He was beautiful and brilliant and funny. That jacket still feels like him. Even though it’s gone through the wash. I can’t wear it. It feels too heavy.
In 2016 I was the proud recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council and the partnering arts councils of the Regional Artist Project Grant Program. After researching, purchasing and practicing with materials–various mediums and varnishes, and brushes, I decided on a project that would separately show the results of each medium used: linseed oil, walnut oil, stand oil, dammar varnish….blah blah blah…paint terms that only an art geek like me would get excited about…
I decided to produce seven paintings in seven days. It was also serendipitous that I had that week off from my job so I could focus on painting only! Needless to say, I was absolutely in heaven.
I played with the idea of being more open and obvious about the narrative. The paintings were about Jeff, my fiancé who chose to leave this world through suicide. I’ve often debated about how obvious I should make that in my work. The objects, colors, and numbers of things in my paintings are almost always significant, intentional. But should I come right out and say/show Jeff’s name or his likeness? Also, I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to paint a realistic portrait of him, despite his death having occurred over four and a half years ago now.
And then this little troll morphed into Jeff before my eyes. And I found myself smiling as I painted this one!
Halfway though the week I went to see The Women of Abstract Expressionism show. It was fucking fantastic, standing in the midst of these wonderful works by Joan Mitchell, Elaine de Kooning, etc. I wanted to stay there, step into the canvases, into their worlds. But more about that in a future post. Anyway, I was excited to paint some expressionist works again and decided to make the last two of the seven abstract.
Here are the finished #7in7 which I will probably end up working on more–more layers in the abstracts, more colors in the shadows of the still life, more brown in that moth, more frayed threads sticking out of the bare spot below the bear’s eye…..
Fabulous easel and supplies made possible with support of the North Carolina Arts Council and the partnering arts councils of the Regional Artist Project Grant Program. Have I mentioned I am a grateful recipient!
December showcases the artwork of…ME… at Tattoo Revival on Trade Street in Winston-Salem, NC. For this show, my still life paintings combine with self-portraits of my tattooed flesh with vintage-inspired tattoos curtesy of John Slater – artist, tattooer, and owner of Tattoo Revival. It’s a collaborative show, in a sense.
Here’s a sneak peak of some of the details…
The Opening Reception is during December Gallery Hop in Winston-Salem, NC on Friday, December 2nd, 7pm to 10pm. Gallery Hop is always a fun and festive occasion! And I’m doubly excited to be showing my work and hanging out with the awesome human beings at Tattoo Revival.
Tattoo Revival is not just an awesome tattoo shop, it’s also an aspiring art gallery. They participate in Gallery Hop every month and highlight a featured artist every month. (As you probably already know if live in the Triad.) They are a great (fairly recent) addition to the arts district – a warm and welcoming shop with friendly staff, creating a kind-of hybrid business: tattoo shop/art gallery that highlights the fact that a good tattoo starts with a good artist, legitimizing the idea of tattoo as art form. I sound like an ad but I love that place!
This painting, Miss Kitty and the Not So Cheerful Cherub, is currently in an exhibit in the gallery at Friends Homes Guilford, here in Greensboro, NC called “Our Brush With Tales – An Interactive Exhibit with Five Artists and Two Storytellers.” At the opening the storytellers preformed the stories they created inspired by, or in response to, the displayed paintings.
When I submitted this painting for the show I wondered what the storytellers would see. It was interesting to hear the stories that were told around my painting. But it was almost as if the act of storytelling, the performance, was more important than the story or the actual narrative of the artwork itself.
(You can come up with your own story, if you like, before you read on!)
One story was told from the point of view of the objects: about a bad kitty who harassed all of the objects or characters. The clown, troll, stuffed toy, and cherub were all carefully described along with the hideous acts that were perpetrated on them by the mean kitty. The books on the shelf were described in detail, including a recited poem from the pages of The Cheerful Cherub, as if the storyteller actually opened the book and read it.
