Struggling to Convey Certain Ideas Through Painting: The Influence of Beautiful Writing

IMG_0118_2Sometimes we yearn for something, for a person, or education, for an experience, or travels, for a rest or a new skill. If we can identify what it is we so desire, sometimes that very thing arrives. And when it does, it feels like a little miracle, appearing at the exact moment you need it most.

This happened one week ago, as I read the New York Times article, “The Ghost House of My Childhood” by Alan Lightman. His description of specific objects leads me to think of him as a visual artist, in addition to being a writer and physicist. His each and every word – a brushstroke or mark, an outline or shadow. He creates visual images in the reader’s mind that demand we see the objects in his memory. His words create simple visual cues leading us to understand complex ideas, such as the line, “My body is a distant, cold moon” which he stated when discovering his childhood home had vanished.

I realize most writers are masterful at choosing  words to create visual imagery for readers. In this case, the images and ideas presented by Lightman happen to perfectly match the ideas I aim to convey in my paintings. I’ve yearned for this very article. The imagery he creates with precise words helps me learn how to better paint the ideas I’ve considered for the past two years.

DSC_0974The author helps readers understand that once things are gone, the only evidence of the past is in our minds. “And on the ground where the house was, new grass. Not a single brick or splinter or piece of debris.” Inspired by Lightman’s article and his eloquent words, I spent the week in my art studio continuing to dig at ideas: composing work that shows the figure in a space or setting indicating the lost past, a history, and the idea of memory defining us and binding us. While painting, I consider the past is only in our minds and that everything we think and see is partially “real” and partially “imagined.” While I struggle to achieve and communicate these ideas in my paintings, this week I moved a bit closer thanks to Alan Lightman. DSC_1000

He writes of memory and of neurobiologists’ description of memories. This painting (here, to the right) positions the figures with abstract shapes that interrupt, cover, and participate with the figures. The circular forms are like the flowing molecules Lightman refers to when describing our ever-shifting memories and perception of the world.

The two paintings below allude to several ideas: the view that every life is fleeting, that everything we look out and see is a partial image altered by perception, that all things fade as time passes, and that our experiences and perceptions are layers obscured over time.

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The author’s handling of air immediately struck me as powerful and ignited specific methods I can try in painting. Of air, he writes, “I slide through the air,” “I can see right through the empty air,” “The air had a stillness it never had before,” “but there is only the silent, dead air,” and my favorites because of the unorthodox combination of words, “this empty corner of air,” and “I can see through the slab of air.” I’m not sure how I could paint these exact examples or if I even want to try, but they teach me that when something is missing or gone, what remains is more than nothing. The missing thing or the faded history is replaced by a vacuum so tangible, so acute in the mind of the memory holder, that saying the space is empty or only full of air, is not enough. A “slab of air” evokes the expression, “slab of concrete” which is something so solid and something Lightman yearns to see. In fact, of the former house he writes, “I try to will it into solidity.” The use of the word “slab” makes us hyper aware of what is missing. Perhaps this is what I find so enthralling about Lightman’s writing – the startling inversions he creates cause the reader to truly sense what he is experiencing.

One of the most beautiful as well as haunting passages in the article is when Lightman writes, “Some philosophers claim that we know nothing of the external world outside our minds – nothing compared to what sways in our minds, in the long, twisting corridors of memory, the vast mental rooms with half-open doors, the ghosts chattering beneath the chandeliers of imagination.” Now that image could make a great painting, a painting that resonates like the well chosen words of Alan Lightman.

Thank you for reading. Please reply if you have any comments to add to these observations.
Until next time! Laura Laura art 1

 

 

The Little Rock art scene, “Disparate Acts Redux: Bailin, Criswell, Peters”

When three revered Arkansas artists come together in a single home state exhibit, a gift is IMG_0102presented to the public, to collectors, to artists, and to students interested in learning, thinking, and admiring excellent visual art. What makes it so great? The work of Sammy Peters, Warren Criswell, and David Bailin is profoundly provocative. Each artist creates work involving complex, alluring ideas that engage viewers. The allure comes in the form of mystery. Like receiving a beautifully addressed letter but not quite being able to decipher the contents, we yearn to read the writing, to learn the language, to know the purpose. But it is an elusive secret, and each artist lets his viewer toe the line of understanding.

