Category Archives: Drawings

Endless Inspiration at Princess Street Gallery

There is much to love about Princess Street Gallery on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. The stunning collection of photography, drawings, paintings, books, jewelry, shells, and decorative wares beautifully captures island life. There are prints and pieces that one can slip into luggage for a reminder of this place after returning home. There are also museum level artists, such as Stephen Scott Young and Amos Ferguson, whose work is in collections around the globe.

Amos Ferguson, A Family Around the Dinner Table

What fascinates me most are the various ways artists from all over the world approach creating artwork influenced by Harbour Island in one way or another. There are realistic landscapes, abstractions, loosely painted figures, graphically drawn portraits, black and white photographs, traditional oil paintings, conceptual pieces, and mixed media works.

Some of the artists are Bahamian, some are not. Many live in the area which provides an intimate insider perspective; many live far away which provides fresh eyes and observations of a visitor. I find it interesting to consider how ones’ own place inevitably alters perspective and choices when creating artwork.

Visiting artists are more likely to see things as new. Whether valid or not, we get the feeling we are making a discovery and want to create artwork to share the discovery with others. We can be hyper attentive to details that are different from home…from the crisp school uniforms to the wild cemeteries to the vibrancy of the poinsana tree. DSC_0582I live in a land-locked state in the U.S., so the abundance of water continues to amaze me. Noticing the artwork here, I am not alone in my awe of the water. For artists who live elsewhere, there is an automatic (conscious or subconscious) comparison to other places. Perhaps this is why details here grab our attention and endlessly delight. They are different than what we are used to seeing and the prolific beauty can be stunning.

The local artists seem to capture images of community, of familiar faces, and of daily life. Their art can give us insight to life in the islands, to the people, places and things that are both exquisite as well as common.

Stephen Scott Young, Independence Day

I suspect I am oversimplifying by placing artists in two categories: local and visiting. Inevitably, my mind gravitates toward these thoughts because, for years, I have considered the role of the visitor in a community and the ethical questions that form when an “outsider” tries to document a place and people.

After talking at length about these ponderings with the manager of Princess Street Gallery, I came to more clearly understand some important guidelines for the visiting artists: be respectful, listen more than talk, don’t make assumptions, and ask permission before drawing or photographing people. (Thank you, Donna!)

I am now sifting through sketches and photos as I begin work on a new group of paintings inspired by the island and the people here. In the meantime, if you find yourself strolling the pink sands of Harbour Island, be sure to cool off at the Princess Street Gallery. You are sure to enjoy the sites – and insights the artists provide – of a very special place.

Thanks for reading!
LauraIMG_1261

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From Creating to Admiring Art in a Matter of Minutes

I’d only been sketching a few minutes when a friendly voice approached. “Whatcha doin’?” he said as he sat on the bench. After spelling his name, Theophilus said, “Most people call me “T.” I’d been here so many times as a child, and thought I’d met every person and explored every detail of the island. But there are always people to meet and learn about and there is always more to see and consider.

I’d been drawn to this social corner store for several days, sometimes snagging a seat on the shady bench across from Terrie’s Take-Away and other times, sitting the sun on the side deck of the liquor store. Though this spot was hot, I loved the view of the Terrie’s, cloaked in sea grapes, surrounded by chickens, cats and people. From here, I can also see Uncle Ralph’s house and tableau, a group of items on a glass table that for years Ralph has arranged – and rearranged – with found items: shoes, conch shells, beer bottles, crumpled paper bags. I’ve never seen an artist or art professor arrange a still life with as much flair or cohesion of disparate items as Ralph who explained, “That table I work on and this whole corner – the store, the license plates, the colors – is a result of my own creative expression. We are all creative and this is my way of showing it.”

