The Art of Down-Sizing
In anticipation of moving sometime within a year, I have been preoccupied, like many middle-aged people, with the familiar lament of how to winnow out possessions. Artists’ studios tend to fill up with not only finished and in-process artworks and art supplies of all types, but random inspirational objects and detritus that “may” come of use someday. With the current mania for minimalist lifestyles and Marie Kondo-style organizing in the zeitgeist, one can feel inclined to get rid of it all and return to the purity of the blank canvas. The hard part comes in finding new homes for objects and avoiding adding to the waste stream.
Last year a friend told me about a Seattle organization called The Art of Saving Humanity that collects donated art supplies for the use of local immigrant and refugee artists. They have also mounted exhibits of the artists’ works. I was able to pass on to them many art supplies, used and unused, including a large set of pastels that had belonged to my grandmother. They also took a big batch of canvas-stretcher bars, frames, a folding easel and other items. I used to exhibit prints and other works on paper that had frames with sheets of glass, some quite large. I dismantled them and was thrilled to find a frame shop that took the glass, as it can’t go in the recycling bin. I posted a notice on Kelly’s Art List and gave away an antique French easel that had also belonged to my grandmother—feeling sad to do so, but glad someone else would use it, as I wasn’t.
Even though I work slowly and have never been prolific, I find I have quite a few paintings in storage. I have been going through them with a critical eye and discarding those that don’t come up to my current standards. I keep representative drawings from different life stages, or those that have some special quality that makes me hesitate. It is still difficult to destroy a failed piece after spending an inordinate amount of time laboring on it. I remember being horrified as a freshman in college when an instructor described destroying an unsatisfactory drawing he had just spent eight hours working on (that seemed an awful lot of effort to me, then) and another telling the story of burning an entire year’s worth of work. To my younger self trying to build up a body of work, this was hard to imagine. Nowadays qualitative evaluation is easier, at least a few years after creation. If a large work on canvas is worth keeping, it can be taken off the stretcher bars and rolled for more compact storage. But some I have cut up and discarded, maybe keeping a few square inches of a well-executed portion as a memento. A few have found new life as backgrounds in my shadow-box assemblage pieces.
I do have plenty of paintings in inventory that I am proud of, that didn’t sell when exhibited for whatever reason. Some are finding an enthusiastic audience and buyer at fund-raising auctions for art organizations and other worthy causes. A few others are finding homes after being offered for purchase to acquaintances in a targeted manner. I am not much good at business and marketing, having left sales to art galleries most of my career, but it is satisfying to match an artwork with an individual. (If anyone who happens to read this has been harboring a desire for a painting they saw in years past and wonders if it is still available, let me know!)
The concept of having too much stuff brings up a painful issue—the dilemma of creating more unnecessary stuff (for art may be essential to an evolved society but not to sustain life) in a world that seems to have too much of everything and is running out of space to put it. I am a creative person and by nature feel compelled to make objects with my hands. Artists are advised to make lots of art, both to perfect their craft and to have plenty to bring to market. I have not gone overboard with this advice, but still sometimes fear I am contributing to an environmental crisis, and I worry that making more stuff is unethical. A few months ago, I brought up this doubt while attending a panel discussion on the habits of successful artists. Perhaps I didn’t phrase my question gracefully (I believe I used the word “crap” to refer to surplus art) but the artists sitting on the panel responded with something akin to outrage, as if even the topic was taboo, and quickly moved on. I guess as driven, self-confident artists this had never occurred to them. But at least one audience member came up to me afterward and told me of having the same concerns. Her solution had been to stop painting altogether and put her creative energies into writing. Many other artists are making art out of consumer discards, and exhibits devoted to recycling are becoming frequent. Then there are well-known artists like Andy Goldsworthy and John Grade whose sculptures are composed of, and degrade back into, the natural environment.
It takes creativity to repurpose and to dispose of things in a thoughtful manner. Going forward I intend to be as mindful of avoiding waste in my studio as in my home, and try to make every mark on that blank canvas count.
I am excited to be exhibiting my new type of artwork at Fountainhead Gallery in Seattle for the month of June. I will be exhibiting along with three other artists June 7 through 30, with an opening reception Saturday evening June 9 from 5 to 7 p.m.