The internationally collected abstractions by Sammy Peters are full of mystery and intrigue. The layers he creates of IMG_0109abstracted shapes indicate a hiding, or masking, of information. Like so many great abstract artists, a process of adding and subtracting, or concealing and revealing, provides depth as well as an inquisitive tone. As a representational artist struggling to learn abstraction, I admire artists who excel in creating abstracted spaces that move, have energy, and allude to ideas. So often abstraction can appear static, or shallow.

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Peters, “Beginning: current; integration,” 48×48

Peters creates many compartments for viewers to navigate with contrasting marks, colors and shapes. He also employs multiple patterns that emerge and wind their way around his paintings. Our eyes can follow the lines and marks through the space and feel like we are playing with puzzle pieces. When viewing his work, we search and seek, find places to land and ponder, and then wander again around the composition as a participant in a game of hide-and-seek.

Criswell, The Punishment, 2007, oil on canvas, 48 x 36, private collection

In the work of Warren Criswell, I feel less like I am playing hide-and-seek and more like I am a voyerist, slightly uncomfortable with what I witness, yet too intrigued to turn away. His paintings, figurative and full of literary and historical references, are best appreciated by a thinking audience…and one who wants to tangle with dark ideas. Human foibles, sexuality and social commentary each play a role in the work of Criswell. Like Goya, he presents to the public ideas about the human condition that are not exactly pleasant, and like Goya, Criswell is highly respected for his ability to point out our flaws in a way we can accept and even admire.

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Criswell, Flash Flood, 2002, oil on linen, 36 x 48, private collection

For example, though Criswell uses his own image in much of the work, the struggles, fear and darkness presented applies to all. The nudity often references sexuality in a dangerous or sinful manner, though usually the unclothed figures evoke vulnerability or exposure. Often, there is a strong light source though it is purposefully garish amongst the dark settings. The bright light further exposes the characters, leaving them unable to hide. And speaking of characters who are unable to hide…

Made of charcoal, eraser and occasional shots of color on large pieces of paper, the expansive work of David Bailin is the ultimate puzzle. With chaotic bursts of energy, Bailin creates exquisitely interrupted narratives displayed in a variety of marks. The interruption occurs when our eye begins to recognize a shape or object, then meaning is yanked away, or at least heavily altered, where the eraser subtracts linear information that once was there.  This process of addition and subtraction is provoking in and of itself. However, with the ever-present male figure, the space bIMG_0114ecomes an entity with which the figure relates, or rather battles. While Bailin’s figures are fleeing, and seem to want to escape the chaotic scenes, their physical existence is tied to the atmosphere. As they peer back over shoulder, or sharply lean downward, it is as if they know escape is futile, and that the chaos, the concealing and the revealing come from within. It can not be left behind, not matter how fast they run or how well they hide.

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Bailin, detail of “Papers,” 2013, charcoal, oil, pastel and coffee on prepared paper

Bailin, Criswell and Peters each leave us hanging over a precipice of truths, experiencing that addictive feeling of delicious danger. It is a show that should not be missed. Now on display at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in downtown Little Rock through October 31st, 2015.

On a side note…please know these thoughts are simply my impressions. As an artist, writing about the work of others helps me further understand my own goals and art. I could be way off base in interpreting the work of these three artists…but it is eye-opening to try. If you have any comments or corrections, please reply. Thank you for reading.

Laura IMG_0105

Arrowmont Part 2: Painting with Pinkney Herbert

IMG_6117For those interested in a fairly detailed account of a class at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, read on. Also, for admirers of abstraction, and for painters looking for tips, I’ll share a few helpful lessons I learned in the painting class, “Abstract Landscape Painting as Self-Portrait.”

