Category Archives: Galleries

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One “Ah Haa” moment after another in beautiful Telluride

IMG_4298Telluride, CO is one of those places that has appeared and reappeared on my radar for many years. Imagine my delight when the opportunity to finally visit presented itself in the shape of a teaching job. Not only is the town known for its festivals, art scene, long list of heavenly summer and winter activities, and foodie atmosphere, there is an additional resource that serves locals and visitors well – the outstanding Ah Haa School for the Arts. Just visit the website to see the countless events, classes and activities hosted by the school. IMG_4343The school is so enthusiastically embraced by the community that growth has exceeded the space for a second time since its inception in 1990. Partnering with the city of Telluride, plans are in the works to move into a 10,000 square foot space in 2020. In the meantime, the bustling program, which includes a full schedule of children and adult art classes, is located in the historic train depot next to the gondola and along the idyllic river trail at the base of the Telluride Ski Resort.IMG_4250

For the past four years I have worked to hone a mixed media workshop. Teaching the class roughly 5 times a year brings me great joy. It is an alternative to spending long hours in the studio on commission jobs and getting ready for exhibits. Meeting and getting to know the students, who come into the class with varied degrees of art experience, is a highlight and has lead to many treasured friendships. Equally as valuable (as many teachers express) is the process of teaching – the demo prep, the lectures, the critiques, the exposure to student opinions and perspectives – provides me with a boost of inspiration, gratefulness and education.

IMG_4231Last week at the Ah Haa School was no exception to the joys and benefits of teaching. After settling in at the Mountainside Inn, I walked over to the art school to meet the people I only knew through email and to see the workshop space. Then I headed over to the recently renovated and wildly popular, Wilkinson public library to present a lecture about the purpose of art, mixed media techniques, and my own two bodies of work. Afterward, one of the students kindly offered to take me to a local favorite, Esperanza’s, for a quick bite. Starting with the shuttle driver from the Montrose airport and ending in a lively bar discussion about affordable housing, I immediately noticed the uplifting, positive, engaging atmosphere created by the people of Telluride.

The next day during our class introductions, I quickly realized the positive encounters IMG_4239from the previous day were not just beginner’s luck. In fact, as the students told a little about themselves and their workshop goals, I found myself in awe of their experiences, careers and achievements. I was relieved to learn that many of the methods and materials on my agenda were new to most of the students, so I would have something to offer the accomplished group.

For anyone out there interested in the agenda, here is a bare bones outline I use for the Mixed Media workshop series:

  1. Various ways to apply paint
  2. How to make and use stencils and stamps
  3. Image transfer 
  4. Collage techniques
  5. How to use gel medium (ie building texture)
  6. Incorporating lines, doodles, drawings and text

Throughout the workshops, we also discuss:

  1. Elements of Art and Principles of Design
  2. How to critique artwork including our own
  3. Compositional tips
  4. How to resuscitate a “failed” painting

Each morning was open to exploring and the afternoons dedicated to teaching. One morning I tried out cross country skiing in Town Park (thank you Telluride Nordic Association!), one morning I hiked up Wiebe trail (thank you for the directions, Kris!) and one morning I walked around town visiting shops and galleries.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting the galleries. Would I find a focus on the beautiful surrounding landscape such as the aspen tress? Would the galleries feature winter sport themes? Would most of the art be contemporary or traditional? Representational or abstract? Even with the three free mornings (there is so much to see and do in this little town!), I only had time to visit two: Telluride Gallery of Fine Art and Slate Gray Gallery.
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As the oldest gallery in town, the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, represents a range of artists from locally known to internationally recognized….and when I say “internationally recognized,” take, for example, Maya Lin, recipient of the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom and designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. I’m still disappointed that I missed her lecture last year at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in my home state of Arkansas. The gallery also represents Malcolm Liepke, whose luscious figures I’ve studied since grad school. One of my favorite artists on their roster is Krista Harris (who teaches at the Ah Haa School!). Though her style is uniquely her own, the large abstract paintings are reminiscent of Cy Twombly’s mark making and Joan Mitchell’s energetic brush work. These are paintings one can explore and enjoy for a long time, discovering nuances and details with each visit.