These new shadowbox artworks evolved from my desire to make something with my collection of natural objects. The eroded seashells, corals, limestone deposits and bits of driftwood that I pick up on the beach have such pleasing sculptural forms that I consider them works of art on their own. I was tempted to present them on pedestals with no artistic intervention. Removing the object from its original environment puts it into a new context and can generate appreciation for its abstract form, curiosity about what it is, and what its symbolic meaning is. In arranging and juxtaposing the objects I soon started to see them as players in a mysterious drama.
My late mother was an accomplished artist who created paintings, sculptures, theatrical works and children’s books. Having studied at the acclaimed experimental art school Black Mountain College, she was constantly trying new techniques, despite the limitations of living in a small Southern town. Puppetry was a medium she had a love for since childhood, with which she could combine the skills of building the puppets and sets along with writing the plays. She eventually formed a troupe which traveled regionally, presenting her original works. As a teen I was prevailed upon one summer to perform one of her plays.
While I admired my mother’s expressive style and have painted my own versions of one of her motifs, the broken conch shell, my own artistic temperament is more restrained and classically inclined than hers. Having thought of myself as a creator of two-dimensional art, I was surprised to find myself making constructions that could be seen as small theaters, with found and crafted objects acting as setting and characters. It felt entirely natural to sculpt small heads to include, and I recalled making puppets with the other children in a workshop my mother taught.
The disembodied heads are not making their first appearance in my work. In the 1990s I was painting surrealistic scenes in which the egg-shaped, disembodied head represented the subconscious or dream state. It has a pleasing form and introduces a human element into a composition. In these new works, it represents a meditative state or a place to which the mind has traveled.
In addition to the sculptural, natural and found elements, I am incorporating landscape painting as a backdrop in some of the constructions. I have primarily exhibited landscape paintings for several years. In the interest of recycling, in a few shadowboxes I use sections of older paintings. Creative re-use and a reluctance to add to the waste stream are growing concerns of mine. These works evolved organically into scenes from stories without words, involving the cycle of life, nature and psychic states. I will be interested to see what my audience thinks of them!
Juror Jody Bento, Director of SAM Gallery, selected my assemblage/sculpture piece "Orbit" for inclusion in the 2018 Center on Contemporary Art Members' Show, Creativity Persists. The show will be on display in CoCA's Pioneer Square gallery (114 Third Avenue South, Seattle, WA) from April 26 to May 26. It will open with a celebration during the Pioneer Square Art Walk on May 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. This will be a big show, chock-full of artwork in all disciplines from the Pacific NW and across the globe. Viewers will be able to vote for their favorites to be given one of two People's Choice awards. A printed catalog representing all CoCA members will be available for purchase. Click here to learn more about CoCA and the exhibit.
I decided to delve further into this socially-connected 21st century and join the many artists and regular folks posting photos on Instagram. It's a fun place for a visually-oriented person, with many thousands of members from all over the world viewing and sharing images, sorted by a system about which I am still learning. I am looking forward to perusing images posted by museums and galleries as well as by friends, artists I admire and art lovers. As for myself, I intend to share works in progress, studio views, glimpses of my working process, tools, inspirations and freshly finished artworks. Since I still lack a smartphone, you aren't likely to be confronted by pictures of my food or face. Follow me here: Instagram.
My small oil and metal leaf painting "Flood" is included in a curated show at the Kirkland Art Center, and the image was used in promotional material. Show description: "Featuring artworks from the Pacific Northwest and across the country, the Kirkland Arts Center is proud to present the juried, group exhibition Re:Acclimating. Examining the topic of climate change through the lens of 23 artists working in a variety of media, Re:Acclimating addresses humanity’s impact on the environment."
The art center is located at 620 Market St., Kirkland, Washington, and the exhibit will be up until February 17.
I am pleased to have a painting selected by guest juror Deborah Paine for the annual Center on Contemporary Art members' show. CoCA's exhibits are always lively and progressive, and usually include something you've not seen the likes of before. While the Seattle organization has been around for years, it has had to move its physical space around a lot, and I have been impressed at its tenacity in presenting ambitious exhibits in difficult economic times. The new gallery space is in the Toshiro Kaplan building (114 3rd Ave. S.) in Pioneer Square and has been freshly renovated. There will be an opening reception during the monthly artwalk, Thursday April 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. The show will be up until Saturday, April 29. For more information, see the webpage at CoCA Members' Show .
