Category Archives: Inspiration

Painting Exhibit Opening at Argenta Library, North Little Rock, AR

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Thank you to all who came out Friday night for the exhibit opening! To learn more about these paintings and the sources of inspiration, search this blog using key words “Harbour Island.” You can also visit http://arttalkkabf.blogspot.com or click here to listen to artist, curator and radio host, Rachel Trusty, interview Laura about her work and about the current exhibit.

The inspiration and ideas behind upcoming exhibit,”Island Dreams and Memories”

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Island Dreams, 2016, oil on wood panel, 24×32″

I think often of an island that fills my childhood memories. My mind goes straight to certain places there: a sweaty dance floor at Sea Grapes before it was rebuilt and then after, the overturned beached dingy with a litter of puppies underneath, a horse named Francis in the living room of a house, Sunday breakfast at Pink Sands before Hurricane Andrew hit, the old Greek magnet’s burned down yet palatial ruins. I remember certain people and realize they are frozen in my memory untouched by time. Larry Cleary singing Night Shift, Dawson kindly walking me home, Gus behind the bar and at the pool table, Carol and Roger in their library, Angela barking orders. Sometimes we presume the people and places in our memories to be accurate accounts in the present. But time does not reach and alter places or people in our memories. They are frozen there until our minds can no longer play that slide show.

Mistakingly, I thought I was a part of this place. But it was and is a place of its own – I was just a shadow passing through. Now, after many years, I look back and ask, how can a place be so important to me, yet I am not important to that place? This is a question to ask ourselves as visitors when we do not contribute to a community with long term commitment, when we are not there through the good and bad, through the reality of living. When we visit a place, we are experiencing an alternate realm, that of a tourist. There is a closed door to the real life there. Considering the local people, their history, lives, families, work, personal struggles and celebrations, we realize how inconsequential we are as visitors. Fondness does not equal belonging.

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“Looking Back,” 2016, image transfer, collage and acrylic on paper, 14 1/4 x 21

Despite my fleeting time there, I started a group of paintings about a year and a half ago after visiting Harbour Island for the first time in over 20 years. Returning to a place after many years can be jarring because the present can show us the flaws in our memories, how we romanticize or selectively choose to store certain details and discard others. How we recreate the truth, rewriting our past to fit a script we want to believe. Even when our memories are relatively clear, the passage of time changes a place so we realize what we remember does not really exist anymore, except in our minds.

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Entry Point, 2016, oil on wood panel, 21×24 1/4″

In some ways, I started working on this group of paintings when I was 8 years old…I remember being obsessed as a child with the disheveled graveyards sprinkled around the island, with their cracked headstones, and overgrown wildness. Some of my first drawings and paintings were of those headstones, entangled in vines and home to flocks of chickens.dsc_0415

Using memories, photos and sketches from the island has become a vehicle to articulate ideas I’ve tried to convey for years through painting: that everything we see is a partial image altered by individual perception, that all things fade as time passes, and that our memories are altered by our minds plus the passage of time. This group of work is also influenced by the writings of Dr. Alan Lightman. Lightman is unique in that he has dual tenureship at MIT, in the Writing and in the Physics departments. Perhaps he is able to so eloquently write about memory and time because he understands it, not like most of us, in a vague and abstract way, but from a scientific perspective.

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Childhood Escape, 2016, oil on canvas, 36×24″

In the NYT article, “Ghost House of My Childhood,” Lightman writes, “Some philosophers claim that we know nothing of the external world outside our minds – nothing compared to what sways in our minds, in the long, twisting corridors of memory, the vast mental rooms with half-open doors, the ghosts chattering beneath the chandeliers of imagination.”

Some of the pieces in this exhibit are snapshots, like a frozen moment captured that can never be seen again in just that way. Some of the paintings reference nature overtaking a manmade structure, which alludes to the passage of time. And some of the paintings combine images like our memories smooshing together poignant moments into one illogical snapshot that we accept as a true moment in the past. For example:

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the paintings and the ideas that inspired this group of work. Laura dsc_0781

 

 

 

 

 

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

Winter Park continued….

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

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

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“Retired” by Lynne Polley

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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Nothing is True by Hector Arce-Espasas and Josue Pellot

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

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Church Banners by Andrea Bowers

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

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Thousands are Sailing 1 by Richard Mosse

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

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

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

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Walk Like A Man by Hank Willis Thomas

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Behind Every Great Man… by Hank Willis Thomas

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

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

 

 

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

Continued from Part 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

After lunch in the up-and-coming northern quarter of town, we sought respite at a beautiful little cathedral known as “The Hidden Gem” on our way to the John Rylands Library. The is a bibliophile’s nirvana. The collection includes treasures such as John Wesley’s 16th Century Hebrew Bible, notes and letters by Chemist John Dalton, a Gutenberg Bible, and many first editions such as Ulysses by James Joyce. The most famous artifact in the collection is known as Papyrus 52, or the Fragment of the Gospel of John, which is thought to be the earliest portion of any New Testament writing ever found. To read more about the history of the library and its’ special collections, visit: http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/search-resources/guide-to-special-collections/.John-Rylands-Library-main-reading-room-1024x768

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

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

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

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.

Marcus

photo(28)

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