Thursday, February 27, 2014

Culpepper's Interiors

The current issue of Still Point Arts Quarterly—the spring 2014 issue—features the art of painter Constance Culpepper. Her series is called Interiors. I am fascinated by her work! I easily lose myself in any one of her colorful and fanciful pieces. The abundance of pink, pale green, aqua blue, and bright yellow feels youthful and feminine, while the use of geometric shapes, sharp angles, and crisp edges adds a fearless and spunky spirit. This work is fun . . . fun to look at and fun to work through one's imagination. I find myself wanting to use the pink spoon to taste the blue soup while sitting on the yellow couch in the room with the red zig-zag carpet and aqua blue walls. 

Constance Culpepper, Blue Soup

I am also fascinated with Culpepper's story. As a young girl, Culpepper spent summer afternoons at her grandmother's Victorian house in Cleburne, Texas.
There she sketched figures and rooms inspired by her grandmother's stack of Vogue and House Beautiful magazines, did some type of needlework—cross stitch, needlepoint, or knitting, sewed clothes for her dolls, or patched one of her grandmother's many handmade quilts. She was fascinated by the color, pattern, and texture in the quilts as well as with the eclectic mix of objects in her grandmother's house—antique chairs, hand-painted Mexican cabinets, Delft pottery, French china, old glass bottles, ceramic lamps and figurines, old family photographs, Persian rugs, and petite European paintings. These experiences and objects created an interior world that fueled Culpepper's imagination.
It's so easy for me to picture a young girl immersing herself with the objects of family history, learning to stitch and sew, wrapping her dolls in old quilts, and admiring the colors and shapes of old bottles and figurines. It's easy for me to realize how the lasting memories of a young girl's early life with such objects can hold tight in the depths of this girl's psyche and find release in her adult life in art. I was such a little girl too, doing cross stitch before I could ride a bike, trying to copy the patterns in crocheted pieces made by my grandmother and grandaunt, delighting in holding the old figurines that always held a place of honor on my mother's dresser. These objects of home life are important in part because they connect generations and serve as a springboard for memorable stories about one's family and one's past. What Culpepper does, by adding color and fancy, is to honor these familiar objects with the influence of her imagination. I'm guessing her grandmother would be delighted. I'm guessing my mother would smile.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Patience, Why?

Over the years I've made a number of quilts. I learned about quilts when I lived in Indiana, and I quickly discovered that the whole process was more enjoyable and relaxing when done without a sewing machine. So I starting making quilts by sewing all the pieces together with nothing but a needle, thread, and a thimble, and then I stitched the pieced top to the batting and the back—again entirely by hand. Obviously, it took a long time to complete a bed-size quilt, but, for whatever reason, getting it done quickly wasn't the point. For me, I loved the process. 

One day someone was looking at my work and said, "I would never have the patience to do something like this." The comment confused me; it didn't make sense. I never thought that I needed patience to make these pieces entirely by hand. And now, thanks to Theresa Sweeney, columnist for Stone Voices, I understand why the comment didn't make sense to me. 

In the spring 2014 issue of Stone Voices, Sweeney begins her column, "The Art of Patience," like this:
As an artist I work in all media, but drawing with pen and ink has always been my first love. When people look at my intricate and detailed images, they often say, "Wow, I would never have the patience to do something like that!" I tell them that it really has nothing to do with patience. Patience is what you need when you're standing in line at the register and the salesclerk calls for a price check for the woman in front of you . . . . Times like those are when you need to willfully summon restraint to cope with the gap between what is happening and what you wish were happening. 
So I understand now why the comment about patience didn't make sense to me; patience is not what's needed when making art. In fact, Sweeney says that if you need patience when engaged in an artistic endeavor, walk away. It's quite possible that you are tethered to your expectations, fixated on the outcome. 