At left: Flood, oil and aluminum leaf on panel, 14" x 14"
Each December the Fountainhead Gallery hosts a group show of gallery artists, with an inspirational theme. This year the theme is "Celebrating the Poetic Heart," and artists were asked to submit works that were inspired by a poem. I admire poetry, but don't read much of it. While painting, I often fixate on music and the poetry and creativity in a lyric, and I happened to have a new piece I made while thinking about a song by the Pixies. I will be exhibiting it and a few other new tiny works, which are a departure from the paintings in my recent exhibits. These combine oil painting with metal leaf in silver, gold or aluminum. I have been experimenting with both translucent paint on top of the leaf, and with the more traditional method of gilding only the background. For subject matter, I am continuing to be drawn to the surface of the sea and also to sea creatures and birds.
The exhibit will run December 1 - 23, and there will be an opening reception with music, refreshments and poetry readings on Saturday, December 3 from 5 to 7 p.m. All are welcome. For more information, call 206-285-4467, or go to Fountainhead Gallery.
My large painting Mired (oil on canvas, 34” x 40”) has a prominent location in the installation of the Columbia City Gallery’s annual juried show. The exhibit has the theme “H2O: What is it worth?” and was juried by Greg Lundgren (curator), Merica Whitehall (Executive Director of the Nature Consortium), and Vaughn Bell (environmental artist). The chosen artworks are diverse in media and style, ranging from conceptual projects, to sculptures in materials both ancient and modern, to traditional oil painting. The ideas represented are similarly wide-ranging. The opening reception August 20 was well-attended. It is well worth a visit to the charming Columbia City neighborhood to see the show before it closes September 25. The gallery is located at 4864 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle 98118. Phone: 206-760-9843.
During the past year I spent some months experimenting with media such as metal leaf, pondering making sculptural constructions, and painting the figure model. But when it came time to settle down and choose a theme for my next show at Fountainhead Gallery, I was pulled back to painting sea, sky and rock. As I point out in my artist’s statement, this subject matter, while representational, is contemplative and lends itself to minimalism, manipulations of composition and experimentation with color.
I have admired the work of Vija Celmins, whose highly rendered drawings of the surface of the sea are impressive technically and conceptually. I was challenged to do my version, the result being “Deep Blue”, 30” x 40”, with a large sea surface and a high horizon line. As a companion, I composed “Traversing the Unknown”, a seascape with a low horizon line and a massive cloud picking up varied colors of the setting sun. I don’t like to repeat myself; I tend to proceed in a theme and variation manner when composing new works.
In 2006 my husband and I toured the Galapagos Islands for a week in one of the smaller available tourist boats and were properly impressed by the primordial scenery and wildlife. The islands were composed of jagged outcroppings of volcanic rock, and the birds and animals were unafraid of humans. We were able to get close to the iconic giant tortoises, sea lions, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies and even nesting albatross. The Ecuadorian government has established policies to reduce the impact of current tourism and to ameliorate damage from past exploitation. I carried a little sketchbook and watercolor set along with my camera and captured a small portion of the wonderful experience, but had not made use of any of the images until recently. Having made a painting of a rugged part of the Olympic Peninsula coast for my exhibit last year, I continued with three based on scenes of rocks jutting from the sea in the Galapagos. I recall one particularly thrilling dawn, when our boat sailed through a narrow passage between two towering spires.
Also in this show is a painting of an iguana isolated on a tiny island of rocks (Realm, 32” x 26”). I chose a green (land) variety of iguana for my protagonist; the marine variety are phenomenally ugly.
Having created several compositions of rocks surrounded by sea, for the last painting I finished for the show, I chose to depict water surrounded by rock. In some parts of our world, the coasts are being inundated by rising seas, in others drought is leaving precious little water. A location I visited in Iceland in 2011 provided a good illustration of this—a deep crater in the rocky, treeless terrain, filled with a mysterious pool of water. I added one of the hardy Icelandic ponies to the scene (Iceland Eye, 30” x 24”).