The instructor, Pinkney Herbert, is a well known abstract painter. His teaching style mimics his paintings: energetic, unpredictable, passionate, insightful and colorful. During the first day of class, he condensed an informative color theory lesson into our morning session. Any level of artist, from beginner to professional, could benefit from his review due to entertaining antidotes as well as his perspective on how to use color. We spent hours on mixing and applying ground colors to multiple surfaces, which prepared us for the rest of the week. Just before lunch, we watched a film about abstract expressionist, Joan Mitchell, and afterward, Pinkney had a surprise exercise planned. Hoping to mine inspiration from Mitchell’s uninhibited, spontaneous IMG_03491and energetic work, we had stations along the wall and painted with a very limited palette on butcher paper. Knowing the paper was cheaply made, thin and temporary, none of the students thought of it as precious, and we painted freely, with no self inflicted restraints. For the rest of the afternoon, we painted abstractly, trying to remain uninhibited when shifting to our canvases and boards.

On a side note, it was clear imagejpeg_2from the start that our small group was going to have fun together…spending time with kind, funny, and talented people was icing on the cake and I think we all felt very grateful for each other.

Pinkney Herbert, oil and digital print on wood, 66×66 inches, 2015

 

 

 

On Day 2, Pinkney gave a glazing demonstration to share his method of working with very fluid oil paint. Due to mixing copious amounts of glaze medium into the paint, which was a brand new experience for me, two ongoing problems were immediately solved: I’ve struggled with loosening my painting style and getting the paint to really move and spread across the canvas. Should I have figured this out on my own? Sure. But to quote my new friend, George, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and I’m thankful to our teacher for providing a solution. The workshop itinerary was diverse: a mixture of painting, discussions, films and slide presentations. For example, after the rigorous morning of painting on Day 2, we cooled off in a small auditorium and looked at slides exemplifying artists, such as Milton Avery, who compellingly abstract nature.IMG_0047_2

Then it was off to another fabulous meal (it is downright comical how excited we get about the next meal here at Arrowmont) followed by a class hike in the Great Smokies. Though it was peak sun hours, the Rainbow Falls trail was shaded and ran close to a cool stream. The hike provided countless visual references to take back (in our minds or in our iphones) to the studio for an afternoon of painting….right up to dinner time. And who would be late to dinner at Arrowmont? Not the painters! After dinner, we were again treated to faculty artist lectures: Jerilyn Virden (hollow form potter), Graeme Priddle (New Zealand wood worker) and Mark Shapiro (social activist and renowned potter). And then, to IMG_0100bed….just kidding! Back to the studio, of course! Except for the group walking into Gatlinburg for some late night karaoke, the painter-hikers will sleep well tonight.

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Laura Raborn, “Duthman’s Curve – Study,” oil on wood panel, 16 x 20 inches, 2015

Though I arrived a little late to class on Day 3 due to a walk around town, Professor Pinkney was lenient and made no comment about my tardiness. I felt myself, for the first time ever, being able to see shapes in our world abstractly, and finally painted from life in an abstract manner. (Ok, so it wasn’t exactly abstract, but it was progress for a realist like me). What’s the point, you ask? I LOVE the juxtaposition of real versus unreal, of representational versus abstract. When a figure is fully painted in a realistic manner, I want to take a nap (no offense, there certainly are many incredible realist figure painters out there). But when areas of the body or space are abstract to counter other areas that are specific and recognizable,IMG_0058 well, that’s a thrill. Each style improves the other, magnifies, electrifies, livens, contrasts. Abstraction with representation is my yin and yang. And a class with an abstract painter is just the focus I need now. It was nice to be making some progress and I think it was the combination of film, slides, demos, and class discussion that wormed its way into IMG_0099my perspective.

After a productive morning and lunch, we had a thorough group critique which provided everyone with helpful insights. What really made the afternoon feel like a boon, was the thoughtfulness and thoroughness toward each person’s work. Pinkney asked lots of questions, and provided antidotes, suggested artists to study, and worked passionately and carefully to help each student in one way or another. Admittedly, I was initially excited to take his class for slightly shallow reasons: I like his work and he is established in the art world. But those two factors don’t necessarily make a great teacher. I am deeply grateful that we got a gifted and caring teacher as well as a renowned artist.

