Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Invisible World

“Strange to say; the luminous world is the invisible world; the luminous world is that which we do not see.  Our eyes of flesh see only night.”

                                                                                                   Victor Hugo

I have always been fascinated by how artists find their inspiration. While it never seems to show up when one is actively looking for it, inspiration does seem to appear when one is simply open to the world and “watching with glittering eyes,” as Roald Dahl once wrote on the subject.

A few weeks back I was out to dinner in Provincetown with my close friends, artists Jon Vaughan and Sharon Hayes.  In addition to making the best Bloody Mary and Chowder in Ptown, the second floor of The Lobster Pot offers a spectacular view of the harbor. Jon noticed some interesting fishing boats down on the beach below and after we paid the check we decided to go investigate. We came upon a series of dinghies that had been dragged onto the beach and turned over onto their backs, revealing the most extraordinary under-surfaces, heavily weathered and patinaed by time and the elements.

Sharon and I began taking pictures with our iPhones, while Jon went back to the car to fetch his Hasselblad, which he always keeps in his trunk for moments of inspiration such as this! 

The Intrepid Jon Vaughan getting the shot!

When I returned home from the trip, I thought a lot about these photographs and discovered that, for me, they represented a metaphor for how the most beautiful parts of ourselves are often the things that are hidden from view, the pieces of ourselves that we are most afraid to reveal. 

I was so enamored with the boats' aged and abstract surfaces that I began to patina pieces of copper and bronze myself.  Using household items such as salt, vinegar and lemon, I am accelerating the aging process and getting some wonderful effects.  While reading up on how to patina metal, I learned that Rodin instructed his studio assistants to urinate on his sculptures!  The next time I take visiting friends to the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, I can’t wait to share this fun fact!

The patina experiment on copper and bronze

I have begun printing my boat photographs onto tissue paper and attaching them to birch panels, and then layering them with coats of encaustic medium.  I am also attaching the metal pieces to the surface of the paintings to represent the armor that each of us wears to protect our hidden vulnerabilities and the deepest parts of ourselves.  This series is becoming an exploration of what is most essential in people, and the fragile beauty in all of us if we bother to look closely enough.

Exposure 1
Mixed media on panel
6"x10" 2013

Exposure II
Mixed Media on Panel
6"x10" 2013

I just received a picture of Jon with his first work-in-progress from the boat shoot.  Of course, his translation as an artist is completely different from my own, but that is what is so fascinating about inspiration - every person interprets the world so very differently. 

Jon Vaughan's first output from the shoot

Philanthropist and Chemist Madeleine Jacobs wrote, “To those wanting to see inspiration, I say stop looking. Stop trying. Instead, see what is in front of you all the time and see what you can bring to it because this is where the magic of inspiration occurs. You will know you are inspired when you are the force within the inspiration itself.”

I think Antoine de Saint-Exupery had it right when thinking about beauty or inspiration, when he said, "Here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye."

Friday, June 14, 2013

Red Hot in Ptown!

RED is the color we love and fear. It courses through our bodies, 
it stops traffic, it is our nearest planet, it burns.”

                                                                     A Gallery, Provincetown

Lisa Pressman, "Red Space"
Encaustic on Panel, 10 x 10 inches, 2013

Last week, several hundred artists descended on Provincetown, Massachusetts, as artists have done since 1873 when the railroad finally reached the outer tip of Cape Cod. Drawn to the exceptional light and dramatic landscape, artists including Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline and Helen Frankenthaler have called Ptown their summer home.  America’s oldest art colony opened its arms once again as the latest generation of artists made the pilgrimage to participate in the Seventh Annual Encaustic Conference. For three days a variety of workshops, demonstrations and speakers expanded the narrative on the wax and pigment-based medium of encaustic, while the evenings were alive with openings and social events.

A Summer Artist's Residence, Provincetown USA

One of the outstanding exhibitions celebrating the Conference was the RED exhibition at A Gallery on Commercial Street. Curated by Marian Peck, this group show was exceptionally cohesive in that all of the works exhibited were by encaustic artists, combined with a common theme of the color RED. The curatorial framework provided an excellent context to explore the tremendous range of voices found in encaustic art today.

A Gallery rolls out the red carpet for Red

One outstanding piece in the show was by encaustic veteran, Howard Hersh. Known for pouring molten wax directly onto his surfaces, the results are powerfully luminescent, as if his paintings were somehow lit from within. The boldly incisive marks across this painting made it appear as if a living entity was about to break through the surface.  He writes on his website, “I’ve been in love with the encaustic medium for almost 25 years. By allowing some of Nature’s forces, (gravity and surface tension for example) to exert their influence, I’m aligning myself more with Nature; which is the very theme of my work.”