This describes a few of the ten paintings in “Vistas”, which will be on view at the Fountainhead Gallery, 625 W. McGraw St., Seattle, from June 2 to 25, 2016. Also exhibiting are Jennifer Frohwerk with narrative interior scenes and still life artist Beth Flor. There will be an artists’ reception open to the public on Saturday, June 4, from 5 to 7 p.m., and all are invited.
Many artists consider representing the human form to be the ultimate challenge, and I am one of them. Artists who specialize in portrait and figure painting strive for years to master it, and have to keep practicing just as an athlete has to exercise. Even artists who normally exhibit only landscape, still life or abstract art will return to sketching the figure from time to time. It’s hard to find friends who are willing to sit still and be stared at for hours, and hiring a professional artist’s model is expensive. We are lucky in Seattle to have several group studios at which to practice drawing and painting from a nude, portrait or costumed model on a regular basis. I like to go to the Open Studio sessions at Gage Academy of Art when I can. They commonly schedule short pose or long pose (3 hour) sessions almost every day, and are open to artists on a drop-in basis for a reasonable fee.
At short pose sessions, poses range from less than a minute to 20 minutes. Quick drawings are called “gesture drawings” and the goal is to capture the flow of the pose, the feeling of the weight and pull of the model’s muscles, in a few lines. The artist should almost become the model. These are valuable to train the eye and hand to respond intuitively to the subject. In the longer poses one can spend more time measuring proportions and angles, and then adding details and shading, but I believe the initial gesture sketch is still the most important element in capturing the gestalt of the person before you.
Sometimes an art school or group of artists will hire a model to repeat a pose for an extended number of sessions so they can complete a more resolved study. I have attended a few of these, and use the sessions to try out various approaches to painting form—systematic classical processes like drawing first, proceeding with monochrome paint, then layering of color, etc.; or direct processes such as alla prima, with brush drawing and using full color from the start. Often I find myself diverging from my initial plan as the painting evolves, from lack of patience or changing goals.
Painting with a group of other artists and responding to the figure in front of you is different from working alone in one’s studio. There is the camaraderie of the other artists, with whom you can share painting tips, and there is the personality of the model. Some are more talkative and open about their lives, and others are strictly business. I think of him or her as an actor on stage, and for a successful painting, I must imply a mood or a bit of a story to make the scene interesting. A painting or drawing of a figure model “just” standing or sitting there can be a fine thing if skillfully rendered, but it needs something special to transcend being an exercise in anatomy and to draw in the viewer if it is going to be exhibited. Some artists are able to do it with beautiful marks with the pencil or paint, or an interesting perspective; others can find something special in the expressiveness of the face or pose.
Earlier this year I attended a series of morning “reserved easel” sessions at Georgetown Atelier to paint a lovely young model. My strategy for this study was to do a drawing at the first session, getting the feel of the pose and deciding the composition of the painting. Next I loosely sketched the composition on a small linen-covered panel in charcoal and began to paint. I decided to keep the study monochrome until the shapes and values were fully resolved, and for this I used burnt umber and lead white. I spent two or three sessions on this; the lighting was challenging since my back was to a bank of large windows and the light and shadows changed dramatically as the sun rose and storms moved through, conflicting with the strong lamp above the model. I practiced using thicker paint and looser brush strokes, fighting my tendency to over-blend. During the final couple of sessions, I started adding color, but kept it muted, as there was not a lot of color in the scene. I started this study with no expectations other than a learning experience, and I am pleased with parts of the resulting painting.
Right: Young Woman in a Shadowy Room, 16” x 12”
A few times I have hired a model to come to my studio and pose for more complex paintings. I used the model as an actor in a scene that had implied narrative, which was not fully pre-conceived but evolved as I worked with the model and then added background and other elements without her presence. In the end, the final product may not even look like the model as it takes on a life of its own. Two of these paintings that I made a few years ago will be hanging in an exhibit called “Figuratively Speaking” at Ida Culver House Broadview (12505 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle), curated by June Sekiguchi. There will be a reception with wine, hors d’oeuvres and music on May 19 from 3:30 to 5:30 that is open to the public; please RSVP to 206-361-1989 by May 16 if you would like to attend. The exhibit will be up, in the lobby and public areas of the building, until September 11, 2016.
Left: Sleepwalker, 2006, oil on canvas, 28" x 22"
Here I will keep you up to date on my exhibits and other artistic endeavors.