledge 2, for example, relates to a Celtic myth. It’s one of several new paintings that include fish, birds and the litany of characters O’Rourke culls from her real and imagined life.

We note the difference in studios, too.

Freuen’s rows of glazes are organized by size and color. O’Rourke laughs about her seemingly chaotic workspace. Then Freuen pulls out a new piece, “Sisters,” which incorporates a tall, figurative base that reads like the lower portion of a body, into which fits a rounded form, like a belly, into which another figurative piece is placed. It becomes quieter.

And just like that we are not just talking about art anymore. Something deeper creeps into the conversation, something that’s likely been there all along. We talk candidly about how they handled — separately and together — the loss of one parent and the devastating illness of another. And the pieces take on a new sheen: Freuen’s exploring comfort, solace, nurturing and nesting; O’Rourke’s favoring motifs like the journey, origins, flight, growth and transformation.

One can read too much into things, of course, which is both the beauty and bane of art, while others see little connection. In fact, Freuen noted, even though they’ve exhibited throughout the area for decades and even exhibited together several years ago with collaborative works, few people seem to know they’re sisters. Maybe that’s because they’ve been talking in their secret language of siblings.

Or maybe we just haven’t listened closely enough.

Gina Freuen and Kay O’Rourke, “Two Sisters: A Potter, A Painter” • Jan 14-Feb 12 • The Art Spirit Gallery • 415 Sherman Ave, Coeur d’Alene • Artist’s reception, Jan 14 from 5-8 pm • http://www.theartspiritgallery.com • (208) 765-6006

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