Uncle Ralph’s Still Life, 2015

Uncle Ralph’s Still Life, 2018

With his words in mind, I considered the act of photographing, sketching and painting Ralph’s corner. In my art, I am copying another person’s art. Ralph composed this corner and I am simply presenting it from one view. So much art is like this, especially two dimensional work which must be why my friend Angela half jokingly calls two dimensional artists “flat-eye” indicating that all we do is copy while 3D artists CREATE. She’s got a point, I admit. But copy I continue because the magic of drawing and painting is in creating a little portal to show the viewer a place, color, idea, memory, or person. It can be a reminder or a window presenting a person or place we have known or a painting can introduce an idea or place not yet imagined by the viewer. I believe there is value to the prompts two dimensional art becomes. So with due credit, and permission from Ralph, I find myself drawing at his corner frequently on a recent trip to Harbour Island. And talking with people like T.

Sometimes, when sketching, it occurs to me that I don’t get much accomplished. People are friendly and curious and I end up in deep conversation more than I end up drawing. It also occurs to me that I can sketch at home but I can’t talk with Ersley, Donna, T, Ralph, Bernadine, and Bernadette at home. Being with them now is my only chance to hear their stories, their views, and their wisdom. In paying attention to people, I learn about a place that, though distant and not my place, has been in my heart since I first visited as an 8 year old. My hope is that the stories of the people here are conveyed in my paintings and one way to start this process is to listen closely…which brings me back to T.

T told me about his work as a fishing guide and about the people he meets from all over the world. He also told me, with intense passion, about his brother’s artwork. He went into great detail about the driftwood his brother and sister-in-law prepare for paintings and about the colorful scenes and people the talented couple, Ersley and Maxine Wilson, are able to create. The pride, admiration and support in his voice was contagious so I packed up and headed down to the shop, following T’s instructions.

Along the way, however, I was temporarily distracted by the church were Stephen and I married 22 years ago. It was being decorated for a wedding and I had to stop for a quick sketch. I’d barely begun when a man approached asking about my drawing. After several questions, he described his own artwork and his self taught methods. Before I could respond, a golf cart flew by with T hanging off the back yelling, “Laura, That’s my brother! That’s my brother!”

I am delighted by the multiple coincidences but shouldn’t be surprised. This is how things go here with people who are willing to help each other and talk to each other. The lives here are a part of a tightly woven web and if a visitor is lucky, she can find herself caught in the web and a part of the connected community…at least on the periphery for a magical moment. Again abandoning the sketch, I walked briskly to the bayside and found the Wilson’s store. But not before saying good-bye to Ersley who gave me a bonus tip: “My 13 year old, Madison, will be working in the shop. Be sure you ask her to sing you a song, her own song.”

Some 13 year olds might clam up if a stranger approaches and requests a song out of the blue, but as I stood in the middle of the store, Madison sang a song about summertime and I knew I was in the most special spot in the world at that very moment.

I’m not sure what I expected after each of the Wilson brother’s passionate descriptions of the paintings, but I was immediately enamored with the work hanging in the space. Coming in all shapes and sizes, there is a definite cohesion to the group due to the use of color and the intimate portrayal of island life: Maxine and Ersley are able to beautifully capture the water, the sky, the greenery, the people, the animals and the architecture in a way that a visitor, like myself, can not do. Calling the artwork simple is not quite the right word. As an artist who tends to overcomplicate compositions and scenes, I greatly admire the straightforward approach in the Wilson’s work. In one last stroke of luck on our final evening on the island, I happened to meet Maxine (thank you, for the introduction, Charles!). She explained that often the couple collaborates on the pieces, with Ersley doing the drawing and Maxine doing the painting. I wish I’d been able to talk with Maxine more and get to know that family better – within a few chance encounters, I learned of multiple talents. And it all started with meeting T down at Terrie’s Take-Away. Perhaps next time, I’ll learn even more about the Wilson’s.

