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MMAM exhibit

A Minneapolis-based fine art and commercial photographer, Rhea Pappas captures stunning images of women underwater.

WINONA (TNS) — Two temporary exhibits on display at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum were jointly named “Surfacing” partly as a pun.

They are meant to highlight the talents of emerging artists, hence one reason for the name, said curator Jon Swanson.

The works of painter Samantha French and photographer Rhea Pappas also show people underwater, sometimes emerging from the water, he said.

The exhibits could be the first of many like them at the museum near Winona’s Commercial Harbor. The exhibits put the contemporary side of water art on display among works from long-dead masters, he said.

And to add to the attraction, they also give Minnesotans a colorful, sometimes fanciful, dose of summer. French’s exhibit will end Jan. 3 and Pappas’ on Jan. 10.

“They are very much escapist shows,” Swanson said.

French’s paintings are of women underwater, showing them in brilliant colors. They are a homage to her carefree days and years at a northern Minnesota lake. She “creates realistic, large-scale paintings that are warm mementos of a childhood in Minnesota’s lake country,” Executive Director Andrew Maus said.

French writes that her works are “an escape, a subtle reprieve from the day-to-day.” They are meant to evoke “the feeling of being immersed, cool and wet, warm and sundrenched.”

Pappas, on the other hand, uses photographs, often of women in a swimming pool. They are graceful, often clothed in loose, free-flowing fabrics (she’s also a fashion photographer). Her work “is focused outward as well as inward,” Maus writes in the exhibit’s brochure. “Her images explore moments of freedom — away from the societal pressures or expectations.”

“Being underwater is a uniquely elegant and overwhelming experience,” she wrote in the brochure. “I have always seen underwater as an alternate reality, which is always safe, non-presumptuous, and most of all, innocent.”

“Surfacing” first began to surface in the minds of the museum’s leaders about two years ago, Swanson said. At first, they were thinking of both being in one gallery but they soon realized both deserved their own gallery, he said.

Neither was widely known as an artist, so the museum wanted to shed some light on them, he said, “to bring unknown artists to the surface so more people can learn about them and see their work,” he said.

It was difficult to get French’s works because she sells just about everything she creates, Swanson said. What’s interesting to him is that all the models in her paintings have their eyes closed. “It makes it a little bit more dreamlike,” he said.

Pappas, on the other hand, photographs models with their eyes open as if they are “looking into the distance or looking at something,” he said.

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