Contemporary Figure Painting Part 2: A Painter’s Perspective


Workshop “Alla Prima” Demo by Felicia Forte

As an artist, learning new techniques and breaking bad habits is a neccessary part of the journey. When one struggles for months or even years to acheive a technical goal, the frustration can settle in like an univited guest who refuses to take leave at a reasonable hour.  When I read that one of my favorite artists, Felicia Forte, was scheduled to teach a workshop at Warehoue 521 in Nashville, TN, I knew that a six hour drive was a minor hurdle and that I must attend despite a busy schedule at home.

During her demos, I began to understand what Forte deems as important, on a technical level, for a successful alla prima figure painting. Pay close attention to drawing the initial large shapes (“one look, one line”), to value, and to color. Think about how to paint each shape with the fewest brushstrokes as possible. As a teacher, Forte uses language with the same rich, saturated economy of her brushstrokes. “When you see someone down the street, you recognize them because of the largest shapes on the face and body, not because you can see the details. Always paint the largest shapes first.”

Best of all, on the first day of the workshop, she demonstrated four specific steps that helped her improve her own paintings. She was quite direct with every purposeful word she spoke and even told us HOW to be students. “Write this down. I want you to take notes. Later you will use the notes when you are painting.” “Take pictures so you can see the steps. I will ask you to use the snaps when you are painting so you can remember the steps while you learn something new.” “Next I will get more quiet. I will be painting. Just watch.” Her blunt language enabled her to do the best job she could while teaching and allowed us to do the best job we could while learning. I was tremendously grateful and impressed early in the first day of the three day workshop.

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As a bonus, Forte allowed me to ask her the same questions about contemporary figure painting I asked gallery owners in the previous post. Talking with several gallery owners last week about contemporary figure painting was exciting and insightful. Now I’d hear the  perspective of a rising star. While Forte’s current body of paintings is not strictly figurative, I wanted to pay attention to the similarities and differences between an artist perspective and that of a gallery.

Do you feel like there is a strong collector’s market for figure painting today? Is there anything specifically challenging about selling figurative work?

“It’s funny because…I have no idea. I mean, I’ve spent most of my time getting good at painting and teaching painting. The show I have now at Adend Gallery is the first big show I’ve done, as far as number of paintings. It is 25 paintings, many of which are not figurative. The gallery does say that since 2008 sales have been twice as difficult as before.”

In your opinion, what is the difference between a figure painting and a portrait?

“Well, I don’t think there is enough information in the question. A portrait can be a figurative painting and a figurative painting can be a portrait. It depends on the artist.”

What about when an art collector is admiring a painting and says something along the lines of not wanting a figure painting in their home unless they know the person in the painting? I hear this type of comment about my own work which makes me curious about the perceived difference between a portrait and a figurative painting. 

“Either the artist is not educated or the collectors are not educated. Your question tells me that people need to be more educated about what’s happening in the art world today.”

Will you name a few contemporary figure painters you admire and tell us what you appreciate about their work?

“I like Emile Joseph Robinson who I wouldn’t call strictly a figurative painter. I’ve watched his progress during the last three or four years. He started with pastels, then went abstract and now he is coming back around and is more representational. He is curious, his work is unique and he is inspiring.”

“Daniel Sprick – he is just a master.  I know that his work is unique and impressive and moving. But not moving in the same way as the first guy I mentioned. Robinson paints more like I like to paint myself. I do not paint like Daniel Sprick, but I admire him.”

Do you have any advice for emerging figure painters?

“Beyond the technical? Make sure you are painting for you first and foremost and not your idea of what the market wants. It will become not fun to do. I’d say, enter contests. It is a good way to thicken your skin, a good thing to do, there is a range of prestige in the available contests. In entering them, look at who the jurors are and see if it is worth your time or entry fee.”

“I’ve been conservative about putting stuff in galleries. I spend my time traveling to teach workshops and am not teaching regularly at home anymore. This gives me more time to paint, thus building the gallery career.”

“It usually takes longer and the path is much windier than you think it will be so be able to adjust.”


In summary, taking a workshop from an admired artist is an incredible opportunity to push yourself, learn new skills, and gain valuable insight. Thank you to Felicia Forte fstudioblkandwhite2or honing your teaching skills, in addition to your painting skills, so students can learn more than they may have thought possible in a three day workshop. And thank you to Warehouse 521. In three short years, Jeanie Smith has developed an incredible program that attracts top artists from around the world. I’ll certainly keep my eye in the schedule and hope to return soon.