After the critique, we painted and then headed for another feast, this time in the form of a picnic behind the big red barn, which is one of the dormitories on campus. And then another evening of artist lectures in the auditorium and more painting in the studio.IMG_0069_2

Though our teacher did provide plenty of specific suggestions, technique and instruction, one shining skill was his desire and ability to instill confidence, daring and esteem in his students, regardless of our ability, experience, or style. His quirky brilliance shined during many unexpected moments. For example, one morning in the studio, he announced plans to show a film about Philip Guston. He said we could continue painting in IMG_0079_2the studio or go see the film at 11:00 am. But shortly after the film started, he rushed back into the studio and announced to those of us who remained, “I was wrong! Watching the Guston film should not have been optional! This is important for you to see! You can paint at home, but I don’t know if you will ever have another chance to see this film. So, after lunch, meet in the auditorium at 1:00 sharp.”

Pinkney taught me more about teaching, too. As mentioned, he used film and the study of other artists. He used critiques and discussion; he asked lots of questions. He distributed IMG_0096multiple articles that ranged from basic technical issues such as color mixing or brush care to more esoteric reading such as “Looking Within” and “Playfulness” (and pictured down to the right, see Pinkney and two star pupils exemplifying “playfulness” with great finesse). He cared about his flock of students, about us learning as much as possible during our time at Arrowmont, and about enriching our education. Just as my professors at UALR, Pinkney shaped my own teaching methods and I look forward to applying what I learned, not just IMG_0093_2about painting, but about teaching, to my workshops at the Arkansas Arts Center.

Thank you Arrowmont, thank you classmates, and thank you Pinkney. And thank you readers, for visiting my art blog. Until next time!

Laura

 

 

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Arrowmont Part 1: An artist’s experience

IMG_0075_2For years, I’ve heard glowing reviews from colleagues, teachers, artists and friends about Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and for years I’ve dreamily combed over the course catalog. This summer, with my daughters away at camp, and an admired instructor on the Arrowmont schedule, I seized the opportunity to finally attend.

The nine hour drive from Little Rock was happily interrupted by a weekend of gallery hopping with an old college friend in Nashville (scroll down to see previous post if you are interested in Nashville galleries). I then headed to Gatlinburg, TN on Sunday. After battling the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg traffic, my arrival at IMG_6091the secluded and serene Arrowmont campus was a relief. Making me feel welcome, Cynthia at the Registrar’s desk had a nametag, map, and instruction sheet ready and waiting. After depositing my belongings in Hughes Hall, I headed to dinner where meeting students who would soon become peers was quick and easy. My worries about not knowing anyone here faded as I joined several diners, all excited about the upcoming week at Arrowmont.

During dinner, a student who has attended over 20 classes here shared tales and tips with our table of plebeians. Afterward, we all headed to an auditorium for Orientation which included guidelines, class information, a history of Arrowmont, and an introduction of the teachers. It IMG_0085_2become immediately clear, as if I hadn’t noticed in the course listing, the teachers are world class. It was also clear that Arrowmont is a highly organized, well run program. I liked knowing our time here would be used wisely, and that there were multiple opportunities to learn, from artist lectures, to studio tours, to an extensive and beautiful library (see photo on left).

At end of this article, I'll list the artist websites I made note of...I'm sorry the list is incomplete! They are all very talented and worth a visit.

At end of this article, I’ll list the artist websites I made note of…I’m sorry the list is incomplete! They are all very talented and worth a visit.