Next up: endless sources of inspiration everywhere including, of course, the Princess Street Gallery. Thank you for reading! Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Break in NYC: Art Nirvana

In a time when art is more loosely defined than ever, where there are no limits to what materials artists use, where anything imaginable can qualify as art, and where idea sometimes trumps craftsmanship, I return home from a trip to New York City electrified and inspired. Only in David Zwirner did I wonder, “What the?” Having said that, I know my personal lack of understanding an art installation does not reflect poorly on the art; perhaps it is my limited exposure to certain materials or styles that leaves me perplexed. My own education or perspective could be the problem.

While visiting roughly twelve galleries and four museums during my daughters’ spring break, I was repeatedly delighted by the quality, talent, and thoughtful presentation. For this trip, I focused on painting exhibits and found that representational painting, much of which was figurative, dominated the walls. One reason I paint representationally is because I believe art is most powerful when the highest number of people can glean some understanding, some insight, some information about a subject presented. Art made for an exclusive few seems to deny itself the chance to speak clearly about culture, about society, about life and about issues in a way that can eventually serve as documentation of our time. But maybe art does not have to represent anything specific. Maybe odd installations tell of a need for something real, three dimensional, touchable, formidable in a world inundated with visual imagery. Yet I can hardly resist the allure of a two dimensional painting or drawing that serves as a magical window to an idea. Yes, two dimensional work is an imitation of something, it is a copy. But the flat plane can reach our minds, our emotions, our thoughts. A great painting or drawing feeds, informs, opens, provokes, teaches, records and delights us.

Following are a few highlights from our visit:

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Alyssa Monks, Become, 2015, oil on linen, 50 x 80 inches

Alyssa Monks at Forum Gallery. I expected to feel disappointment over her departure from water paintings. However, the current body of work, “Resolution,” is stunning and exquisitely painted. The artist merges the human form with forest and plant environments. While the figures embody large swaths of canvas, they do not dominate the space. Instead, towering trees and foliage promote the idea of humans as secondary to earthly growth. The paintings allow us to see the intertwined existence of all living things. Combining human features with elements from nature is difficult and looking closely at the paintings shows how the artist chose certain brush marks and colors. The Forum Gallery website allows viewers to zoom in on the brushstrokes which is helpful and revealing.

 

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Claudio Bravo, Morocco Triptych, 2009, oil on canvas

Claudio Bravo at Marlborough Gallery. For years I have tried to figure out what exactly draws me to the entrancing work of Bravo. He is able to arrange material in a way that encourages the viewer to imagine how the material folds and feels. He is a master of value, creating shadows, highlights and folds that become almost linguistic. The contrasting colors he often uses prompt the viewer to repeatedly return to the work. Though it is often the human figure that draws me to a painting, Claudio Bravo’s still lifes reveal a vision and skill that is always worth studying in person when given the opportunity.

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Rimi Yang, Big Black Hat After Gainsborough, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

Rimi Yang at Stricoff Fine Art. I first fell in love with her fantastic layered work while studying my aunt’s fine art collection several  years ago. Since then, I have found Yang exhibited on the east coast, the west coast and in between in Austin, TX. Rounding the corner of 11th and 25th in Chelsea, my eye landed on this painting (here on the left) and I immediately knew I’d once again found one of my favorite artist’s work. As I struggle, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding, to paint the figure in an abstracted space, I think often of Yang’s  ability to create mysterious settings that allude to history, time, and things being covered, or painted over or washed away. I LOVE her precision used only sparingly and how it contrasts with loose brush marks and drips. I LOVE the exquisite details that contrast undefined areas. She makes it look so easy and it certainly is not. I was grateful this painting caught my attention because it turns out Stricoff Fine Art also carries many artists I admire such as Carol O’Malia and Joshua Bronaugh. We hit the jackpot! As a bonus, I got to meet gallery director, Michel Vandenplas, who was very kind even though my girls were basically sprawled out napping on a couch toward the back and I’d taken a photo of a Yang painting which I learned was not permitted. Despite all this, he was completely welcoming and gracious. Sometimes, when the details of a busy trip fade into the past, it is the kindness of strangers that stays with us. Speaking of a welcoming and kind stranger, next up…

Garvey Simon Art Access. When submitting work for the Delta Exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center, I read about this year’s juror, Elizabeth Garvey and was excited about the possibility of meeting her and seeing her gallery. Though we had no appointment and just stopped by to say hello, we were warmly welcomed. Liz graciously guided us into her office to show the work of many of the artists she represents. What first struck me in glancing at the walls was the pattern created by the wide variety of artists and their meticulous high quality use of materials.