P.S. Below are some paintings from the workshop and from my studio. Ever since returning home, I’ve been practicing what we learned in the workshop. Bad habits are hard to break but I think I’m making some progress. dsc_0655 dsc_0669 dsc_0666 dsc_0664dsc_0658 dsc_0660

Contemporary Figurative Painting Part 1: The Gallerist’s Perspective


Study of Baby Boy by Laura Raborn

In an attempt to learn more about figurative painting, I concocted an idea. Why not call some of my favorite galleries and ask the owners the questions I ponder? We can learn so much through online research, by visiting galleries, or by finding incredible artists on Instagram. But how about some old fashioned one-on-one conversations? I am extremely grateful to the following galleries for accepting my calls and for taking the time to talk. Of course there are many more galleries I could call but after four conversations, I see patterns of information emerging and feel I’ve learned what I set out to learn. Plus, I don’t want this post to be too terribly long. Here are the notes from the insightful talks.

Rachel Stephens, Wally Workman Gallery, Austin, TX31ib37xge0in
What are the challenges in selling figurative work? Is there a strong collector’s market for figurative work?
“I do think there is a strong collector’s market for figurative work. There are some barriers with figurative work like cultural stereotypes. People have an expectation of what men and women should look like…some people bring to the painting an idealized version in their minds of what they want to see in a figure. So that is one barrier…accepting a figure that is not idealized. There is also sometimes a barrier with new collectors when they don’t know the person in the painting. They sometimes wonder why they would hang a painting of someone they don’t know in their house…but they are thinking more of portraiture. So we talk with customers about the difference between a figure painting and a portrait.”

What is the difference between a figure painting and a portrait?
“To me a portrait is about who the person is…for example in a traditional portrait, there might be objects that connect with the person, that are meaningful and define the person. But a figure painting is not neccessarily about the person and who it is, it is about an idea and what an artist is trying to say.  I hope that people look at figurative work and see something that reminds them of something in their life. The painting is also about what the viewer brings to it.”

Who are some of your favorite figure painters working today?
“Oh, there are so many. I enjoy Malcolm Bucknall. His work has anthropamorphic qualities that he uses to bring a narrative to each painting. Elizabeth Chapin’s use of color and line – it is really about how she paints more than what she is painting. I love Patrick Puckett. His figures are definitely not about specific people. I’ve always enjoyed Lu Cong’s work and the work of Kris Lewis – both have haunting qualities. Of course, Kehinde Wiley. We see his work influencing so many emerging figurative artists.”

“Ellen Heck is a printmaker whose figurative work is mostly children – she captures adolescence in a such a beautiful way. We have a show coming up in November for artists Sara and Shane Scribner. The couple shares a studio and models and it is always to interesting to see the similarities and the differences in their work that comes from working in a shared space.”

“Figurative work is what I collect myself. I explain to people who come in the gallery that figurative work is like a great book. You can keep returning to it and keep reading new chapters. You can keep going back to it and continue to “read” a painting.”

Greg Thompson, Greg Thomspon Fine Art, Little Rock, ARgreg-thompson-fine-art-interior-shot-gallery-8-6-14-lr
What are the challenges in selling figurative work? Is there a strong collector’s market for figurative work?
“We don’t sell many traditional figurative paintings.  But as for any type of figure in the composition, well, it depends on the artist. Carrol Cloar, for example, I consider to be a figurative artist. The figure is in a scene. We sell lots of Kendall Stallings work and over half of his work is figurative. He uses the same type of figure again and again…the man in the suit in different scenes. These works have something mysterious about them, something to make the viewer try to figure out what is happening.”

“I sell secondary market work that is figurative such as Picasso. We have a very nice painting now by William Schwartz and it is figurative. And I recently sold a Thomas Hart Benton which is figurative. His work always connects the figure with the scene and there is a narrative.”

“When I think about places like the Arkansas Arts Center, and they have a large number of figurative pieces, I think about the history there. Starting with Townsend Wolfe, they’ve bought work from galleries all over the place and in the work they collect there is always more going on in the composition than just the figure. There is mystery or a narrative. Like their William Beckman pieces. They have pieces that are self portraits but there is something mysterious about the way the artist presents his own figure, like a missing arm or something strange is happening to make the viewer wonder. There is layer upon layer of something else going on….I think this is what makes interesting art. There are many artists like this, Odd Nerdum, for example.”

Do you have a favorite figurative artist?
“Thomas Hart Benton is one of my favorites – it is his form and his approach to the human figure, the way he ties the figure to the surrounding landscape or scene. He creates a narrative and says so much with the way he paints the figures.”