Art is a voyage of discovery. Leonardo da Vinci advised us: Do not be tethered to your expectations. By wanting a certain outcome we jeopardize what wants to have life. We endanger the passion and joy and flow of the process—and that is art. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hope: The Last to Die

Sometime last week I received in the mail a complimentary copy of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality. I've been spending a bit of time every evening watching the Winter Olympics, but I still have to have a book in my hands, and this seemed like a good choice.

The work of Chris Grosso, the book starts like this:

"Hope, it's the last to die," said an elderly man sitting across from me some years ago on a bus in Rome at 2:00 AM. He'd just read the word hope tattooed across my knuckles, and I have to say that, in my own personal life experience, man, was he right. Life is full of terror and beauteous rapture, and I've experienced both on numerous occasions. From a life filled with despair, jail, emergency rooms, detoxes, and rehabs, to one of hope.

C. B. Cote, Beyond (8)
Hope . . . I remember telling a therapist many years ago that I had a lot of hope and a good amount of faith, but I struggled with love. I've always been very hopeful . . . an optimist, a dreamer, focused always on what is possible, fully convinced that good will always overcome evil and light will always pierce the darkness. During the very lowest point of my life, when I found myself gripped by the emotional and physical pain of depression, I still had hope; the darkness was thick and dense, but I could sense a tiny, dim light. Eventually the light grew stronger and I was restored to full life. From my experience, I have to agree—hope is the last to die, perhaps because without hope, we would die.

In this way, hope is like art. Without it, we have nothing. It occurs to me that art may actually be a physical manifestation of hope, and hope, I now realize, is what I manifest every time I work as an artist; hope, I now realize, is what I feel every time I connect with art. Art centers us, holds us in the moment, and in that moment, with everything else have fallen away, we experience hope.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Dave Clough, Rockland, Maine

Rockland, by Dave Clough
I've been to Rockland many times. It's a lovely little town on the Maine coast about an hour northeast of where I live—right up Route 1. Rockland is just southwest of Rockport, which is just a bit southwest of Camden, and I really love this beautiful area of Maine. Small towns with lovely old homes, numerous art galleries, a few great bookstores, some fabulous restaurants—plus the salty Atlantic on one side and the Camden hills on the other. 

This building that stands so prominently in Clough's photograph is a charming feature of Rockland. I've been in the little cafe right on the corner several times. There's also a terrific restaurant right around the corner called Cafe Miranda. About three blocks up the street is the famous Farnsworth Museum, a center for American art, in particular, work of the Wyeth family. Up in Rockport is the home of Maine Media Workshops, where photographers and filmmakers come from around the world to teach and inspire students of these art forms; I've spent several incredible weeks there over the years absorbing all I could from such great photographers as Douglas Beasley, Andrea Modica, Terry Abrams, and many others.

This image by Dave Clough, himself a resident of Rockland, earned Clough the award for Best Photograph in our current exhibition, Landscapes by Day - Landscapes by Night. This image captures this important building and the entryway to Main Street, Rockland, in a most spectacular way. 

See more of Clough's work on his website.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Big Picture

I'm captivated by small things in the natural world—leaves, seedlings, flower buds, snowflakes, tiny baby birds pointing their wide open mouths toward the sky. I watch them, examine them, touch them, collect them, and photograph them. But I'm also mesmerized by the big picture, the part of the natural world that I can't get my arms around—the landscape. Landscapes may well be my favorite subjects for art.

So I decided to show landscapes (see our current exhibition), but with a little bit of a twist—landscapes by day and landscapes by night. The exhibition is wonderful—many amazing images of the world by day and by night. A few need special mention, and I'll talk about some of these special images over the coming weeks. (The exhibition closes April 30, 2014.)

The nighttime landscapes of photographer Bob Avakian are nothing short of stunning. They illuminate the unique color palette, the rich shadows, and the glowing warmth of the night. These landscapes do indeed show a part of the natural world that is big—too big to get your arms around, but not too big to sink into and absorb into your pores. Look at these images and be mesmerized.