Quilt & Poppy Diptych by Nina Tichava

At the Slate Gray Gallery, I had the pleasure of visiting with the manager Bekah Kolbe, who I previously and serendipitously met on a Facebook group page. It is strange how social media can enrich in-person meetings by providing a little context and familiarity. Bekah kindly gave me a tour of the space while we talked about art, artists, process and politics. I was immediately drawn to the work of Nina Tichava possibly due to her use of my favorite art element that students hear me talk about constantly: Contrast. For example, in “Quilt and Poppy Diptych,” she employs contrasting lines (thin versus thick, measured versus organic), contrasting colors (orange against blue, black against white), contrasting shapes (organic versus geometric), contrasting sizes (tiny and delicate versus large and bold) and contrasting marks (soft and loose versus hard and rigid). What’s the result? Tension, energy, focus and movement that grabs the viewers attention and makes me want to lookIMG_4315 at the work for a long time. These two galleries were well worth the visit with a mixture of mediums and styles of fine art. To get a more complete picture of the Telluride art scene, next time I will be sure to visit more galleries and will check out the Telluride Arts HQ as well as the American Academy of Bookbinding.

Before signing off, I need to make note of a few food favorites (confession – this is one of those posts where the food might take up as much space as the art). I wish I could have visited Ghost Town for every single meal. I don’t know what makes it spectacular, but they have the best avocado toast I’ve ever had. Maybe it is the bread? Or the seasoning sprinkled over the avocados? Or the zesty hint of lime? It was almost impossible to IMG_4256decide what to order when looking over the menu and I’ve heard every breakfast and lunch item is equally as delicious. The tea and coffee made it a mandatory must stop each day even though the Mountainside Inn keeps their coffee caraft hot and full all day long.

IMG_4266And I must mention Tacos del Gnar. As I waited for the place to open, another customer joined me at the table out front. A couple walked by and asked if the tacos are good, and the man sternly answered “Well, yes, of course they are!” The woman asked what makes them so special, and he stampered, “I can’t explain, just… everything!” Which sums up my description. I don’t know what makes their tacos supreme – but they are.

As mentioned earlier, I ate at Esperanza’s one night with a student and I’m not sure which was better – the welcoming crowd or the food. I found myself wishing I could take the coleslaw home like my companion did. The same student kindly ushered me one evening after class up, up and away to Allreds. Accessible only by gondola, I expected a rustic ski joint but I was wrong. This is fine dining with the most spectacular views. The reservation list is full for months and we were lucky to squeeze inIMG_4246 at the bar (hello Trenton and JoJo!) which is a bit more affordable than the dining room. I would have disturbed too many diners by taking photos of the surrounding San Juan mountains so instead I give you this: a mountain of strawberry rhubarb cobbler.

As a finale, several of the students were available for dinner at Siam on my last night in town. While classmates Nancy and Laurie were certainly missed, I am so grateful for the extra time spent with many of the students. Being treated to dinner was almost more than I could bare as a grand gesture of kindness that perfectly mirrored IMG_4357every special interaction in Telluride. Finally, I must thank Kris Kwasniewski at the Ah Haa School for accepting my teaching proposal and inviting me to the school as a visiting artist. Kris and the Ah Haa staff were organized and accommodating, making the job and visit a smooth and rewarding experience. Thank you to Kris, Kathleen, Jess and Tara!