Dolores Justus, Justus Fine Art, Hot Springs, ARy1vlmuw9_400x400-2
What are the challenges in selling figurative work? Is there a strong collector’s market for figurative work? 
“It is actually hard to say. I have had people in the gallery who would only consider figurative work in which the subjects are depicted as more universal forms and not particular people. There are others who want the specific characteristics of the individual. The real test lies within whether the work is good. Good, truly original work speaks to the viewer.”


“Katie and Her Fish” by Emily Wood

“Emily Wood is a wonderful figurative artist who depicts people doing everyday things with a great deal of detail, however because the subject is engaged in activities that are well known to the viewer, they can easily relate to the works. The artist often refers to her work as being “universally specific” and judging by the response to the paintings, I would say they hit the mark. It should also be noted that the pieces also happen to be very well executed.”

“I know that I personally tend to shy away from overly idealized figurative work, along with pieces that are demeaning or exploitively disturbing.”

“People are always going to be drawn to the figure. Even in non-representational work, many people see faces and figures that were not intended by the artist. The key to whether it is collected again lies with the quality of the individual work.”

What is the difference between a figure painting and a portrait?
“To speak in generalities, portraiture tends to follow a seemingly standard arrangement. The figure is in a still position, facing forward and the artist is seeking to capture the likeness and personality of that particular person in that setting. A figure painting is the larger circle into which any painting that incorporates a figurative form is included.”

Who are some of your favorite figure painters working today?
“Close to home, I am happy to be able to carry work by Emily Wood, Rebecca Thompson, and Laura Raborn. Three women artists with very different approaches to the figure, but all with their own unique interpretation. Further afield, I greatly admire the work of Daniel Sprick, Ali Cavanaugh, and David Shevlino, among others.”

Robert Lange, Robert Lange Studios, Charleston, SC1341332108-img_4836thumb
What are the challenges in selling figurative work? Is there a strong collector’s market for figurative work?
“We are fortunate in this town – figurative work does rather well. Selling figurative work is not problematic, especially when you find truly unique work. Say you put 100 paintings in front of you, when you can identify each artist, you know the work is not like everyone else’s, its totally creative and unique and about that one artist. Then selling it tends to not be a problem. That’s what we collect personally. I wish portraiture was more accepted. People question why they would hang someone so specific on their walls, but it’s my favorite.”

What is the difference between a figure painting and a portrait?
“I don’t know if there really has to be a difference between portraiture and figure painting. Sometimes it can be about the directness of the eye contact. So if the figure is looking away, the painting can become about something else. A narrative can begin to form. We are gifted in the the collectors who come to the gallery tend to be comfortable with the figure. So they are not as hesitant about figurative work or something that looks more like a portrait.”

Who are some of your favorite figure painters working today?
“I would say Jeremy Geddes. You must take a look at “A Perfect Vacuum.” He has almost an Andrew Wyeth handle on the paint and light. The work is humble, the palette tends to be quiet but the figure is so powerful, so dynamic. I would also say Brad Kunkle. His figures are profound. And David Kassan. His paintings look like they take years to complete….hundreds of layers building up the surface. The surface of a painting is what fascinates me these days. And Candace Bohannon. She is an incredible painter. There is an intimacy, a quietness, a profoundly introverted nature to the models. Her application of the paint is so slow and thoughtful. The paintings by Karen Ann Myers are beautiful, detailed, psychological portraits. She’s got something special.”


After talking with the gallery owners, some specific comments and ideas stand out.

Each gallery owner uses the word “unique” when describing the style of their favorite artists. Greg Thompson and Rachel Stephens talk about a narrative or something mysterious happening in today’s figurative compositions. The gallery owners seem to agree on the general idea that overly idealized figurative work is not sought after or as provocative. As Dolores Justus states, “I tend to shy away from overly idealized work….” Additionally, there is an emphasis on the artist finding his or her individual path and creating work that reflects something personal.

Robert Lange’s utter enthusiasm about figurative work and about specific artists is infectious. Early in our conversation he explains, “Megan and I decided when we opened the gallery we would run it like artists and not like art dealers. We wanted the artists to be free to take risks and try different things, even if the result was failure with a certain body of work. Those risks can lead to an artist’s best work.”

Why? What? 12x12" watercolor on clayboard by Ali Cavanaugh

“Why? What?” 12×12″ watercolor on clayboard by Ali Cavanaugh

When I mention gallery owner, Dolores Justus, just told me that Ali Cavanaugh is one of her favorite figurative painters today, Lange excitedly explains, “There are so many artists who find their way and find success and then plateau. I commend Ali for considering a new chapter even when her style was working well and she was having great success with her body of work. She wanted to try something new which took courage and I really admire her for that. Her new paintings show one of Ali’s greatest skills – she knows when to stop. She has an amazing sensitivity of knowing when to stop.”