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David Morrison, Stick Series No. 12, 2015, Colored pencil on paper, 14 5/8 x 21 3/4 inches

Much of the work on display was abstract forms from nature. Much of the work took something recognizable from the world and zoomed in for a hyper close view which helps viewers let go of the meaning of the things presented and see things in a new light. Ever since hearing Hank Willis Thomas speak about his work,  I deeply appreciate art that helps a viewer let go of a preconceived notion and see something in a new way. I was particularly drawn to the work by Julia Randall who shows us a view of life, of the human mark, of the fragile moment, in ways we surely have not considered. Her close look at various subjects – dead flowers, billowing empty plastic bags, chewed bubble gum – each involve air in one way or another. Not air that gives life, but air that is used and old. Whether the human form appears or not, the idea of a person involved with the item is ever present.

 

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Time, 2006 Oil on Panel, 36″ x 36″

Gallery Henoch. Finally, I was delighted to find Gallery Henoch, which has been in business for 50 years representing realist artists such as David Kassan, Burt Silverman, Daniel Greene, and Max Ferguson. For four years, I’ve regularly visited Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and never tire of the painting, “Time” by Max Ferguson. Though I did not get to see Ferguson’s work during our visit, the majority of the work on display was by Gary Ruddell. He creates a space for the figures that presents the idea of fantasy, or memory, or the world of youthful imagination. The looming deep shadows contribute to a slightly eerie or dangerous atmosphere though the figures seem content in frozen playful gestures. With backs turned away and eyes cast downward, there is something unreachable about the worlds in which the figures exist. I am grateful to have found another artist to admire who can create evocative compositions using semi-realistic spaces for figurative work.

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Gary Ruddell, Small Journeys, Oil on Panel, 54″ x 54″

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Gary Ruddell, Pinball Cha Cha, Oil on Panel, 60″ x 60″

There were so many more inspiring exhibits but this post is getting long…below are photos from our wanderings at the MOMA and the Met. Thank you for reading!

Laura

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Robert Motherwell

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Takashi Murakami

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Cy Twombly

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Jim Dine

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George Condo

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Robert Rauschenberg

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Francisco de Goya

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Philip Guston

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Jean-Michel Basquiat

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Jasper Johns

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Joan Mitchell

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Ferdinand Hodler

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Willem de Kooning

 

 

The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media: Part 5 Drawing

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

Throughout my time as a student and an artist, I frequently notice an assumption we make: we assume artistic talent correlates with an ability to draw representationally. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard statements like, “Oh, I’m not artistic at all…I can hardly draw a stick figure.” I take issue with this false assumption. Drawing is only one of many ways to create art. Furthermore, I believe most people CAN draw. I used to not be able to draw – seriously, I was terrible at it. With practice and instruction, now I can. I certainly have plenty of room for improvement, but I’m getting better. Sure, some people have a natural aptitude for it. They make it look effortless. For those who believe they “can’t draw,” sometimes it just takes a few tips and some patience.