Until next time…thanks for reading.
Laura

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Fabulous Philly

With all the fabulous food, history, art, gardens and entertainment in Philadelphia, it is hard to pick favorites. But this post is a quickie, so chose I must. First, a little context…

My daughter and I zipped up (thank you Southwest Airlines!) to Philadelphia for a recent weekend to visit colleges. In addition to the college tours, we made sure to make time for a walk through the historic district, important stops such as Franklin Fountain (for ice cream – yes, it is worth the long line), and a handful of museums. As first time visitors, we accepted beforehand the trip would be a mere glimpse of Philadelphia and throughout the weekend we both mentioned hoping this trip is the first of many.

We visited the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Mütter Museum, the Penn Museum, and the one I have admired from afar for years, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA) which will be the focus of today’s post.

Kehinde Wiley

This institution is both academy and museum. The galleries host outstanding visiting exhibits, student exhibits, and work from the permanent collection. Due to a history of training some of our countries’ most established artists, they permanent collection consists of work from past and current students and faculty who are now world renowned such as Cecilia Beaux,  Alex Kanevsky, Vincent Desiderio and Thomas Eakins. There are various learning opportunities for students and professionals such as a Masters in Fine Art program, certificate programs, and post graduate professional offerings. They host provocative, educational lectures for students and guests – I only read about them from home but am determined to attend someday.

There are currently numerous excellent exhibits throughout the galleries. The one that most exceeded my expectations was “Chuck Close Photographs: Stretching the Boundaries of Photography.” I’ve grown up studying Chuck Close and wondered if his photography would meet the standards set by his long career of large penetrating portraits. If anything, he has topped himself.

Kara Walker, 2008 (left photo)
Kara/maquette, 2010 (right photo)

The photography is insightful, beautiful, and disarming. I wrongly assumed that the photography is a recent focus for Close, but these photos span from 1964 to present and have been an important part of his painting process. So they were there all along and only recently displayed as a collection. My favorite, due to my fascination with her silhouette artwork, is the duo his presents of the artist Kara Walker. The photo of Walker is straightforward and intimate. Seeing her profile presented in the same format as her own artwork is powerful. Close has created an homage to the woman and to her artwork.

“Leaves, Letters, Lavender” by Martha Jackson Jarvis

Hidden on the landing between two levels of the historic building is an exhibit titled, “A Collaborative Language: Selections from the Experimental Printmaking Institute.” I’m grateful to the man at the front desk who mentioned the cavernous little gallery space – I might have walked right past without his tip. As a mixed media artist experimenting with rudimentary printmaking techniques in my own paintings, this exhibit sparked my growing interest in the technique. The Experimental Printmaking Institute (EPI) draws established contemporary artists to its renowned residency program, which is where this exhibit was created.

The other exhibit that blew me away is “Beyond Boundaries: Feminine Forms.” There are many female artist exhibits currently on display across the country, but this one, well, these are long established idols.  Jenny Holzer, Miriam Schapiro, Nancy Spero, Faith Ringhold all in one room – oh my! The exhibition showcases work collected by Linda Lee Alter and donated to PAFA in 2011. Her collection efforts were meant to make “corrections to historical biases that overlooked work by women” and this exhibition “aims to identify the various ways these artists subvert stereotypes of gender by embracing experiences devalued by patriarchal societies.”

Miriam Schapiro

Jenny Holzer

Nancy Spero

Faith Ringgold

This perspective reminds me of the mission statement of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC. Some female artists do not want to be labeled as such. They prefer no gender identification in their title, “artist.” But I think an important consideration when considering these female based exhibits is the idea of women’s experiences in the world are different from those of a man. Therefore, the art they make can be inherently different and has often been overlooked throughout art history as unworthy.

I can’t conclude without a mention of one of the best dining experiences of my life. My daughter and I simply started at each other in disbelief over the service, the food, and the atmosphere at Morimoto. I find myself pulling for UPenn so I can – quite selfishly – return for more at this exquisite Japanese restaurant. As always, thank you for reading!