Lange spoke of specific paintings and artists with unadulterated joy and admiration. While he spoke of being fortunate for the figurative collectors in the Charleston area, it occurred to me that he and his wife, Megan, surely have helped figurative work flourish in the area. He has a way of educating that opens eyes and minds to the beauty and messages in art. “As artists, our art is a visual journal. I love it when artists share why they do what they do, when it becomes personal and real.” I imagine he is skilled at sharing this concept with clients which is a win-win-win situation for the gallery, for the artists, and for the collectors.


Returning to Winter Park, Florida Among Memories and Art: Part 3

Winter Park continued….

Another Rollins memory that brings me joy is thinking back on bike rides to the numerous parks in the area. I loved escaping campus and just plunging forward on an adventure through Mead Botanical Garden, Leu Gardens, and Kraft Azalea Park. My first photography course was sophomore year and my big manual Pentax was with always strapped on for these outings. This trip, I decided to visit each of these magical wonderlands. Some days I struck out on a bike borrowed from the Winter Park Library (thank you!) and some days on foot. One day, after a great night of sleep, a hearty breakfast, and plenty of coffee, I decided to walk from the Alfond Inn to Rollins, to Kraft Azalea Garden, to Crealde School of Art, to Polasek Sculpture Garden, back to the Alfond Inn to recuperateDSC_0131, to Rollins to pick up my daughter at tennis, to dinner, and finally, back to the hotel room where I would fall into an 10 hour slumber. IT WAS THE BEST DAY.

The Kraft Azalea Garden in the morning is just as I remembered: full of flickering light and watery reflections. I tried to emulate my artistic photographic efforts from my college DSC_0181days but realized my efforts were in vain. Capturing the serenity of the park proved difficult but it was fun to try. Next, I worked my way through several beautiful neighborhoods until I made it to the Crealde School of Art. It was a long way and an iced coffee from Whole Foods gave me just the burst I needed to make it there. Thankfully it was still early in the day and most of the walk was shaded.


“Retired” by Lynne Polley

Upon arrival at the school’s office, I met Jan Hurt who was gracious and welcoming. She answered all my questions about the school, the teachers and the classes and was very helpful as I asked about possibly teaching a mixed media workshop there someday. As I toured the onsite gallery and admired two exhibitions, it became clear that the school hosts many talented students and faculty. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced classes which draw all types of artists ranging from new hobbyists to professionals. There is a long list of classes offered in a variety of mediums: fiber arts, ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, glass, photography, painting, and drawing.



Between the beautiful grounds, the extensive class schedule and the friendly, professional staff, Crealde School of Art is a heavenly artistic oasis. I certainly hope to return, whether it be as a teacher or a student.

DSC_0190Choosing the shadiest side of busy Aloma Avenue, I headed for the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden. One of my favorite aspects of the tour was the staff. A docent guided tour departed just a few minutes before my arrival and the woman at the front desk insisted I catch up with the group. When the guide finished showing us the living quarters and sculpture studios of Albin Polasek, he insisted on circling back to the beginning and repeating the initial few minutes I missed. He was so engaging that one couple asked to return with us so they could hear it again! IMG_9026Out in the garden, I met two employees who started as volunteers and have since then been hired. Their passion for art and their expertise in landscaping make the two valuable assets to the property. One even contributes to the sculpture on the grounds (see garden hose chair below), though his materials are quite different from the wood, bronze and plaster used by Polasek. IMG_9032The staff almost outshines the studio and artwork due to their dedication, friendliness and enthusiasm for this special place. It is interesting what art can teach us, but when cared for and presented by passionate people, it takes on a higher level of impact on visitors. For this reason, I highly suggest a visit to the Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden. To read more about the artist, visit:

That wraps up this three part series on beautiful Winter Park, Florida. As always, thank you for reading!  Laura



Returning to Winter Park, Florida Among Memories and Art: Part 2

During my Rollins College days, I had an internship at the Orlando Museum of Art. Reading IMG_9022about the museum recently, and the current “Florida Prize” exhibit, made me excited to return. As an intern, I rode my bike from Winter Park down to the museum but this time, I took the brand new SunRail line which picks up at the conveniently located train station in the park along Park Avenue. The line is scheduled for expansion and I hope the train catches on amongst visitors and residents. It was cool, comfortable, quick and easy. And cheap. To visit the Museum area of town, I exited the train at the Florida Hospital station and walked 10 minutes to the museum. The area has changed drastically since my college days – the hospital complex is modern and massive. Loch Haven Park is home to not only the Orlando Museum of Art, but also the Orlando Fire Museum, the Orlando Repertory Theatre, The Orlando Science Center, the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, and the Mennello Museum of American Art. Looks like I’ll have to return!

