• Freytag’s Pyramid illustrating dramatic structure, from Gustav Freytag’s work Technique of the Drama: An exposition of dramatic composition and art (1896).

The Storytellers

June 29—August 17, 2019

Sarah Bastress
Cecilia Beaven
Cathy Hsiao
James Kao
Ryan Nault
Alex Stark

Carrie Secrist Gallery is pleased to present our summer group exhibition The Storytellers. This exhibit brings together six Chicago-based artists whose practice involves narrative as a visual means to investigate approaches in storytelling. The Storytellers opens June 29 and runs through August 17, 2019, with an opening reception June 29 from 5 to 8PM.

Storytelling is in many ways a universal, implicit standard of life by which we learn, are entertained, question and understand. The role of a storyteller is to depict a narrative that compels emotive components through plot, characters and settings in a manner traditionally beholden to a beginning, middle and end. Within this structure are devices that compel meaning through theme, structure, genre, and tense. The nuances that occupy each told story are what make them unique, giving the reader personalized access and room to emotionally respond.

Within the confines of visual art, the framework of a single static image may or may not travel the entire distance of a story arc. In some cases the story jumps from artwork to artwork, and in others, the non-sequential narrative is built into a single image. What lies outside that framework, or the untold, is a reminder that the human condition is complex and unconditional. As such, narrative art – art that tells a story – challenges the viewer to discern meaning through the level, approach and amount of an artist’s articulation of a depiction.

What bind many of the artists in The Storytellers is the highly personal experiences through which their stories visually unfold. The use of figure(s), animals, nature and a myriad of other motifs develop deceptively simple to complex story arcs. The autobiographical and individual stories that are told evolve through this narrative approach as a way to convey shared meaning. Ultimately, how these images resonate gives agency to the viewer so that they may place themselves somewhere along their own arc.


Sarah Bastress’ large group of small paintings are explicit, intimate depictions of queer tropes are extracted from painting history, pop culture and her own childhood. Sometimes thought of as mathematical equations, varying components combine before the viewer in a problem where 1+1+1 rarely equals 3, but a sense of ambivalence with a dose of humor are the mean.

Cecilia Beaven’s paintings personalize and contemporize the notion of mythologies found in popular Mexican culture. In exploring the origin of myths, Beaven creates her own settings that inhabit primordial landscapes, spirit creatures and loose stories.

Cathy Hsaio’s installation utilizes a variety of mediums to develop an ontological approach to cultural pluralism. A combination of a mural drawing, organic plant life, and low-relief sculptures create a non-linear storyline that emphasizes a dialogue with narrative potential.

James Kao’s highly nuanced oil paintings are profound readings of nature and the beings that occupy it. Built through the act of observation, the seemingly abstract shapes and subtle articulation of forms resolve to reveal how our surroundings play an important role in telling stories.

Ryan Nault’s intimately sized gouache paintings subtly tweak reality in a manner that emphasizes that the world around us may not actually be what it seems. With a nod to a dystopic future and surrealism, the characters, beings and anthropomorphized buildings occupy a strange territory that could be classified as mindscapes.

Alex Stark’s series of drawings evolve from a spiritual connection between the artist and birds as a symbol of awkwardness (when grounded) and grace (when aloft). The repeated motif across multiple works, rendered in colored pencil and acrylic, create a non-sequential narrative exploring the existential qualities of transformation.


  • Sarah Bastress
    Morgantown, 1995, The Haircut Rebellion, 2019
    Oil on canvas
    8 x 8 inches

  • Cecilia Beaven
    Rabbits In a Museum (2), 2018
    Acrylic and latex on panel
    24 x 18 inches

  • Cathy Hsiao
    Installation view of M ㄅ V ㄍ M ㄍ ㄇ ㄒ II : Architecture of Consolation
    Chicago Artists Coalition Jan. 4 – Feb. 14, 2019

  • James Kao
    Lean-to, 2016
    Oil on linen over board
    14 x 15 inches

  • Ryan Nault
    Mining the pit in my stomach, 2017
    Gouache and pencil on cardboard mounted to panel in artist frame
    11 x 20 inches

  • Alex Stark
    With Oscillations Towards the Obscure, 2019
    Acrylic and colored pencil on paper
    30 x 22 inches