Today’s post will introduce drawing tips, as well as ways to incorporate drawing into your mixed media artwork. When teaching workshops at the Arkansas Arts Center, we spend about 30 minutes on drawing by focusing on:

  1. contour studies
  2. value studies
  3. mass studies

We also spend a few minutes looking at an important element of drawing: line. Line quality and variety is an essential tool when it comes to drawing. It can guide the eye, build a pattern, and emphasize an area of an abstract piece. Line can turn into all sorts of doodles and shapes. Best of all, you don’t have to know how to “draw” in a traditional sense to create lines. Before we review the specific drawing lessons, let’s take a moment to look closely at this Jean-Michel Basquiat painting:

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Untitled, 1982, acrylic and oil on linen, 76×94″

Do you think it is well drawn? Are there recognizable objects and figures? Is this more or less interesting to you than a highly realistic figure painting? Take note of the lines and shapes. If you get out a piece of paper right now, are you able to make the wavy lines such as those on the far right and the far left sides? Notice the variety of circles – on top of the skull, in place of the hands, inside the rectangular body. Can you draw circles like this? I am not asking that anyone imitate Basquiat. Simply allow yourself to notice the drawn line in the work of other artists. I can’t imagine that Basquiat asked himself if the figure is “good” or “well-drawn.” He freely works with expressive line. He paints over areas constantly experimenting with adding and subtracting information. Often, as artists and students, we do not allow ourselves this freedom based on the belief that we “can’t draw” or our drawings aren’t “good.” Well, enough is enough. You can draw and here are a few exercises to get you started.

  1. Blind contour: photo 4 (2)this is when you look at an object and draw it’s outline without looking at your paper or pencil. Just stare at the object and let your hand put down a line. By not looking at the paper, we are able to let go of perfection.
  2. Value: this is when you look closely at the light and dark areas of the object. You can include an outline but unlike the conphoto 5 (1)tour studies, you are not searching for the edges of the object or trying to get the outline just right. Instead, concentrate on light and dark using a simplified scale of three shades in a range: lightest, middle, and darkest. Often when we admire painters for their loose brushwork, their successful rendering comes from a masterful use of value to create an object and not necessarily a well executed outline.
  3. Mass: this technique, which I learned from artist David Bailin, is like magic and has probably improved my drawing skills more than anyphoto 3 (1) other. Using rapid back and forth sketch marks, try to fill in the inside of the object without accidentally adding an outline. You can include value if you choose. Initially difficult, as our eyes and hands want to concentrate on the edge of the object, this technique forces us to see how the object takes up space in an environment. Once you have the general mass filled in, take a step back and compare it to the object. After making adjustments by erasing or adding mass, you can outline the object. The magic happens when you notice your drawing is, perhaps, superior to a drawing that started with an outline. I have found this exercise particularly helpful when drawing complex forms such as the human figure.

There are many more drawing techniques than can provide all artists, no matter what level, with immediate improvement. If drawing interests you, check out the drawing classes at the Arkansas Arts Center. In the meantime, back to how drawing can be a valuable tool in your mixed media work. Remember the Basquiat painting? Let’s talk a moment about doodles. Sometimes we need a little nudge toward how to make a mark on paper. Look around you at the multitude of designs and lines. You can make designs on paper based on fabric on your couch, or lines on a garden gate. You can look at brochures, magazines and all sorts of pieces of paper. Below, I used a padded envelope that came in the mail and a brochure from a vacation to inspire doodles.

Using a pencil, conte crayon or charcoal, let the images you see in life work their way onto your paper. If you get in the habit of doodling in a sketchbook, these marks can become a treasure trove for layers in your mixed media paintings. You can also look up doodles in books and online for inspiration. Below is a piece by Parisian artist, Marcus McAllister (who originally hails from Little Rock, AR!). He beautifully arranges a drawing of a bird with abstract elements such as layers of dripping green and blue paint, a layer of creamy white using a stencil, and a pattern of yellow circles along the upper part of the composition.

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Laura Raborn, detail of mixed media study

Whether you doodle, practice drawing from life, use printed material for design inspiration or choose a child-like approach to draw shapes resembling recognizable imagery, please have faith in your ability to add drawing to your mixed media work. Remember, any failed attempts can be obliterated with stencils, words, collage or any of the materials and methods from the last few posts.

Next, I’ll wrap up the mixed media workshop series with a final discussion on layering. Until then, thank you for reading!   Laura

 

 

 

The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media: Part 3 Collage

Confession: Until I started teaching a Mixed Media workshop at the Arkansas Arts Center, I failed to see the value in collage. In my mind, collage reeked of the 1970’s decoupage trend combined with my memories of glue sticks in the 1st grade.