IMG_8991 IMG_8987As I entered the refreshing  lobby after a hot walk, I tried to get my bearings. But nothing was familiar…I did not recognize the floor plan whatsoever. And oh my, how the collection has grown. Was this exquisite Robert Henri here back when I worked for the marketing director? What about this John Singer Sargent? Was I oblivious? Or did I admire these exact paintings and have forgotten? How many other activities might I be repeating, unaware that the delight of discovery is actually rediscovery? At any rate, the collection on display is impressive. It was my lucky day: in addition to the popular Florida Prize, there happened to be an exhibit titled, “Contemporary Figurative Art: Selections from the Orlando Museum of Art Collection.”  As a figure painter, I grasp with enthusiasm this part of the show’s description: “By provoking the viewer to question what they see, and discover interpretations of their own, artists have continued to make figurative art meaningful and relevant today.”

IMG_8996There is an Edward Ruscha that reminded me of the stencils I’ve been using in my work. Of course, he has the courage and skill to not overcomplicate, something I’m struggling to learn. The artist worked on the painting for two years before adding the two inch yellow ruler and states that the simple nonsensical item is open for, and expands, viewer interpretation. Another piece that lures in viewers is the Chuck Close portrait of his wife, Leslie. We don’t have to stand too close to IMG_9001realize that the entire value system is made of thumbprints. The sight of the thumbprints evokes an intimacy, the thought of touching, and the idea of the artist’s hand at work.

After visiting the collection, I moved on to see the work by 10 contemporary artists who were accepted into this year’s Florida Prize. Like the current exhibit, “Displacement” at the nearby Cornell Museum of Art (see previous post), a recurring theme among the work is geography and human movement around the globe. Despite the appeal of a material variety and the artistic use of technology, the artists whose messages I found to be most accessible, were Michael Vasquez and María Martínez-Cañas. The large scale paintings by Vasquez dominate the room due to size, bright color, high value contrast, and the intimidating characters themselves. Though we know the figures are tough, there is something humanizing about creating large portraits of all types of people. We are reminded that they are just that: people. Perhaps the artist wants to emphasize their dangerous persona. But I see boys who are in men’s bodies and who want to be recognized, who want to be powerful, who want to be important.IMG_8985

Martînez-Cañas uses multiple layers of paint and photography to create comIMG_9011positions where information is altered, obscured and redefined. In Washington, D.C., I had the pleasure of seeing her work, though very different from these pieces, at the National Portrait Gallery. I wrote then about the artist’s unique ability to use alternative methods of photography to engage viewers. There is much to discover in her pieces in the Florida Prize exhibit and the complex arrangements of imagery is both perplexing and revelatory, reminiscent of the mysteriously alluring Robert Rauschenberg style.IMG_9015

Although the Orlando Museum of Art did not match my memory of the place, it was such a pleasure to return to the location of my very first art-related job. If you are in the Central Florida area, the museum is a must-see. And don’t forget to allow time to explore the area. The multiple museums and park are definitely on my list for next time.

As always, thank you for reading. Up next: Part 3 in this series on Winter Park. This time, I’ll cover the Crealde School of Art and the Polasek Sculpture Garden.IMG_9032

Returning to Winter Park, Florida Among Memories and Art: Part 1

DSC_0114In researching summer tennis programs for my daughter, I found myself repeatedly clicking on the Nike Tennis Camp at my alma mater, Rollins College. Perhaps I was just looking for an excuse to return to blissful Winter Park, Florida, but I legitimately kept finding fabulous reviews about the camp and its director, Rita Gladstone. With Southwest Airline points tucked away, the only major cost would be accommodations. We would walk everywhere and need very little transportation. I thought, visiting the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and the Orlando Arts Museum could be important parts of my work as an artist, right? Come to think of it, staying at the Alfond Inn with its’ esteemed contemporary art collection would be a wise choice, right? Yes and Yes! This 3-part series will highlight my response to returning to the area, and of course, the numerous high quality art exhibits.

DSC_0089Regarding the development of my paintings, everywhere I go, I consider what I see and how it relates to the art I make. I am guilty of having too many bodies of work going in my studio and cohesion has been, at times, elusive. But there is one theme that returns again and again: the idea of time passing and of memory. So as I explore areas such as Winter Park, I do study the work of other artists at every opportunity but I am also constantly coDSC_0049nsidering how what I see will make its’ way into my work. While my daughter was on the tennis court each day, I walked the campus and felt an acute longing, stronger than nostalgia but milder than anxiety. I wondered, Where did it all go? That experience does not exist anymore, it is only in our memories. What is this place that does not include me anymore? It is someone else’s now. As I walked through the shaded pathways of the campus, I feel awe mingled with despair. What am I mourning…my youth?

