Category Archives: Painting

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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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

 

 

 

 

 

Coping with American Politics through Visual Art

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Regardless of my political, social, and economic beliefs, I felt utterly aghast at the language used during our recent Presidential election. There are countless troubling components surrounding our political processes, why is language during the election disturbing me so? Words are our basic tool to understand each other, words change actions, completely influence belief systems, they make up our laws and our histories, words bond us and divide us. While political slandering is certainly a part of American politics, how is it that we came to accept such a lewd, false, cruel use of language?

With so much deceit and and hatefulness expressed through language, the ever-elusive truth disappears completely and we are left with a bunch a stumbling characters from the depressing movie Idiocracy. If there ever was a level of decorum, a line that politicians refrained from crossing, it is now erased. The willingness to say or do anything, ANYTHING, dsc_0888whether it is true or pure fiction, whether it is innocuous opinion or powerful persuasion that incites hate crimes, has reached a level I did not know could exist in the United States. Our entire reality is created by words and the ones we chose to believe. People in public positions have a responsibility to our entire nation to use words wisely, to consider the consequences of what they say, to really understand how their words impact all people, and how words incite action.

As a way of coping with election language, I created a group of paintings – small mixed media pieces that explore and deconstruct language. The pieces are currently part of an art auction on Instagram (follow lauraraborn) benefitting Planned Parenthood. To read more about the group, please see the press release below.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 15, 2016
Local Artist Uses “Election” Paintings as
Fundraising Tool for Planned Parenthood

LITTLE ROCK, AR – During the weeks before the Nov. 8th Presidential election, artist Laura Raborn found herself retreating to her studio for longer hours than usual. Instead of her figurative oil paintings, she was compelled to create small collages referencing Donald Trump quotes that left her feeling shocked, insulted and sad. “He has made many hateful, racist, insensitive, inciteful statements…I just didn’t know how to cope. I had to find a way to express my shock…my anger…that someone in a public position was not only getting away with saying these lewd things, but was actually becoming POPULAR for it.”

When a collector saw one of the paintings and asked about buying it, Laura hatched plan to auction the paintings on Instagram and donate half the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. “If I were to make a donation right now, it would have to be small. But if I can sell these paintings, I could write a much bigger check to Planned Parenthood.” So far, she has about 15 pieces which means the Planned Parenthood campaign will last 45 days. If the pieces sell well, Laura will continue this body of work and direct the funds to organizations in need.

“I will never forget hearing Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Tom’s Shoes, speak at the Clinton School of Public Service about combining business and philanthropy. Later, I heard artist Hank Willis Thomas speak at the Arkansas Arts Center about using art as social activism. I was riveted; I took a full page of notes during the lecture. For years, I have heard those two speakers in my ear, and thought, “What will I do to help?’”

Starting on Friday, November 18th, one painting will be posted (and hopefully sold) every three days on Laura’s Instagram account (lauraraborn). She will donate half of every sale and will donate 100% of every dollar over $600. “While I would love to recoup expenses on materials and time, the purpose of the project is to make a sizable donation to Planned Parenthood. I am so excited about the possibilities I can hardly sleep…I just hope it works.”

List of above images:

“It Doesn’t Really Matter What the Media Writes,” 2016, collage on paper, 10 3/4 x 12″
“Small Hands,” 2016, mixed media on paper, 9 1/4 x 8 3/4″
“Counting My Money,” 2016, mixed media on paper, 12 x 9″
“You Can Never Be Too Greedy,” 2016, mixed media on card stock, 9 1/4 x 11 3/4″
“I Moved on Her,” 2016, mixed media on paper, 10 1/2 x 10 1/4″
“It Could Be a Conflict of Interest,” 2016, mixed media on paper, 9 x 10″
“When You’re A Star, You Can Do Anything,” 2016, mixed media on paper, 12 ¼ x 11 ¼”

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Contemporary Figure Painting Part 2: A Painter’s Perspective

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Workshop “Alla Prima” Demo by Felicia Forte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any advice for emerging figure painters?

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

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

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

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

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

Contemporary Figurative Painting Part 1: The Gallerist’s Perspective

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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.

 

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