Laura 

 

 

Inspiration in Washington, DC: A Captivating Art Tour

A five-day visit to our nation’s capital, with the unusual circumstance of time on my hands, means visiting exhibits and museums at a leisurely pace. What a treat to read each description, sit in front of work and dwell to my heart’s content, and circle back around to displays I want to reconsider. My first stop is the National Portrait Gallery. After a joyful reunion with my Rollins College Writing Center co-worker and friend, we periodically pause feverish talk of politics and focus our attention on the galleries.

Some highlights include one of my favorites by Cecilia Beaux. Look at that hand, so unfussy, so gestural, so perfect. And the controversial Richard Prince with his snarky sense of humor. I am intrigued by Mark Bradford’s “Amendment #8” because of my own use of text in layers of paint. The artist renders the words illegible and the only way we recognize the meaning is through the title of the work. The loss of meaning in language is something I have had on my mind lately, in listening to language used by politicians.

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“John” by Vincent Valdez

“American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, Nor the Iraqis nor the Afghanis)” by Emily Prince

Later, I return to see The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now. One should not be rushed through this exhibit. The photographs are intimate and breathtaking. The tiny hand drawn portraits of fallen soldiers are too numerous to take in carefully, and it feels shameful not to look at each and every face, despite or because of the extreme volume of portraits. Vincent Valdez creates a haunting homage to his friend, who survived war but not his return home, in a multimedia display including photographs, film and painting.

NOTE: in reviewing this blog post, something is nagging at me about my woefully inadequate description of The Face of Battle exhibit. It deserves more than I provide in this brief summary of art museums visits. To read an insightful article about the artists and people they portray, please click HERE.

Next is a trip to the Hirshhorn Museum of Contemporary Art. The elevated annular building is a sight to behold. After circling around and underneath, admiring the surrounding sculpture gardens and the refreshing fountain in the center, I make my way inside to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit. Initially, I think I can waltz through, briskly taking in the large scale lego mats that present images of faces from around the world. But something makes me stop and read about each and every person. They are each considered political dissidents and live in places without freedom of speech. Many have disappeared, many are in jail indefinitely, many are dead or presumed dead, and few are free. In addition to wanting to learn about each person’s life and heroic actions, one might wonder, why legos? A conflict, or almost embarrassing tension, exists when learning about tragedy by viewing portraits made from a commonly known toy. It seems playful but is not. I try to imagine the installation as a large mat of photos instead of legos and how another medium would impact viewer perception. It is as if the legos keep the images from being “just another” news story and prompt viewers to think about the personal lives of the portrayed people. It is surprising how the common world wide use of legos somehow makes us feel more connected to each individual than, perhaps, photography would. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To watch a short video of the artist speaking about the ideas presented in the installation, the methods, and the materials used, please click HERE.

Moving right along, after a good night’s sleep, is the recently renovated National Gallery of Art East Building which holds a world renowned 500 piece collection of modern and contemporary art. For first time visitors, a tip: Be sure to pick up a map and guide at the Ground Level Information desk. The design of the building can lead to disorientation and it is easy to accidentally miss certain areas such as the multiple towers. It is also easy to feel so enamored with the building, you might forget which levels, towers and corridors you have already visited, and which you have missed.

I am startled by the number of pieces in the collection that were part of my art history studies at UA Little Rock. Below is a slideshow of pieces that we discussed during my graduate program and that continue to influence my ideas about art. It is a joy to see the work in person, especially in order to closely inspect the brushwork and color used by George Condo, Wayne Thiebaud, and Cecily Brown. Seeing, up close, the line work and materials used by William Kentridge and by Sigmar Polke is so much clearer than the prints I’ve studied.

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Finally, perhaps my favorite of all: the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This is my first visit and I wonder why I haven’t prioritized it before. The collection is much larger than I realized and, again, there is no rushing through….particularly in viewing the special exhibit, “Revival.”