DSC_0069Is it my irrelevance in a place that makes me feel such longing? Upon returning, how can one see clouds building over Lake Virginia, see endless archways, see weeping willows spilling toward earth, smell the musty mixture of watery reeds and moss, feel the breeze that carries smell and memory, sense the rain when an uncharacteristic coolness brushes the skin and not think time has ceased to exist? How can this feel like my place, and concurrently feel like a mystery, like a place I am forcing myself upon?


Nothing is True by Hector Arce-Espasas and Josue Pellot

Eventually I had to snap out of my nostalgic wanderings. The Cornell Fine Arts Museum was just the place to redirect my attention to the present. The current exhibit, “Displacement,” required another mode of thinking…of getting out of my own perspective and developing a clearer understanding of someone else’s perspective. Isn’t it cool how art can open our eyes to something beyond ourselves?


Church Banners by Andrea Bowers

The artists included in the exhibit are from all over the world and use a variety of mediums to make clear statements about the condition of human displacement. The exhibit is not a plea, or an aggressively persuasive presentation. The power in the artwork comes from a calm and earnest approach. Language is often combined with visuals to help clearly communicate. This is not political, it is observation and presentation of a human condition. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” “Finders. Keepers.” “Nothing is true.” In Thousands are Sailing 1, the artist uses a garish pink where green should be seen in the photograph. While beautiful, the pink is also bizarre and striking which encourages viewers to stay and look more closely. It is as if the artist is saying, “don’t ignore these displaced people, stay and look closely and consider them.”


Thousands are Sailing 1 by Richard Mosse

The Cornell Fine Arts Museum is also home to a permanent collection divided into three categories: American Art, European Art and The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art. Only a fraction of the collection can be on display at any given time and guests at the nearby Alfond Inn get to reside with some of the outstanding contemporary art collection


The Hermit XI by Jaume Plensa on display at the Alfond Inn

during their stay. I was delighted to see two pieces by Hank Willis Thomas – one at the Alfond Inn and one at CFAM. Since hearing him speak during the “30 Americans” exhiit at the Arkansas Arts Center, I have been mesmerized by his visionary approach in using commonplace images from mainstream American media to show just how misinformed we are by persuasive, persistent and egregious advertising images. During his career, Thomas has methodically tackled gender issues and race issues with what seems like simple technique, but really reveals the brillian finesse of a great mind of our time. If I ever meet him, it will certainly be one of those embarrassing freak out moments where I invade his personal space with a gregarious hug. At any rate, this jewel of a museum on the east side of campus overlooking Lake Virginia should not be missed by visitors to the area.


Walk Like A Man by Hank Willis Thomas


Behind Every Great Man… by Hank Willis Thomas

Between kayaking on the lakes, visiting the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and studying the collection at the Alfond Inn, my heart was full as well as my sketchpad. Walking around the beautiful Rollins College campus and the surrounding areas during the quiet summer was a gift. It prompted memories to resurface and new discoveries to be made. And it gave more than I bargained for in terms of the inescapable painting theme of memory and the passage of time. On my last day, I entered the cool air of Knowles Chapel, and wondered if I read this poem during my years as a student and had since then forgotten, or if this was my first time to see words that only now in my life could hold such poignant weight.DSC_0087

As usual, thank you for reading. Next up: Blown Away at the Orlando Museum of Art



Opening Minds through Travel: Noticing the Art of a Place Part 3

Continued from Part 2:


After five exhilerating and exhausting days in history, art and culture rich London, my daughters and I hopped on a non-stop 2 hour train to York and then Manchester for the more relaxing part of the trip. We still managed to pack in plenty of sites, but weren’t quite as overwhelmed as we were in London. York is a beautiful walled city originally founded by Romans with many ancient Roman sites still evident in the town structure. It was here that Constantine was named Emperor – I sometimes forget how far north the Roman Empire extended. It is also home to York Minster, a glorious gothic style cathedral famous for its facade as well as the stained glass windows, artwork, and crypt. Visiting a church built atop an older church is haunting as well as historic, andDSC_0943 going down below to see the original structure is a thrill. The deep relief carving (here on the left) is one of the artifacts that remains from the orginal structure, a Norman Church built around 1080 AD.