Each night at Arrowmont, there are artists lectures beginning soon after the incredibly healthy and delicious dinners. OK, OK, side note, I can’t delay this any longer, I know this blog is about art but I must talk for a moment about something else very important: FOOD. The food at Arrowmont is incredible. I had zero expectations…of all the great things I’ve heard about the place, I didn’t pay attention to reports about the food and as I was more interested in the art class experience. IMG_0080_2I simply purchased the meal plan with my enrollment in order to save time by avoiding downtown Gatlinburg for IMG_0094_2meals. There were multiple salads served each meal, several freshly prepared vegetables, vegetarian options at every meal, soups, homemade desserts, and delicious coffee, tea, and beverages available throughout the day. I cook often at home, and having three healthy vegetarian meals provided each day was a delightful surprise.

At 7:00, on the first night of lectures, we heard 15 minute presentations from Pinkney Herbert (who came out dancing and jamming on a harmonica), Andrew Kuebeck, and several of the artist residents. As soon as Pinkney’s harmonica sang, I knew the evening lectures should not be missed. IMG_0084_2So, there were daily lectures, films, instructional time in the studio, open studio time, group critiques, and reading assignments. And just when one might need to get out of the studio (and take a break from the oil paint fumes, in our case), Arrowmont wisely provides an event called “Studio Stroll” on Thursday evening. Brilliant. Get your target audience hooked on yet IMG_0082_2ANOTHER medium. I can’t decide if I became more enamored with enameling with Mary Chuduck or felting with Stephanie Metz. I’d heard these artists lecture earlier in the week so by the time I visited their studios on Thursday evening, I’d developed a great appreciation for the process and their work.

Overall, on top of the incredible instruction, unparalleled course offerings, and scrumptious food, Arrowmont is a place where artists can build a community of peers who inevitably feed our ideas. It is a place that elevates the direction of our work and softens the sense of isolation artists often feel. Whether you are a newcomer to the arts, a hobbyist, or a professional artist, this place is a heavenly balance of on the job training and summer camp. In addition to technique with materials, we can glean from the faculty tips about lecturing, teaching methods, and gallery business. We can learn about ourselves, our goals, and more about our own work. And we can experience the feeling of really getting away from it all while conversely getting a ton of work done. And that, to me, makes every moment at Arrowmont time well spent.IMG_6106

Thank you for reading! Up next, I’ll describe our painting class, lessons, and work samples in more detail in “Arrowmont Part 2: Painting with Pinkney Herbert.”

Artist websites:
stephaniemetz.com
andrewkuebeck.com
stonepoolpottery.com
borealisstudios.com
graemepriddle.com
pinkneyherbert.com

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Gallery Hopping In Nashville, TN

While planning a road trip from Little Rock to Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN, I noticed a perfect opportunity to stop over in Nashville where I could visit the growing list of cool art galleries, as well as visit a dear college friend. IMG_6101Staying overnight both Friday and Saturday, thanks to my kind hosts, allowed plenty of time for multiple stops. More importantly, and quite unexpectedly, we were able to spend quality time in the galleries, where owners and sales people were professional as well as encouraging, even when I mentioned my interest in gallery representation.

One of our most delightful surprises and longest stays, was at the Bennett Galleries where we were immediately greeted by Emily Cothran. Upstairs there is a frame shop, though this is a fine art gallery with many long established art contacts – from well known artists to top decorators to savvy collectors. The art styles represent a range including figurative, landscape and abstract. Though there is a wide variety, there is also a common larger theme: provoking, interesting, high-quality work.

IMG_6082The surprise came as we stood at the top of the stairs admiring a large abstraction that included random bits of architectural and figurative drawings embedded in the layers. This painting did what I most love…it gave the viewer the opportunity to discover and imagine. The longer we stood gazing at the heavily textured surface, the more information was revealed. The only problem was that the painting was hung in a position that was difficult to see closely. I suspect the layered surface, created with paint, pencil or charcoal, and fabric, would continue to delight upon closer inspection. MylesBennett-Affair16onWorktable-mixedmediaoncanvas-61x64

As we stood discussing the piece, Emily explained the artist, Myles Bennett, attended the Rhode Island School of Design and now lives and works in Brooklyn. At that moment, a young man strolled up as if on cue…it was the artist himself! Unbeknownst to Emily, Myles was visiting Nashville for a few days. When deeply appreciative of a specific piece of art, it is always a treat to meet the artist and hear his or her thoughts. We had the pleasure of talking with Myles about his work, education, family, and all sorts of topics. What perfect timing!frothy-monkey-12-south

