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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

 

 

 

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 1)

IMG_1333After a surprisingly mild June, the choking heat of July is upon us here in Arkansas. Consider cooling off by visiting one of many outstanding art exhibits. My favorites so far are at the Arkansas Arts Center, at UA Little Rock, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and at 21c Hotel. I’ll start with the Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) which, I must admit, holds a dear place in my heart.

As a current mixed media workshop teacher there, I like to promote the AAC as often as possible. However, I have a lifetime of memories starting with early childhood that make me fond of the place. Do you have a place that you can return to after many years, and the smells and sounds make years rush back in one fell swoop? The AAC does that each and every time I step in the door, especially the original entrance which is now the back door and the quickest way to the museum school.

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More relevantly, I remember hearing my whole life about the drawing collection started by Townsend Wolfe, the famed and beloved Director and Curator from 1968 until his retirement in 2002. During my visit last week, I started my tour with “Drawing on History: The National Drawing Invitational Retrospective” which re-presents artwork featured in 12 Drawing Invitationals held at the AAC over a 30 year period. The exhibit showcases pieces from well known contemporary artists and the work is sure to impress the most educated art aficionados as well as visitors new to drawing. The variety of work is very relatable, provocative and advanced in concept and technique.

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Bill Vuksanovich, “Untitled”

Take, for example, the direct realism of Bill Vuksanovich, (please pardon the reflections in the glass). The boy’s stare grabs viewers and compels us to stare back, which is when we notice the details: the pressed yet wrinkled pants, the slightly awkward hands, the unsettling contrast between the boy’s expression and the word “Champion” on his baggy sweatshirt. This is a piece to be examined just as the boy is examining us.

It is a pleasure to compare and contrast the variety of drawings in this exhibit. For example, we grasp the breadth of the collection as we move from figurative realism to the mathmatical work of Stephen Talasnik and the alternative surface created by Russell Crotty (both in the slide show above).

IMG_1365Exiting the Drawing exhibition and walking toward the Young Arkansas Artists Exhibition (the 56th!), I had to stop and examine a recent acquisition, “Les Demoiselles” which reminds me of my favorite contemporary artists, Firelei Báez. Now I have another artist to study, Zoë Charlton. It just so happens she shows at ConnerSmith in Washington DC which I’ll soon visit (material for another post!). I haven’t done thorough research yet, but find myself hoping these artists know each other – it seems they would have lots to discuss.

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The aforementioned Young Artists exhibit is always a crowd pleaser. I come away enthralled and slightly jealous…the skills and ideas presented by such young artists…if only I’d had half their talent and motivation at that age!

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Savannah Bell, “Popped”

This year, I had the honor of being a juror for the show which is not a challenge I recommend for the faint of heart. There were simply too many excellent entries. It was a pleasure seeing the work in person and I look forward to seeing what becomes of these exceptional students.

From there, I visited the much anticipated 59th Annual Delta Exhibition, a regional show that features contemporary artwork from Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi and Texas. There is really too much to say about this fantastic selection of work so I will mention a few personal favorites.

I would love to meet fellow Little Rock figure painter, Baxter Knowlton, whose painting, “Woman and Dog” is exquisite. The composition and drawing skills are excellent with rich, loose brushwork reminiscent of Lucian Freud. I hope to see more work by this artist. And look at the oddly delightful details in “Being Slipshod” by Arkadelphia artist, DebiLynn Fendley! I’m a tad uncomfortable looking so closely at his moles, curly chest hair, low slung comic strip shorts and dirty, chipped fingernails. But I can’t help myself and stay with this one for awhile. I wonder why he covers his eyes…so we can’t recognize him? So he won’t see us looking? Lastly, at least for the figurative favorites, is this piece by my friend, Jason McCann. I enjoy seeing his work evolve over the years and what I like most about this piece is strong evidence and use of line. With drawn line, McCann has a superior ability to capture a person’s inner qualities with well placed marks.

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Pulling myself away from the figurative work, there were many pieces that caught my attention. Looking at these three together, I realize the element of “line” is dominant in each piece, though applied in different ways.

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Wait wait, there’s more! “Part 2” coming soon: The Nasty Woman Exhibit at UA Little Rock, hanging out at heavenly Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the powerhouse exhibits at 21c Hotel in Bentonville. Thanks for reading and please visit again!

 

Laura

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Seeking (and Finding) Provocative Art in Central Florida

Last summer, I filled three posts with observations about art here in central Florida, as well as thoughts on returning to a place from my past. While my visit this time still evokes bittersweet nostalgia as I stroll the tree lined streets around Winter Park and Rollins College, my need to write about memory and the past was fulfilled during last year’s visit. Today, I’ll stick with the art. Once again, the art rich area does not disappoint.