In addition to York Minster, there are countless stunning sights in this northern English town. A walk on top of the wall itself is marvelous, offering what feels like secret views into gardens, homes, restaurants, courtyards, parks, and over bridges and rivers. Voted the most picturesque street in Britain, The Shambles,

the-shambles-7[2]is thought to be one of the oldest, best preserved medival streets in England. It’s timber overhangs make the already narrow street feel even more intimate and is filled with alluring shops and restaurants. Chocolate shops are a common sight in York, as the town has a long chocolate making history. It is no wonder I felt immediately drawn to the place! Confectionary window displays all over town are  like exquisitely designed jewels…works of art, really. Other beautiful sitDSC_0968es that contribute to York’s allure include the outstanding York Castle Museum with multiple exhibits and an excellent tour of the former prison, Clifford’s Tower with its expansive views, and the gleaming two rivers: the Ouse and the Foss. These rivers were an essential component for York’s earliest settlers, perhaps even Celtic tribes before the Romans arrived. One of our favorite sights was the botanic York Museum Gardens which include Roman ruins and the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey where Turner famously worked.

One day we ventured into the countryside. Hoping to explore the seaside town of Whitby, we were cut short due to inclement (worse than usual) weather so we decided to tour Castle Howard instead, which is about a 30 minute drive from York’s city center. Even in the rain, Castle Howard was stunning. The artwork and sculpture, both inside and out, was quite overwhelming. This is a good place to explore and get lost. DSC_1007

After four days of the most heavenly pastries, coffees, and chocolates on earth, we sadly departed York and headed for Manchester, where we would spend one final day before returning to the United States. We didn’t quite know what to expect of the industrial soccer crazed city, but the food and art did not disappoint. After tracking down ancient Roman ruins at Castlefield, we headed to the Manchester Art Gallery. Much to my surprise, we were all three more interested in the “Vogue 100: A Century of Style” exhibit than I would have expected. I suppose, after seeing the exhibit “Shaping the Body: 400 Years of Fashion, Food and Life” so recently in York, we were primed to appreciate the nuanced Vogue display where art dominated practicality most of the time.

Another visual treat at the Manchester Art Gallery was the exhibit by Boris Nzebo. The artist’s large bold paintings explore the relationship between humans and their urban environments. As an artist thinking about how to convey and how to integrate people with place, I admire the method and style Nzebo uses to enmesh the person with his or her surroundings. It is the opposite of my approach which attempts to blend the figure with surrounding space. Nzebo uses crisp graphics, patterns, and shapes – his large faces are filled with and defined by architectural lines and urban objects. In one way, his paintings are filled with multiple layers as objects and people fit within other objects and people. On the other hand, the hard-edged lines and patterns flatten the space which unifies the people and the urban elements. IMG_8841

After lunch in the up-and-coming northern quarter of town, we sought respite at a beautiful little cathedral known as “The Hidden Gem” on our way to the John Rylands Library. The is a bibliophile’s nirvana. The collection includes treasures such as John Wesley’s 16th Century Hebrew Bible, notes and letters by Chemist John Dalton, a Gutenberg Bible, and many first editions such as Ulysses by James Joyce. The most famous artifact in the collection is known as Papyrus 52, or the Fragment of the Gospel of John, which is thought to be the earliest portion of any New Testament writing ever found. To read more about the history of the library and its’ special collections, visit:

Our grand finale was an evening event, Summer Garden Party, at the Whitworth Museum. We had dinner overlooking a lush garden with live music. There was a perfume station set up for sampling, botanical cocktails, a drama performance about modern isolation – not to mention the exhibits themselves. The Whitworth is home to a renowned sculpture collection, print collection, portrait collection and wallpaper collection. I surprised myself by being most drawn to the teIMG_8775xtile collection; perhaps due to a recent surge of contemporary artists who incorporate fabric and thread into their mixed media creations which exemplifies the blending of fine art and craft that is so hotly discussed these days.

During our final walk in the rain to the regal Midland Hotel, my younger daughter hailed herself a cab and insisted we were finished with the walking part of the trip. I think the little one had no more steps in her so it was time for our adventure to end. A mere 8 hours of flight time and we were transported to another world, where the modern and the ancient coexist. In all of our travels, it was the art and architecture that provided the clearest insight to the enduring truth of a people and place. I’m deeply grateful to our friends who hosted us during parts of the trip and to my family who dug deep to cooperate with a mom who loves to explore and find the art of a place.

As always, thank you for reading.
Up next, Florida art…its not all about the beach!