After a quick coffee at the Frothy Monkey in the hip “12south” neighborhood, we headed downtown to The Rymer Gallery, The Arts Company, and Tinney Contemporary. Like many artists thinking about how technology is changing our lives and changing how we relate to each other (for both better and worse),Seduction 1 John Jackson I am always excited to see this topic tackled and was delighted to find the provocative paintings of John Jackson currently hanging at The Rymer Gallery. Many of his pieces incite thoughts about technology’s influence on intimacy as well as what we view as “real.” The space at The Rymer Gallery is clean and open, which creates a calm environment and allows a deceptively large volume of work to hang without feeling crowded. We then moved a few doors down to Tinney, which was closed due to the installation of a new exhibit.

The tour would not have been complete without a visit to the ultra avante garde art space, Zeitgeist, where we were fortunate to meet contemporary multi-media artist, Lain York. lyonkunown(frommainroom)912 He  showed us his work made of vinyl strips which led to a discussion about the expanding definition of art and potential art materials. As Lain spoke, I thought of the recent “State of the Art” exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of Art (for more information, scroll down to see earlier blog post) and how the exhibit presented to the public a show in which there were almost no limits on materials used in today’s art. To many, it was baffling, and not necessarily art, but to artists, the show was ground-breaking validation. And before I could ask, Lain mentioned his awareness and appreciation of the Crystal Bridges exhibit.yorkfairfax3215

Zeitgeist represents a variety of artists. My impression after visiting the converted warehouse is that the space provides a place for artists who are combining mediums and art forms (for example, think of dance, film, light, and sound combined to create a performance piece), who are experimenting with materials, and who are successfully communicating ideas through alternate uses of materials. This is a place to visit, and think, and learn. Thanks to Lain, we were educated about several of the represented artists, about recent exhibits, and about the purpose of the space.

In thelcg-open-outside-1218x360 mood for a scenic drive, we decided to head to historic Leiper’s Fork to visit Leiper’s Creek Gallery. I’d communicated with owner Lisa Fox through email years ago and was excited to meet heMel Rae Hear-and-Their-18x18-encaustic-2014r and talk about her art and the artists she represents. Warm and welcoming, Lisa told us about the gallery, about the historic area and surrounding businesses and about several of the artists. It was well worth the drive (which was stunning in the afternoon light) and a nice complement to a busy day in the city.

Because of meaningful conversation and contacts made at each gallery, it turns out a full day in Nashville wasn’t quite enough time to visit each gallery on my list. I’ve got another list going for next time with Cumberland Gallery at the top, followed by Tinney Contemporary. I would also love the visit the tiny space called “Nashville’s Smallest Art Gallery,” which according the the website, “measures a miniscule 27 inches wide by 37 inches tall, but has been attracting the work of top artistshow-thumbs from around the US world, and local Nashville artists alike. In a former life, the gallery was a neglected, graffiti-covered display case. Soon with a little help from some Goo Gone, a razor blade, and a total interior makeover, the gallery started to take shape, and on March 15, 2008 NSAG was born.” Seriously? How cool! Perhaps my next visit can coincide with the art walk, which I hear is quite a scene. Thank you to all the fine folks in Nashville’s art galleries, and a big thank you to my kind hosts, Chuck and Tony.

And thank YOU for reading! Next up: An enriching experience in so many ways at the world renowned Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.IMG_0074_2

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Part Two: A return to Harbour Island with visions of art

It is hard to imagine how art could possibly capture the essence and beauty of Harbour Island, a tiny slice of heaven off North Eleuthera in the Bahamas. While sketching and photographing during a recent visit, I realized there are countless images and ideas that could be conveyed with drawing and painting. Abstractions could aim to capture the onslaught of brilliant light and color. The abundant foliage could make a limitless subject for botanical themed work. As a figurative artist, the temptation to capture the beauty and kindness of the people is irresistible.