Howard Hersh, "Lineage 08-5B"
Encaustic on Panel, 24 x 24 inches, 2013 

Cape Cod painter and printmaker, Sharon Hayes, approaches the medium of encaustic entirely differently. As she explained at the opening, “This piece is about layers, both literal and metaphorical. It started as image transfer, became a monotype, then was cut up into rectangular strips and finally became an encaustic painting mounted on panel. This process of layering and transforming is a metaphor for the way the mind remembers and forgets.”

Sharon Hayes, "Untitled"
Encaustic on Panel, 8 x 8", 2013

Sharon Hayes expresses a
metaphor for remembering and forgetting

One of my favorite painters working in encaustic today is Lisa PressmanShe approaches the medium almost as an excavation, layering on a deliciously vibrant pallet of color and then scraping and digging away until the most complex and moving surfaces are created.  She writes on her blog, “I try to reveal elements that many people have lost sight of, elements that communicate to a place deeper than words. My paintings invite a deep, visceral response that evolves over time; they have a life of their own.”

Lisa Pressman, "Tuscan Wall"
Encaustic and oil on board, 30 x 30 inches, 2013

Lisa Pressman with Tuscan Wall

Showcasing the unique sculptural properties of encaustic is Charyl Weissbach’s work from her Balsam Poplar SeriesHere, she explores leaf patterns and their elegant subtle motion within space. The patterned impressions, or sgrafitto effects, are created with a batik tool known as an Indonesian Tjap. The surface texture and use of the gold leaf gave the impression of a once opulent and long ago abandoned interior.  
Charyl Weissbach, "Balsam Poplar Series Carnelian"
Mixed media with 24k gold leaf and
resin on Belgian linen and wood, 10x 10 inches, 2013

I found the show to compellingly encapsulate the exciting depth and breadth of vision found in the encaustic community today.  As I left the gallery, and headed back into the energy of Commercial Street, I felt grateful that this art colony exists and continues to thrive. Ptown is still red hot, and I hope it always will be.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Art of Sustainability

“We cannot hope to create a sustainable culture with any but sustainable souls.”
                                                                                         Derek Jensen

On a glorious afternoon that felt like spring had finally come to Maine, over one hundred Unity College students received their diplomas, officially marking an important milestone in their lives.  Unity, a small liberal arts college nestled in the heart of the Pine Tree State, focuses on educating the next generation of sustainability leaders through a science-based curriculum. 

Newly Minted 2013 Unity Graduates

In a time when many young people are unsure of their direction, especially in this uncertain economy, the graduates I spoke with proudly shared their future plans; cheetah habitat management in Africa, forestry research at the Smithsonian Institute in Panama, educational programs at the Haifa Zoo in Israel and even doctoral research on Guinea fowl as a natural solution to the management of the Lyme tick!  As I congratulated these students along with my fellow Trustees, I was impressed by their desire to bring ideas and solutions to organic agriculture, wildlife management, marine biology, climatology and other careers in the new economy.

Unity's Laboratory, The State of Maine!

Although Unity’s focus is science-based, it differentiates itself by recognizing that the future of sustainability depends on a clearer understanding of sustainability's dimensionality and the broader world view each one of us must embrace.  To experience this wider perspective, students learn not only the science of sustainability but how to express it through art and communication.

Sustainable Agriculture Major and Photographer, Quinn Boyle

An example of this is Art Professor Ben Potter's popular class titled, ”Re-Use,” exploring both the conceptual and practical aspects of re-purposing existing objects and materials.  One recent assignment challenged the students to make new artwork derived from a collection of 19th century photographic glass plates donated to the college.  The students were asked to provide “some element of intervention, invention, collage, handwork, and/or interpretation... Consider the possibilities inherent in the contrast and similarities to contemporary life that the images present.”

Original 19th Century Glass Plates

Quinn Boyle, a Sustainable Agriculture major at Unity, scanned a glass plate image as a base layer, adding his own photographs of moss, cement and rain marks on glass, and then, included one of his own photographic portraits as the final layer.  The result provides a mysterious depth, as if found in a dream or memory.

Quinn Boyle
"Kendra" 40"x30"

Jen Lemieux, created a hand-drawn pattern of dots to surround the couple in the original image, referencing traditional quilt patterns and the demarcation of time.

Jen Lemieux
"Untitled" 7"x10"

Ethan LaPlante, juxtaposed images of a modern vehicle alongside the horse drawn carriage in the original plate, creating an interesting anachronism.

Ethan LaPlante
"Untitled" 30"x40"

Through this diverse, liberal arts education, the Unity graduates seemed prepared to not only find tangible solutions to the environmental challenges we face, but to change the way society sees and thinks about environmental issues.  And isn't that the greatest challenge of all? 

As I left the campus that day, the quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead came to mind and filled my heart with hope;

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”