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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
While I am compelled to paint, the two dimensional art form can feel limited at times. The ideas dominating my thoughts, the concepts I aim to convey, they may need smell, touch, or sound to complete the message. Can I instill with paint the feel of the cool air at dusk upon the skin? Can I lead a viewer to smell the musty ocean scent of saltwater and fish and damp ground? Can a painting evoke sound for the viewer? I wonder how limited or how powerful a visual prompt can be. In a world more saturated with visual imagery than ever before, I begin to realize a two dimensional image can penetrate the mind, can influence beliefs, can alter opinion and evoke specific emotion. The visual image can make us IMAGINE using our other senses. Ceaseless advertising in our lives proves the power of an image.
Perhaps I can reach the minds of a few viewers and create art that connects directly with unique memories and experiences of others. I strive the instill that feeling of nostalgia, of the past, of a closed unreachable history…the bittersweet yesterday that lives only in our memories. Can I accomplish such a poignant feeling of a lost moment in time? Well, in two new groups of paintings, I certainly try.
In one group the focus is on place – the type of place that fades over time, that succumbs to nature. Conversely, I also depict places that seem to never change…that stay fixed in both our memory and by some miracle, fixed in a landscape. These places beat the odds. While generations of people come and go, these places resist nature and resist slipping into the past. The second group I’m now working on are people who are part of a place and the place is part of the people. The two intertwine and co-exist, each influencing the other. The painting below exemplifies my effort to mesh a person with a place and a place with a person.
Environments remain, sometimes altered by the presence of a person, but largely ambivalent to our short existence. We build things, create structures, make objects that we leave behind for the next person to find and use. Our time is short and noticing our surroundings is important, noticing the things we make and use is worthy, noticing our fleeting moments with each other is valuable. Stopping and noticing, even while it all passes so quickly, is a way to freeze time and be thankful. I suppose this is both why and what I paint.
Thank you for visiting! Please comment if you have any feedback or questions. Next up: Scoping out art trends in New York City!
I often write about museums and gallery exhibitions and about artists I admire. This time, as I introduce a long running Arkansas favorite exhibition, I get to include my own work in the post. Yes, one of my paintings was accepted in the venerable Small Works on Paper show! In it’s 29th year, the Arkansas Arts Council’s traveling exhibit includes 37 works on paper with a maximum size of 18 x 24″. This year’s juror was Kati Toivanen, Professor of Art and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. I am grateful to be included in this outstanding show.
The painting Toivanen selected is part of an ongoing body of work where I explore the passage of time and memory. The young girl stands among faded ruins that once housed lives and dreams. The architectural structure is enveloped by a layer of clouds which allude not only to the passage of time and its impact on a vacant structure, but also to our memories of a place. Notice how the semi-transparent cloudy layer begins to interrupt portions of the girl’s body. Notice how the weeds at the base of the building irrationally grow over part of the girl’s body. These details refer to the passage of time and how our own aging constantly alters what and how we remember. She could be looking back on her own childhood, or remembering a special place. Or she could be dreaming of a place or trying to recall a faded memory.
Our own history and experiences alter how we see our surroundings. We inadvertently apply our history to everything we view, letting our perception become our reality. Everything we see, and everything we think we remember is only a biased, warped, individual account, leading me to conclude that there IS no reality. Perhaps the passage of time in our minds versus the passage of time in the physical world in which we live are like two parallel universes. We see glimpses of the other universe – our physical world – but only partial ones. And our minds draw conclusions based on our individual memory and experiences. Now that I’ve utterly confused myself with these thoughts, you might understand why I have a hard time painting these ideas. But I can hardly stop. It is part of my being to ponder these ideas and put them in visual form best I can. Giving me hope, though setting the bar high, is writer and physicist, Alan Lightman. His article “Ghost House of my Childhood” and his best selling novel, “Einstein’s Dreams” are two sources of great inspiration (to read more about Lightman’s influence on my work, see previous post titled, “Struggling to Convey Certain Ideas Through Painting: The Influence of Beautiful Writing”). I hope to someday paint half as well as he writes about time.
The annual traveling exhibition must be quite an undertaking for the Arkansas Arts Council: first the call for submissions, hiring an out of state juror who judges hundreds of entries, then the selection and collection process, the purposeful and cohesive framing, the opening events, and the repeated packing and transportation as 37 works travel to 10 venues throughout the state. There is no telling how many tasks and steps I failed to mention. We are lucky to have an organization willing and able to provide artists with an opportunity to display artwork in so many locations during the course of one year. For the exact dates and locations, see schedule below. And if you find yourself nearby, please visit this year’s Small Works on Paper exhibit!