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But I can’t seem to escape the ideas mentioned in Part 1 (the previous blog entry) about the visual cues of time passing, and sometimes standing still, and of history, and of nature always altering, and reclaiming and continuing with or without us. So I’ll use images that prompt us to go back, to see the past, to wonder about our memories and the time before us. Perhaps in a strange combination, I can evoke the past while presenting figures who now have their turn at this magical place in the present.

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One way to sort through the ideas and options is to seek inspiration in the work of others. Luckily, there is an fine art gallery nestled amongst the cottages and business in town. Upon entering the Princess Street Gallery, one quickly becomes aware of the talent – from both local and international artists – behind the poignant drawings and paintings. DSC_0451The work includes a variety of styles and subjects ranging from landscape to figurative. The overall impression when entering the space is much like the visual impression of the island – both the art and the island present breath-taking beauty, vivid color, creative patterns and vibrant people.

DSC_0443Though he was busy preparing for a customer meeting, owner Charles Carey gave me a few minutes of time to talk about his business. After growing up in Nassau and working in New York City, Carey relocated to Harbour Island and noticed “numerous artists on the island creating work with no where to show it.” With the grin of someone who loves his job, he explained that opening the gallery “was an experiment, really.” Nineteen years later, I’d say his experiment produced success for Carey, for the artists on his roster, and for collectors.

I was particularly drawn to two artists whose approaches, style, and subject matter seem to be opposite of each other, yet each artist captures a deep truth about island life. Native Bahamian and former house painter, Amos Ferguson uses repetition and bold shapes to create recognizable imagery in an abstracted environment full of color, texture and pattern. ferguson_polkadots330 His ferguson_longleglizzie330work is immediately delightful, and on closer inspection, viewers notice a narrative or deeper meaning behind the deceptively simple figures. While the paintings can be perceived as child-like, don’t be fooled. The compositions are masterful and indicate a natural talent and gift.

I first saw the work of Stephen Scott Young in a private collection,DSC_0446 the same collection that inspired me to study figure painting in grad school. So it was a meaningful treat to view several pieces displayed at Princess Street Gallery.  His ability to perfectly execute anatomy, from expressive faces down to each carefully placed finger and toe, is unrivaled amongst watercolorists. But it is the choice he makes in the details, guiding our eyes and thoughts, that describes the mood, character and lives of the figures with brilliant clarity. He shows us the outside of stephen scott youngeach person as well as the individual spirit and circumstance which is perhaps one reason for his international success.

As I search for a way to present people, define space, and share the spirit of this place, I think of other artists and their methods. Those at Princess Street Gallery show me capturing the essence of Harbour Island is possible. The opportunity to spend time here, a place of lush growth, crystal clear water, and deeply kind people is a delight for anyone and a visual cornucopia for an artist. Creating meaningful art to represent such a magical place is a challenge for which I am deeply grateful and ready to face. Perhaps next entry, I’ll share a few pieces from current painting efforts. Until then, below are are few early sketches.

I hope you are having a lovely summer. Thank you for reading!

Laura

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Returning to Harbour Island amongst poignant beauty and memory

DSC_0806This is part one in a two part series about a recent visit to a magical place that remains in my heart and mind no matter how far away I am. When I was a girl, I dreamed about living on Harbour Island in the Bahamas and believed I would someday grow up to become a resident art teacher and artist there. But sometimes we pursue our dreams and other times we shelve them, assigning them to the wide realm of childish fantasy.

Slide-063 - Copy Slide-013 (2)It feels somewhat disrespectful to say that frequent family visits to the island led me to consider the place a home…there were and are Bahamian residents with long and rich histories, and we were simply tourists, no matter how attached we became to the people and place. Our visits, sometimes several times a year, were always temporary and fleeting. Despite our status as visitors, my brother and I became friends with many of the islanders, especially the children near our age who we met on the beach, or on the streets, or on a maDSC_0115keshift dance floor somewhere, or on the sand flats at one end where we could walk way out into the ocean at low tide.

