Lecture, exhibition celebrates work of Tom Aprile

Detail of Tom Aprile's Chained Labyrinth, 2003. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Last September, the Iowa City arts community suffered a terrible loss when Tom Aprile suddenly passed away. Aprile, a passionate artist and sculptor, taught at The University of Iowa for more than 15 years. He had numerous one-person exhibitions in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and was the recipient of two Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowships, a New York Foundation Fellowship, and a Fulbright Grant to Nigeria.

This September marks the opening of a memorial exhibition, Labyrinths and Other Daily Exits: The Art of Tom Aprile, which showcases the late artist’s works on paper and wooden sculptures. The exhibition is housed in the Second Floor North Reading Room of UI Main Library.

The show was curated by John Dilg, professor in the School of Art and Art History, who will present a free lecture, “Retracing the Path of the Labyrinth—A Close Look at Tom Aprile’s Real and Mythic Daily Exits,” at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 28, in the aforementioned North Reading Room.

Dilg took some time to talk about the works in the exhibition, his most rewarding element as curator, and poignant memories of his departed friend.

How did this exhibition come together?
Kathy Edwards, chief curator for the UI Museum of Art, approached me in May and asked if I wanted to curate a show of Tom’s work to memorialize him. I was pleased to have this opportunity and met with Laura Young, Tom’s widow, to get a sense of what would be available. I received a number of very good suggestions on ways to proceed.

Labyrinths and Other Daily Exits: The Art of Tom Aprile will be open for enjoyment and studying during library hours through the fall semester: Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m.–2:00 a.m.; Friday, 7:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m.; Saturday, 10:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.; Sunday, 11:00 a.m.–2:00 a.m.

This exhibition is possible through the joint efforts of the UI Museum of Art, the School of Art and Art History, and UI Libraries.

For more information on Dilg’s lecture, visit uima.uiowa.edu/johndilg.

Describe the art in the show.
The paintings and works on paper cover the 30-year development of Tom’s parallel themes of the labyrinth and suburban domestic artifices. The sculptures also address both themes, but are more compressed time-wise, focusing on the last 10 years. What we hope to show is how consistently strong Tom’s vision was over the many years of his career.

What was most rewarding about putting together this exhibit?
Seeing the range of ideas that Tom used to investigate his main themes over the years. There were brilliant “episodes” that didn’t necessarily further the premises of this exhibition, but are interesting bodies of work in themselves. Tom was very productive and when he pursued an idea he examined it thoroughly before moving on.

Labyrinths are a central visual motif in Aprile sculptures and paintings. Why?
Labyrinths didn’t just relate to his vision in art, they became the vision. What I mean is that when a motif becomes a central, recurring “character,” it stands for all of the stylistic and contextual aspects we associate with “vision.” In his later work, myth, history, and personal narratives joined together and came to dominate most works as labyrinthine landscapes and totems.

What might aspiring student artists learn from this exhibit?
Lasting and stylistically important iconography can occur in one’s early work—unnoticed and as a bit part. Novelist Ken Kesey said that all writers have, basically, one story to tell. A novelist has one book. I take from this, also, that the imaging in one’s life is not endless; the retelling can be that, but the essential imagery may circle around a couple of issues that recur in new shapes and sizes, but of a similar profile. In Tom’s earliest work, that profile was present and, in the course of his working, appeared again and again as it evolved into the major focus.

Can you share a poignant memory of Aprile as a friend, colleague, or teacher?
The chief thing anyone who knew Tom surely remembers and misses is his intensity and passion—not just in his art, in all things. He was fun to be around and fun to argue with. He had a great sense of humor, which was always present and formed the endings to most sentences.