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Laura Raborn, detail of Untitled (workshop experiment), 2015, mixed media on paper

I had a total change of heart during a recent workshop, when gluing images of women from a fashion magazine on a heavily textured painting. Like many of the methods I describe in this series of posts, collage works well in the layering process. Images can be altered to create or emphasize a concept that has no association with the original meaning of the collaged image. It is simply a tool to CONTRAST other marks in the piece or a tool to allude to an idea. In the example to the left, the female figure is barely visible, as it has been sanded, painted, and scrubbed. Once the eye finds the figure, it is as if a discovery has been made and the search for recognizable imagery among the abstraction and texture is part of the allure.

The tools you need are minimal: any type of glue (acrylic gel medium is my favorite) plus text, photos, magazine images, or whatever you can cut out and glue down. Remember, you can also appropriate from your own photos or artwork – just incorporate them into a larger piece. I’ve used my hand-drawn stencils as collage pieces and it is now one of my favorite techniques. In the painting below, can you see the strip of fabric that runs vertically on the right side? And the cut out male figure behind the girl’s eye? The collage item can be embedded into the painting and does not have to be highly visible or representational. It can help build the surface, establish a pattern, or support an idea presented elsewhere in the piece.

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Laura Raborn, “Girl Looking Outward”, 2015, mixed media on wood panel, 16 x 20″

IMG_4803As I’ve stated about many mixed media methods, collage is a method that CONTRASTS hand drawn or painted areas. This juxtaposition makes engaging composition. Take for example the work of Tyler Hildebrand, seen here on the left. The highly recognizable Waffle House signage contrasts the childlike drawings. Had the Waffle House sign been hand drawn or painted, the acute idea of American food signage would be diminished. The collage material makes the viewer go back and consider the sign again and again.

IMG_4805In another Hildebrand painting, the artist uses a drawing from his childhood and with painted line, tethers the drawing to the bulbous male form. Including the actual paper drawing in the composition conveys history. It doesn’t just allude to keepsakes – the dinosaur drawing on notebook paper IS a keepsake. The collage item encourages the viewer to ponder ideas about memory or childhood experiences traveling with us throughout adulthood.

When considering various images to appropriate, remember the collage item(s) can become your surface under other media, as seen in the work of German artist, Sigmar Polke. Seen below, Polke draws scenes and uses stencils on top of fabric swatches. If you are a mixed media artist, it would be worth your time to further investigate the work of Sigmar Polke. As an experimental painter and photographer, he brilliantly used all of the techniques (plus some) we explore in the mixed media class at the Arkansas Arts Center – including image transfer, the use of language, collage, stencils, stamps, drawing, layers, patterns and textures. He was ferociously experimental with all materials, allowing for the accident to coincide with concept.

Lastly, another effective way to alter the meaning of the original collage item, is to merge photos in order to create something else altogether. Is there something you are passionate about but feel unable to convey through painting and drawing? Communicate your ideas through a creative fusing of photographic imagery. Let’s say my goal is to create a piece about sea turtles and human activity. After printing photos I found online, I am playing with various combinations (please note this is not a well thought out example – just a moderately successful demo):

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Searching for photos online to fit the sea turtle idea, and trying to guess about scale while printing was fairly time consuming. Many collage artists  keep organized files to store interesting images they come across in the mail, catalogs, magazines, and any other printed material. Then they just search their own categorized files when starting a project. Artist Holly Roberts does an excellent job explaining her process – and her work is inspirational for those trying to learn more about collage.

To see her work, visit http://www.hollyrobertsstudio.com/
For a short informative video about her methods, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5dqxGVI4sA

Next up in the mixed media workshop series: Incorporating text and language into compositphoto 2 (1)ions. Until then, thank you for reading….and a Happy Healthy New Year to all!

 

 

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

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!