This year, encouraged by my brother, my parents generously broke our hiatus from Harbour Island and invited the family to revisit this place so thick with memories and stories and natural beauty. Some of the stories are our own, like when I was 8 years old, we entered an Inn called Ocean View to find a donkey named Francis milling about in the living room. Or our visits to Angela’s for countless dinners sitting under the stars amongst the roosters. IMG_5808 While sitting at Angela’s this time, listening to her great-grandIMG_5817daughter read a book, I realized that instead of isolated moments in time, the stories and memories continue to evolve, and that life continues with or without us there.

Some stories, belonging to others, became our own folklore as we watched island families grow, events occur, and traditions unfold. For example, when my parents first visited 40 years ago, they explored an abandoned palatial home on one end of the island. As the story goes, a Greek shipping magnet built the opulent home for his new bride. In addition to the home and gardens, the compound included a short airstrip that ended in the crystal clear bay DSC_0167known as starfish alley (though as children we knew it as a barracuda den) and a dock for multiple yachts. A few days after the wedding, the bride ran away in the night, deserting her new husband and home. The grief stricken man walked way, never to return.

My parents tell of walking through the house where they found furniture such as a dining room table, frozen in time, with beautiful place settings, stemware and candle sticks, as if the home was waiting for its occupants to return. Soon after my parent’s initial visit, the mansion was partly destroyed in a fire, and the remaining objects found new hoDSC_0164mes. My brother and I carefully explored every nook and cranny as children, imagining the missing tenants and expecting ghosts to drive us away. And each year, from age 8 to 25, I watched nature reclaim the structure. DSC_0172This year, I was relieved to find so much of it still standing tall and proud.

As I walked around the island this time, amongst the schools, the restaurants, the shops and the homes, I considered a line I recently read in a novel by Orhan Pamuk: “When you love a city and have explored it frequently on foot, your body, not to mention your soul, gets to know the streets so well after a number of years that in a fit of melancholy, perhaps stirred by a light snow falling ever so sorrowfully, you’ll discover your legs carrying you of their own accord toward one of your favorite promontories.” While this is not a place of snow, there are other elements to stir my melancholy and my legs each morning carried me to points I’d long forgotten.IMG_5845How will I capture the sheer beauty of this place in my paintings? Will I even try? The beauty I see is filtered by concepts about life and death, the passage of time, ideas about the closed chapter of childhood, and a hyper-nostalgic longing. As I sketched and photographed during endless walks on the island, I found myself searching for something that no longer exists. But fragments remain, such as the narrow swath of rough concrete that once was the airstrip but is now covered with heaps of rusted metal and the island’s natural growth reclaiming what man once built. Fragments such as the fig tree decorated year round in Christmas lights led to a longing for a place that is now only memory intertwined with what exists in the present.

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Will I paint in an attempt to capture profound beauty? Or I am compelled to incorporate evidence of history and time passing? Perhaps a worthy artistic attempt could be made with painting specific objects, such as shoes, shells, bouys, and remnants of previous lives. In the recent New York Times magazine article, “On Photography,” Teju Cole writes, “Objects have the strongest memories of all…” and “objects are what remain, remnants of something that was before, a moment, experience, person, situation that no longer exists.” Perhaps I can take a cue from Cole and simplify complex ideas, memory, history and the beauty of Harbour Island into paintings of meaningful objects.

DSC_0775DSC_0579Inevitably, I will over analyze and complicate as I produce this body of work; the consequence of allowing too much emotion into the process. I will think of my childhood friend, Dawson, who I looked so forward to seeing this visit but who, I learned, died in a boating accident two years ago. And I will think of others who are gone and some who have arrived and how everything changes while so much stays the same. I can hope these ideas and the accompanying emotion will make an appearance in my paintings and allow viewers to deeply connect with the art while I express years of impressions of Harbour Island.DSC_0582Next up: Harbour Island Part Two will cover island art as a source of inspiration. Thank you for reading!