Opening Minds through Travel…Noticing the Art of a Place

DSC_0410Recent travels to Ireland and England provided the opportunity to see countless artworks and architecture I’ve studied for years. In considering how to write about the numerous worthy sites and exhibits, I am reminded of my art trip to Italy two years ago. There, I wrote a series totaling 22 posts, mostly about art, but also about the adventures of traveling alone. Blogging was, admittedly, a faux companion in a country where I knew no one and spoke very little of the language. The trip, including an art residency in the remote Basilicata region, was a glorious though isolated experience and writing the blog felt like a lifeline.

This time, I traveled with my family who thankfully tolerated and embraced (at times) a rather heavy art itinerary. I expected to write a few entries while traveling but spending time with friends and family eclipsed the writing desire I experienced in Italy. So, this post is the first of a three part series reflecting on favorite sights and exhibits in Ireland and England.

Part 1: Art and Sights in Dublin, the Wicklow Mountains and the Boyne Valley
Part 2: Art and Sights in London
Part 3: Art and Sights in York and Manchester

Amongst the many joys travel provides, one of my favorite benefits is the opportunity to see art and architecture in person. We can study books, watch films and view photos of just about anything on the computer. But the experience of sharing actual space with an object, artifact or artwork lacks the inevitable filters that are present when viewing work from afar.

Seeing art in person allows ideas to more directly and permanently enter DSC_0354our minds and thinking. The crispness and realness of the object becomes a sharper, clearer part of our perspective which may be one of the many reasons travel is so enriching and mind opening. The natural beauty, historical sights and art of Ireland were no exception.

When studying the Passage Tomb in graduate school, I never expected to step inside the ancient structure which was built 500 years before the Egyptian Pyramids of Giza. Located in the Boyne Valley, the Passage Tomb DSC_0398(also known as Newgrange) was built by Stone Age farmers. The precision and location of the cruciform structure reveals sophisticated knowledge of astronomy and the seasons as related to agriculture. One absolutely fascinating construction fact is that the corbelled roof, has never ever, in over 5000 years, leaked a drop of water. We tend to think of modern equipment and techniques as being superior to Stone Age methods but I sure know of a lot of leaky roofs these days! And this is mind blowing – our tour guide pointed out the Tomb was built before the invention of THE WHEEL! (when researching this tidbit, I read that the tomb was built right around the time of the first wheel, which was used for pottery before later being applied to chariots and other mechanical devices).

I must also mention that a great part of our visit to this highly regulated and IMG_8535protected UNESCO World Heritage site was our tour guide, Mary Gibbons, who I highly recommend. After visiting other historic sites in the Boyne Valley, such as the Hill of Tara, we returned to Dublin and Mary delivered us right at the front door of the National Museum of Ireland.  In the archeology branch of this four part museum, we saw many of the jewels and artifacts found in the Boyne Valley, making the museum visit quite meaningful after our educational day with Mary. On the heels of the Boyne Valley tour and preceeding a visit the next day to the Peat Bogs, the museum visit was perfectly timed for us to really appreciate the displays.

IMG_8533Speaking of the Bogs, one of the most startling exhibits was the Bog Bodies, the most famous being the Cloneyman. Those bodies have been found in the highest point in Ireland, the Peat Bogs, where the soft, porous, ground is more liquid than solid, though it decptively DSC_0554appears to be grassy terra firma. Any living thing that sinks into the muck tends to be preserved due to a lack of oxygen in the bogs. The area has provided some of the oldest flesh bodies on record (older skeletons have been found but not older bodies with flesh intact) giving scientists priceless information about humans dating back to 2000 BC. To read more about Bronze age human sacrifice and about scientific discoveries made based on these bodies, visit:

IMG_8561DSC_0484The day after our tour north of Dublin with Mary Gibbons, we toured south of Dublin with Tours by Locals guide, Terry Lambert. We drove by and admired Dun Laoghaire, Dalkey, and Killiney on our way to Powerscourt DSC_0486Estates in the beautiful Wicklow Mountains. The hours spent at Powerscourt were magical, with one spectacular scene, garden, and sculpture after another. After visiting the Powerscourt Waterfall and stopping for lunch, we visited the famous monastic ruins of Glendalough.

With one more day in Dublin before heading to north Wales, we visited Kilmainham Goal, The Irish Museum of Modern Art, and The National Gallery of Ireland. Below are some photos from that final day in Dublin.

Relief above the entrance of Kilmainham Goal

Relief above the entrance of Kilmainham Goal

Sculpture in front of Christ Church

Sculpture in front of Christ Church

Goya painting at the National Museum of Ireland

Goya painting at the National Gallery of Ireland


Arnaldo Pomodoro’s “Sphere within a Sphere” at Trinity College

For art and history enthusiasts, Dublin is well worth a visit…I just wish we’d had a few more days to explore more of this rich and beautiful island. Next up, London! Thank you for reading.