“Then They Came For Me” by Patrick Martinez

Like last year, I’m noticing artist statements about political turmoil and displacement. I’ll start with my Sunday afternoon visit to Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College. In his solo exhibit, “American Memorial” Los Angeles artist, Patrick Martinez uses several mediums and strategies to communicate ideas of unrest and fear.

As he states in the exhibit brochure, Martinez uses neon due to its common use in Los Angeles and across America.  It often has a base appeal, an urgent neediness, and a desperate element. In contrast, the words he chooses are associated with deep fear and a dark time in history. The words, “then they came for me” are attributed to Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller who spoke out against Germans during the rise of Nazi power.

In his series, “25 and still alive”, the artist creates birthday cake sculptures with portraits painted on the surface of the cakes. What strikes me about these pieces, in addition to the richly painted portraits and inviting faux confections, are the titles. We initially sense a celebratory message which is quickly replaced with the idea that for some people, reaching the youthful age of 25 is a feat. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In another section of the museum, I am delighted to see what feels like an old friend, a collection of Paul Signac drawings and paintings on loan from my own beloved Arkansas Arts Center. Seeing the pieces far from home made me proud of the renowned AAC collection and grateful to the Dyke family for their generosity.

Next up, via the affordable, convenient and comfortable SunRail train system, I visit the Loch Haven Park area, home of the Orlando Science Center, Orlando Fire Museum, Orlando Reperatory Theatre, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Museum of Art, and Mennello Museum of American Art. Lakeside views and trails abound and aside from the heat, walking around this area is a treat.

This tree was here during the signing of the U.S. Constitution!

Approaching the Mennello Museum, I am drawn to the surroundings. Formerly a private residence, the intimate building is ensconsed by trails, gardens, a lakeside view, old trees (such as the one here on the right) and sculptures by American sculptor and installation artist, Alice Aycock.

My timing is off for this museum visit as I arrive just after a Bo Bartlett exhibit and just before a William Eggleston exhibit. I am able to see a Bartlett painting that, I’m told, is being purchased by the museum. And I get to peek at the Eggleston photographs propped against the baseboards ready to be hung. The Bartlett painting reminds me of one of his at Crystal Bridges Museum of Amercian Art due to the seemingly simple composition, the lonley yet brazen position of the figure, the brushwork, and the enormous canvas size.

“Untitled (Veronica)” 2015, oil on canvas

After a short walk from the Mennello Museum, I arrive in the cool comfort of the Orlando Museum of Art. I’m lucky to visit again this summer during the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art, which showcases 10 progressive Florida artists. Though the three dimensional structures, photography and video installations are engaging and provocative, my favorite works are the paintings of Chase Westfall. I’m sure I’m drawn to these because of my own penchant for paint on a two dimensional surface but it is his extreme combination, and therefore, contrast between abstraction and figurative representation that I absolutely adore.  It is jarring and slightly disturbing to see the sharply painted geometric patterns imbedded in a tense push and pull with various body parts.  I typically don’t find geometric and heavily patterned paintings very engaging but Westfall’s use of rigid line against loosely painted forms sets up an energetic contrast that is confusing in a good way.

Other favorites at the museum include two pieces by Robert Rauschenberg, a chandelier sculpture by Petah Coyne, and a painting by Lavar Munroe.  Munroe uses found objects and discard in his cut canvases, making the pieces a hybrid between painting and sculpture.

Ravenous after miles of walking, I find a superb Cuban restaurant near the SunRail Station before heading back to the Alfond Inn for more art exploration. I incorrectly thought I was thorough last summer when searching the hotel hallways for art. But this time I find corridors and conference rooms I was unable to access during my last visit. As I’ve stated many times, the work of Hank Willis Thomas is a powerful influence on my own work. After hearing him speak at the Arkansas Arts Center two years ago, I basically idolize his ideas and techniques. And seeing the work in person is so exciting. I also stumble upon these three Terry Winters paintings in a dimly lit conference room.  I hope those meeting in this room when the lights are on appreciate this trio of printmaking masterpieces!

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As I write about art highlights during this central Florida visit, my daughter is in her final day of tennis camp at Rollins College.  I’ve passed my time with long walks, with a couple of movies, and of course, finding as much art as I can each day. But these idle hands are meant for making. I itch to return to my studio invigorated and inspired by the work of so many thought-provoking artists and the collections that thankfully share the work with the public.  Great art makes us think and I have plenty to consider during our travels home. Thank you for reading!

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 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.