The other story was about a reminiscing mother who comes home after dropping her son off at college. She walks into the son’s bedroom and sees the shelf, just as it was left by her son as a child, and describes these sweet, cliché memories of his childhood. And I thought, really? Does that really look like a shelf that would be in a child’s room?
I wondered what the storytellers really got from my painting – if their initial impressions differed from their presented stories, if their stories were censored in any way, or if they were so puzzled by my painting that they had to invent just semi-related stories.
The exhibit includes printed versions of the stories that were told along with the artists’ own statements about their particular painting.
Here’s what my painting is about…
I survived Jeff’s death. We were planning to be married. The morning I found him hanging peacefully, finally free of pain, my whole world was shattered. But I understood. I accepted. That didn’t make it hurt any less. I grieved. And I painted.
I fell in love with Jeff’s things the day I met him, his belongings an extension of who he was. We both had an affinity for old, sometimes obsolete items. He taught me to appreciate things as we found them – usually worn and covered with dust, loved and left behind.
After Jeff’s death, I continued to cherish his things. I looked to them for answers, for comfort. I continued to collect things in his absence. I combined these things to tell our story – various still life scenarios in oil paint like this one: an abandoned stuffed toy sits on a shelf next to his books, daisies wilt in a sunny yellow vase, little troll and clown smile as if remembering a happy time, a silly cherub plays with a noose on his ankle, and a moth hovers briefly, visiting.
On Saturday mornings together we would go scouting to rescue vintage and antique treasures from yard sales and estate sales. These things surrounded us in our studio and in our home. Many would find their way into Jeff’s artwork. Now they find their way into mine.
50 blocks finally finished, a view of Lilly’s world–things that surrounded Lilly, the sculpture, as she was being created.
Each block a small painting of a little wondrous thing, items casually collected and then left behind, each item small and easily overlooked, except by someone with an eye for wonder.
Coming soon to an Art-o-Mat perhaps near you…
And now that I’m finally finished with painting on little blocks of wood, I’m on to something new and Ahhh…back to the smell of oil paint and mineral spirits.
Fabulous easel and supplies made possible with support of the North Carolina Arts Council and the partnering arts councils of the Regional Artist Project Grant Program…of which I am a grateful recipient!
I’ve been working on my Art-o-mat® series – 50 cigarette pack-sized wooden blocks with tiny still life paintings on them that will be called Lilly’s World. They’ll go off to some Art-o-mat® near you or on the other side of the world.
Here’s a sneak peak…
I’m working on this painting, well, not at the moment. Right now I’m drinking a chai tea late and scrolling through Facebook and shaking my head after reading about the artist who’s being sued and threatened with violence for putting out a hilarious painting of a nude that resembles Trump. Like censorship will make America great again! Jeeeez.
Anyway, the other day I posted this in-process photo of my painting and apparently some people thought it was an actual photo, not a shot of a painting. Funny and interesting. There’s this debate among some that realism is boring, that abstract and abstracted works are the “real” art. Although photo realism, when a photo is reproduced inch by inch, as if by a machine, tends to lack soul or some kind of magic, I believe that a painting done in a realist style can have soul, magic, and feeling infused in it.
For years prior to falling in love with still life painting, I painted in an abstract expressionist way, striving to capture and convey energy and emotion, wonder, depth… Imagine my surprise when my professor admired my self-taught technique and suggested that I approach my still life paintings with an abstract expressionist mindset. I loved this idea; I’d been struggling with whether to define myself as an abstract or realist painter and whether my work previously held merit compared to the work done as an art major under the tutelage of a professional.
Why do we have to be either an abstract painter OR a realist painter? Why do we have to have labels at all? The truly great artists that came before us were skilled in a myriad of techniques. Look at Da Vinci, Picasso, and especially Gerhard Richter to illustrate how an artist can be versatile and extremely skilled in multiple techniques. Remember when knowledge and skill was valued, admired, and rewarded, when people would employ an artist to create something most people couldn’t make, something that took years of education, study, and practice to accomplish.