My former professor and friend recently expressed ambivalent feelings about the NMWA. When I asked her to explain, she said she does not want to be known as a “female artist” and would prefer to be known as an “artist.” Her questioning the benefit of this museum made me consider whether celebrating women in a separate space does perpetuate the label, “female artist.” However, like many groups of people who band together in order to create a more powerful voice, one that often goes ignored individually, I believe the NMWA exists because it is needed. As stated in the museum’s brochure and along the entry foyer wall: “Gender bias is less overt today, but contemporary women artists still face obstacles and disparities. Art by women is persistently underrepresented in museum collections and exhibitions worldwide.” I recall work at the Tate Modern that addresses this exact issue and am grateful to the museum for providing additional recognition for women in the arts.

Another unexpected thought occurs to me while visiting the museum…collectively, how is art made by women different than art made by men? Or is it? I am intrigued by this observation and notice repeated themes, some overt, some quite subtle. Much of the art is directly about being female. Many pieces are about the female body and multiple catagories within the subject of the body (how we are perceived, how we are objectified, how we cover ourselves, how we judge each other by appearance, how we are strong, how we compare to elements in nature, how we decorate ourselves. etc.).

I’ll sign off with a few favorites below. Often, I gravitate toward paintings and drawings but this time it is the sculpture that stops me in my tracks and makes me stay awhile. As always, thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

 

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 3)

“Passage” by Dominique Simmons

In Part 2 of this series, I noticed a recurring theme while describing the various venues and exhibits we visited in Bentonville, Arkansas. It occurred to me again and again that art enables us to better understand the perspective of others. That theme continues as I make my way to the Fine Arts Building at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Regardless of your political persuasion, a visit to the exhibit, “Nasty Woman” certainly fulfills the purpose of experiencing various perspectives. It is often said that artists reflect the cultural pulse of society. Of course, no single person, or small group can speak for all. But the Nasty Woman exhibit, like it’s counterparts popping up around the globe, reveals the ways in which many female artists are responding to a political and social environment that feels oppressive for some.

This exhibit showcases multiple themes, materials, and concepts to present the overarching theme of gender inequality. Some of the artwork communicates protest, some celebrates women, some asks for recognition of unrecognized women. Some addresses the roles women hold in communities and families, some of the work addresses reproductive rights or our cultural focus on women’s body parts. Some of the pieces are nurturing, some are aggressive

“Mammary Ducts” by Mia Hall

As women strive to progress, and demand rights such as equal pay, there seems to be a backslide that has developed in the last two or three years. For example, what do we make of the recent shift in public response to breastfeeding? Why has it become “gross” and “inappropriate”? Women’s nipples don’t differ greatly from men’s, so why is the exposure of women’s nipples not acceptable? We even have a biological purpose for them, yet, in a strange reversal, breastfeeding has become an occupational hazard for many nursing mothers. Regardless of how you view breastfeeding, the issue of judging and legislating women’s bodies remains, and it is one that Mia Hall addresses in her installation, “Mammary Ducts.” Our culture places in inordinate amount of critique, shame and observation on women’s body parts. They are just nipples, see?

One of my favorite pieces is by the Curator of this exhibit, Margo Duvall. The small size, circular shape and material (grainy wood) makes each portrait precious, like little artifacts to be revered. They are clean and direct, and seem to ask for overdue recognition. They are beautifully crafted like the women they present and the disks simply ask to be seen.

Regarding my own entry in this exhibit, there is something nagging at me that, I believe, is worth discussing. While reading the exhibit statement at the gallery entry, I wonder, Did I live up to this ideal with my pieces? Dr. Emily Gerhold writes, “While ‘Nasty Woman’ is not meant to promote a specific ideological position, it is, by both necessity and design, a product of the historical and social movement in which we live. Its artists extend themselves beyond the banality of a headline or sound bite to engage, on a deeply personal level, the urgent, powerful experience of being a woman.” 

