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
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, whether 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.
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”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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|
This is the final post in a series about teaching a mixed media workshop at the Arkansas Arts Center. So far, we’ve covered the use of stencils and stamps, image transfer, collage, language and text, and drawing. Finally, to pull it all together, we will focus on one overarching goal of every workshop: a willingness and ability to work in layers (as seen in the slideshow above).
The benefits of layering our mixed media pieces are numerous. For starters, a rich history is built into the composition. Intrigue is created with areas that become partially hidden or obscured. Layering creates an interesting surface, one that is dynamic and deep. During the layering process, we can develop texture. Finally, a willingness to cover up our work allows for the unexpected….the happy accident. If we see each mark as precious, we tend to get attached to mediocre work and wonder why our art isn’t growing or why we can’t seem to get to the next level. The “next level” requires a fearlessness and ability to paint over, to abolish, to cover our work in a constant exploration of style, material use and composition development.
Remember, whether you are on your first layer or your tenth, there are many ways to get the paint on the paper:
- Large brush blob with drips (hold up and tap on table)
- Straw blowing or blow dryer
- Scraper with paint
- Sponge on paint
- Splatter paint with toothbrush and paint brush
- Medicine dropper or spray bottle
- Drip painting
Building a pattern in at least one of the layers is a strong visual tool. Patterns can be implemented using countless methods, for example:
- Use acrylic gel in paint and create texture and pattern (the gel will add body to the paint and then you can press a tool into the gel; for example, drag a comb through the gel to create a striped pattern)
- Make or buy stamps to create pattern (ie the end of an eraser can be used to stamp a dot pattern)
- Use stencils for pattern
- Use language for pattern by handwriting, collage, stencils or image transfer
- Tear painter’s tape into shapes, or use it “as is” for a bold stripe pattern
One challenge many of the students face after days of fearless experimentation, is their work sometimes lacks a focal point – a place for the eye to land. When critiquing, we often express a need to “calm down” certain areas of the painting or a need to guide the eye. There are many ways to resolve this issue when applying a final layer:
1. Paint over everything (students are often resistant to this suggestion but once you learn to paint over your work, you are set free!). You can use a semi-transparent paint layer so the marks and patterns underneath remain somewhat visible.
2. Along the lines of painting over everything, you can choose areas to save and not paint over. One way to do this is to lightly draw shapes where you do not plan to put the final layer of paint. Another way is to use a stencil or stencils to block out areas.
3. You can also use acrylic gel medium to create windows to the layers underneath the final layer. Paint the gel medium thickly in whatever shape(s) you choose, let the medium completely dry, then paint over the entire piece. Using a damp rag or paper towel, wipe back the paint from the areas where there is medium and you will have created a window. If the paint dries and seems stuck to the medium, use a razor blade to scrape paint off, which creates an interesting texture. Other resists that are fun to try include candle wax and one of my favorites: rubber cement.
You can also create a focal point by adding a dominant feature such as a collage item, an image transfer, a pop of color, text, a bold mark…anything that stands out among it’s surroundings. While figuring out what to do for your focal point, consider the previously mentioned design element: CONTRAST.
For example, below on the left, Robert Rauschenberg pushes some of the collaged text back by painting over sections with a thin white paint. The inclusion of thick red marks among the neutral color palette allows the red to become a focal point. On the right, artist Sigmar Polke uses white to paint around a stencil among dark colors. While the white is transparent, allowing the patterns beneath to show through, it is still a strong contrast to the heavy colors. Additionally, the patterns are detailed and meticulous which contrast the organic application of the ethereal white layer.
Whether your work includes representational imagery, or is purely abstract, learning to work with layers will provide you with a strong tool to develop intriguing compositions. Especially freeing is the idea that any marks can be covered, any mistakes can be altered or hidden. Once we learn this lesson with the use of layers, we are more willing to take risks, experiment, and push our work in a new direction. I hope you have enjoyed the mixed media blog series. If you are in Central Arkansas, please check out the Arkansas Arts Center schedule of classes by visiting: http://www.arkarts.com/
Thank you for reading!
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