2016 Small Works on Paper Touring Schedule
|January 5-29||Batesville Area Arts Council|
|February 4-26||Hendrix College, Conway|
|March 4-30||Arkansas Tech University, Russellville|
|April 1-30||University of Arkansas, Fayetteville|
|May 6-27||University of Arkansas at Fort Smith|
|June 4- July 9||Searcy Art Gallery|
|July 19- August 27||Delta Cultural Center, Helena|
|September 1-29||Arts Center of the Grand Prairie, Stuttgart|
|October 6-26||University of Arkansas at Monticello|
|November 2-28||University of Arkansas at Hope|
There are many reasons and ways to add language to our work. While teaching a mixed media workshop at the Arkansas Arts Center, I always wish we could spend more time on language, letters, and words.
Words can be the focus of the artwork, the complete purpose of the piece. Or words can be subtly buried within the work. We can add thoughts, names, lyrics, accomplishments, names of places, religious passages, historic quotes, dates, poems, all sorts of words. Words can be used to set a mood, or can be used to contrast something in the piece. They can be unclear and confusing; they can be mysterious. They can be filled with meaning or completely meaningless. Letters can be used to establish a pattern, where the letter loses meaning and is simply a chosen shape for the composition, as seen in the work of Robert Rauschenberg. Words can be borrowed from the media or from a product to reference popular culture. There must be countless motives to incorporate words into artwork; I’ve listed just a fraction of the reasons.
If you are considering adding language to your work, here are a few methods. First, you can simply hand write on a painting. Try charcoal (use a spray fixative – even hair spray will work in a pinch), pencil, markers, paint….just about any mark making tool will work for handwriting on a water based paint such as acrylics or water color. You can also use all these mediums with letter and number stencils or stamps. Stencils and stamps produce a mechanical look with a hard edge which can be a stark contrast to loosely painted areas of a composition. Look at this Richard Prince piece (below) I had the joy of finding at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Notice the loose brushwork and monochromatic layers of paint. Notice the drips and the splotchy paint under the letters. The mechanical lettering highly contrasts the surrounding and underlying space which is a bit jarring for the viewer. Another contrast is set up conceptually: there is an odd humor among the dark palette. The disjointed messages are confusing and dark while simultaneously comical.
Using collage by cutting letters out of old books, magazines or any printed material works well and is one of my favorite ways to add words, particularly when I plan to add more layers on top of the collaged letters. In the example on the left, I first glued color copies of a map on a gessoed canvas. After the glued paper was totally dry, I then added acrylic gel medium on top of the maps. While the medium was wet (and slightly thick), I raked a comb through the medium to create lined texture. After the medium dried, I painted over the entire piece with the light blue acrylic paint. In order to re-expose the map, I wiped back some blue paint with a damp paper towel (NOTE: in the last post of this workshop series, I will talk more about acrylic gel medium layers and about the yellow drippy layer).
Remember the recent post about image transfer? The transfer method is an excellent way to add language because the letters look embedded into the artwork instead of added on top.
While this sounds counter intuitive, I try not to think too literally when considering language in my work. I recall comments professor Taimur Cleary frequently made during grad school critiques. He pointed
out that sometimes my marks resemble language. He allowed me to see the potential in creating marks that remind the viewer of letters and words but are meaningless (in terms of legibility). But the marks can still have a desired effect: making the viewer lean in and WANT to read the work. The IDEA of language as a form of communication can exist in a work without any actual letters or words! Following are two examples of the incorporation of words into paintings. They make it look so easy!
If you’re still not feelin’ it and want to hear an inspiring lecture about the importance of words in every aspect of our lives, check out the TED Talk by writer Kelly Corrigan. It might initially seem unrelated to a mixed media workshop post, but opportunities like listening to Kelly’s talk is one of the many rudders that steers the direction of my artwork. I think you’ll find her inspiring, too.
Next up: You think you can’t draw? Oh, yes you can! We’ll review several approaches to drawing and how to include the drawn line in your mixed media artwork. Thank you for reading! Laura
Hanging out with David Bailin, artist and drawing teacher extraordinare