Now almost anyone who slops some paint on a store-bought canvas can call themselves an “artist” and label it “fine art.” As if I could call myself a lawyer or a doctor and practice those professions just because I declared myself as such. The public requires a degree and years of education and experience to practice professions. But when it comes to art they have no expectations and therefore do not value art and the idea that it should be a paid profession. The public’s idea/definition of an artist has changed. When they think artist, they think emotional, a bit crazy, impractical, not someone who can do the job precisely and with skill.
I do believe that emerging artists must recognize themselves as artists, recognize that they possess some inherit predisposition toward making art, and believe that they are artists before they can present themselves to the world as such. But it doesn’t stop there, a true artist continues to learn and work to refine and improve technique, to hone observational skills, to learn about history and art and the people who made it before us and how that affected the world and the definitions of art.
But if yer gonna slop some paint on a store-bought canvas and call it art, that’s not to say it might not be amazing! I still believe in the magic of what can happen on the canvas, what can be created out of inhibition, enthusiasm. I appreciate what this kind of work brings to the world; it’s just plain fun! (Cmon…I’m not that much of an art-snob.)
When you get the call to create, before you have the knowledge, education, confidence, etc. to create the images that are within you, you have to play! And when that play is combined with education, repetitive practice, hard work, failure, success…it all comes together to create, dare I say, a true artist.
The challenge is to create with all that skill and knowledge without losing the fun, the spontaneity–to approach still life painting with the mindset of an abstract expressionist.
I still believe in magic, I do.
I was recently invited to be guest curator at the gallery at Friends Homes at Guilford in Greensboro, NC – a retirement community full of really cool people. Retired professors, artists, authors, and other professionals admire the work displayed there. I was honored to have a solo show there last October and fell in love with the place.
When Yvonne, the curator, approached me about guest curating an exhibit of student art, I immediately thought of Kate Mitchell and her wonderful prints! I knew she would have enough really strong work to fill the gallery with a solo show.
Kate is a student artist at Guilford College. Her work is flawless. She works really hard and is fairly prolific even at her young age; she’s a junior this year. She makes fantastic, meticulous drawings, woodcut and linocut prints.
I first met Kate a couple years ago while I was a TA for Roy Nydorf’s woodcut printing class at Guilford. Then we took an etching class together. Kate has a tenacious work ethic and meticulous attention to detail. She works harder than most artists I know. Plus she is just an excellent human being.
When we hung Kate’s prints and I looked at them all together as a body of work, I saw how autobiographical they are. Her subjects resemble Kate herself, although she says that’s coincidental. I absolutely love how Kate illuminates the subtle beauty of life!
I was proud and delighted to be involved in bringing Kate’s beautiful work to The Friends Homes. The artist talk was a success – packed with people admiring Kate’s work and asking interesting questions. Kate’s French Braids print brought viewers back to their childhoods. And there were several questions about Kate’s carving and printing processes.
Here’s Kate’s artist statement from the show:
My name is Kate Mitchell and I am a junior Art major, specializing in Printmaking, at Guilford College. I didn’t know I wanted to be a printmaker until my sophomore year when I took Roy Nydorf’s woodcut class. I absolutely fell in love with the amount of discipline and attention to detail that printmaking demands. It takes strength and thought and care, which is all I could ever wish to portray through my work. This is a collection of both linocut relief prints and etchings that I have made in the last two years.
Linocut is a printmaking technique where a design is carved into a sheet of linoleum. The raised, uncarved, areas are then inked and transferred onto paper, resulting in a mirror image of the carved design. Etching is an intaglio technique of printmaking that involves the use of metal plates and acid erosion. Intaglio means that, instead of applying the ink to the surface of the plate, the ink is held in acid-created indents or incisions made in the plates and the surface is wiped clean. Just like with linocuts, the inked areas are then transferred onto paper, resulting in a finished print.