Now and again an art gallery exhibit comes together where gallery space and artwork seem made for one another, and that coming together allows the essence of the art to emerge so clearly and vividly. The effect is just so enjoyable and rich, and that is the feeling I had when I visited Oliver Art Center, in Frankfort, to see the paintings of Neil Ahrens.

When I look at Ahrens’ paintings, I feel I’m seeing something like Rothko meets landscape painting—a kind of top/bottom duality composed of abstract color fields, but also somehow rooted in what I see around me, and Ahrens confirms that Rothko is one of his key influences, along with other Abstract Expressionists of the 1950s, like Pollack, Wyeth and Fairfield.

That duality that Ahrens explores in his work—that sense of top/bottom, over/under—he credits to “an unending obsession with the horizon line,” he told me at the Oliver opening. His obsession grows from a childhood spent on Michigan lakes, a stint in the Navy piloting a munitions ship across the Atlantic Ocean and through the Mediterranean Sea, and, today, a daily life spent on the shore of Lake Michigan in his hometown of Harbor Springs.

In Ahrens’ artist statement, he reflects on the influence of that horizon line idea in his paintings. “I have been re-examining this feature through the lens of my thoughts on Life/Death, Yours/Mine, Above/Below, Drawing and composition, and other Dualities, and what that means to me,” he writes.

It only makes sense that Ahrens’ art, so inspired by water and sky, would be at home in Oliver Art Center, a smart and lovely renovation of a U.S. Coast Guard station, right on Frankfort’s protected harbor—a place itself devoted to water and what the heavens will do to it next.

I really encourage you to shape a day trip around a visit to Oliver Art Center to catch the show. Afterward, take time to check out a Frankfort restaurant, like Cru Cellars Wine Bar, Stormcloud Brewing, Fusion or Dinghy’s. Wander some shops. And then, finish off your visit with a walk to the end of the Frankfort lighthouse pier. Stand there. Stare westward. Contemplate that horizon line and dualities of the universe.

Do it!

The show featuring Neil Ahrens runs through September 9, 2016. Ahrens will give an artist talk August 28 at 2 p.m.

Admission to see Neil Ahrens’ artwork is free.


  • Monday – Thursday: 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Friday: 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Memorial to Labor Day)
  • Saturday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Sunday: Noon – 4 p.m.

See Neil Ahrens work at the Oliver Art Center located at

132 Coast Guard Rd, Frankfort, 231.352.4151.

More Northern Michigan Art

#2016 #Benzie_County #Frankfort #Music_&_Art

Photo(s) by Jeff Smith