Actually, I leaned right into the banality of a soundbite. Yup, my work is crass, it is nasty. And I am not proud. But it is a reflection of what I am seeing in our culture today, starting with our highest office. Why are women’s bodies being talked about the way they are? And should we not be outraged? Would it be more proper to whisper our responses to the vitriol, or better yet, silently swallow our responses as if we think the words mean nothing? Or worse, justify it? As if lewd words, and catcalls, and discrimination, and sexual harassment, and being grabbed is all ok and we need to just suck it up and get over it. I admit, I made no effort to make my message pretty, or feminine, or demur. These nine pieces are part of a larger group that simply reflects what I am seeing and hearing about women’s roles, women’s bodies, women’s looks and women’s healthcare policy being discussed ad nauseam in our society and in our governing bodies. The work is meant to draw our attention to language, the meaning and consequences of using words, the deconstruction of words and how language shapes our reality.

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While direct language was not neccesarily prominent in the exhibit, I did find much of the work to be narrative. The slideshow above exemplifies how the exhibit provides insight into women’s lives and gives viewers ways of piecing together a story, a relationship, an action or an emotion.

Nasty Woman showcases the work of 36 female artists from across the nation and this post will get way too long if I respond here to all the thought-provoking work. The 36 artists included in the exhibition are: Zina Al-Shukri, Heather Beckwith, Darcie Beeman-Black, Megan Berner, Cynthia Buob, Beverly Buys, Susan Chambers, Melissa Cowper-Smith, Norwood Creech, Nancy Dunaway, Margo Duvall, Melissa Gill, Mia Hall, Louise Halsey, Diane Harper, Tammy Harrington, Heidi Hogden, Robyn Horn Erin House, Jeanie Hursley, Catherine Kim, Kimberly Kwee, Joli Livaudais, Angie Macri, Hannah May, Rosemary Meza-DesPlas, Catherine Siri Nugent Laura Raborn, Emily Rogers, Dina Ropele Santos, Dominique Simmons, Kasten Searles, Katherine Strause, Brittany Wilder, Kat Wilson, and Miranda Young-Rice.

If you are in the central Arkansas area please consider a visit to this important exhibit. Summer gallery hours: 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday. Gallery admission is free. There is a reception on Friday, Aug. 18th from 5:00-7:00 pm with a Curator Talk at 6:00 pm. See you there!
As always, thank you for reading. Next up: Art exploration in our nation’s capital city!
Laura

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 2)

I visit as often as I can, and have blogged about Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art several times.  As the museum continues to showcase visiting world renowned exhibits, and reorganize the permanent collection, there is always something new to see and more to say about this special place in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I get to visit this time with a dear childhood friend who has never been to the museum.  I try to give her space and not interrupt our outing with my own perspective and excitement about this place. What a treat it is to hear the amazement of a first time visitor who has seen countless museums elsewhere but can’t help to be impressed and delighted by this one.  It makes me proud all over again and deeply grateful to Alice Walton for providing this resource for her community, home state, and beyond.

We arrive during mid day summer heat and decide to start with the inside tour, postponing a visit through the expanded trail system and “Chihuly in the Forest” until the next morning. The collection is a world class wonder, and I am drawn to my favorites again and again: Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Robert Henri, Max Ferguson, Fairfield Porter, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Alexander Calder, Donald Judd, Wayne Thiebaud, Alice Neel, Kara Walker…the list goes on and on.

One aspect of the museum experience I’ve been considering lately, is that of community outreach and education.  In other words, what good does it do to have all this great work here? So often, visitors wander through and don’t feel connected or informed by artwork. Crystal Bridges has established a strong education program for the community, reaching out to all types of visitors through targeted events and programming. Instead of wandering aimlessly, visitors really learn about the work, whether it be through the extremely friendly and informed attendants, through school visits, through guided tours, through accessible displays and explanations, or through the many interactive tablets mounted throughout the museum. What does this mean? To me, it means the museum can reveal to visitors the perspective of another person. What a powerful gift! And don’t we desperately need ways to see perspectives different from our own?

After walking through the main galleries, we enter the “Chihuly in the Gallery” exhibit. As usual, learning about the artist, his background, and his various influences made me appreciate the work more than I did before this visit. Perhaps because I am a 2D artist, one of the highlights are the sketches by the artist. While the glass blowing process sometimes alters from the original plan, usually the pieces were produced exactly as described in the sketches, which is impressive.

We then check into a nearby hotel and explore the town square. The food scene in Bentonville is bustling and picking a place for dinner is difficult because of the multiple options. After rave reviews from a friend (thank you, Terri!) we decide on the Italian restaurant, Tavola Trattoria, which is excellent and affordable. Before retiring after a big day, there is more art to see…the always provocative exhibit at 21c Hotel. I’m starting to think a famous artist is following me. OK, if not the man, his art. For those who have read this blog before, you’ll know I am ecstatic to find the work of, you got it, Hank Willis Thomas!

“Raise Up” by Hank Willis Thomas

His work is part of a group exhibit, “Seeing Now” of which Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator, states, “This multi-media selection of works by over two dozen artists explores what and how we see today, revealing the visible and hidden forces shaping both what the contemporary world looks like, and how we consume and interpret that information—how visual and psychological perception are evolving in the 21st-century.” 

While I want to believe tolerance, integration and acceptance is a growing part of this booming area, I know there is more progress to make to battle racism. Perhaps the work of this brilliant artist can open the minds of people who are still stuck in hate and fear. Willis Thomas is able to take simple-seeming images and allow viewers to understand another person’s perspective, to sense the consequences of our actions, to see how our beliefs can be problematic, and to grasp that ambivalence is actually negligence.

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For example, the two photos above are part of an interactive photography display. Using a phone, viewers can choose to snap pics with the flash on, which exposes details in the image, allowing us to look closely at what is really happening in the photos. Or, visitors can walk on by vaguely aware of the activities and pain occurring in the historic photographs. Brilliant. The artist, in such a simple way, evokes a powerful conclusion: racism will continue in this country if all “races” do not work together as the artist and viewer work together to see and acknowledge what is happening. If white people continue to look away, we will not heal or progress as a society….at least that’s my take-away from another thought-provoking display by Hank Willis Thomas.

Boris Nzebo paintings at The Pressroom in Bentonville

Boris Nzebo painting in the Manchester Art Gallery

Wiped out from long walks and art overload (is that even possible?), we get to sleep early and are ready the next day to hit the trails. First, we visit The Pressroom for breakfast. In addition to the excellent food, I am delighted to spot these three paintings by Nigerian artist, Boris Nzebo. The graphic lines are quite recognizable and I was surprised to see the work in the small Arkansas town – I wrote last summer about admiring his work in a museum exhibit in Manchester, England! It is so strange how, once one pays close attention and develops a a list of  art elements to admire, the world becomes small and repeat finds happen often. Seeing a piece of art by artists we deeply admire feels like seeing an old friend or famous figure. I never tire from the excitement of exploring for this reason.

One could spend hours on the trails around Crystal Bridges but we have to head home soon so we don’t venture far. We enjoy a walk through the exhibit “Chihuly in the Forest,” peek at the Frank Lloyd Wright house, and head for the car. It is helpful to move around before the three hour drive back to Little Rock. Admittedly, the hours fly by as we chat endlessly about art, the ability to incite change through art, and how we can each apply to our own jobs and projects what we learned during our quick adventure. As I drive toward home, my mind is a whirl of ideas and thoughts for upcoming days in the studio. And I think of Chihuly who stated, “I don’t think much about the past. I think more about the future. I prefer to be thinking about what I want to be doing tomorrow.” I completely understand.

Up next, Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 3) which will focus on the current “Nasty Woman” exhibit at UA Little Rock. Thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

 

Contemporary Figurative Painting Part 1: The Gallerist’s Perspective

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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.”

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“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.”

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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.