Exciting News From the MAG Annual Exhibition!

Friday was the opening reception for the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition. What’s awesome about this year is that the show actually took place at the gallery I work at as Coordinator for one of their major programs, Creative 360. The piece that was accepted into the show was “She Is Everything At Once“, the 3rd installment in my new series I’ve been working on since late 2015. There was so much amazing work this year, I truly was just excited to get into the show and did not go in expecting any further recognition… and then my name got called for an Award of Excellence. No matter how many years I spend involved in art, I don’t think I will ever lose that factor of complete surprise when something like this happens.

 

For those of you who may have missed previous posts on my new series, I will be creating 12 mixed media, surreal, conceptual portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. They will depict women of all ages, races, and time periods, and each will communicate a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. Each of the 12 will represent a month of the year, the one featured in the MAG show being March. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected.

My goal is to get this series into this year’s ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. With the positive responses I’ve been seeing to images from this series thus far including an award for my January piece at the Greater Michigan Art Exhibition last Fall, I’m certainly feeling hopeful!

Merry Christmas (Art) Baby

It’s hard to believe this week is Christmas already. Seasonal art typically gets lumped into the same category where we heap images of puppies in baskets and kittens playing in flower gardens, pigs in dresses going shopping and maybe even some dogs playing poker: all that silly, cutesy, uncreative nonsense. However, just like it seems every musical artist has recorded a Christmas song or two at one time or another, most artists have tried their hand at a design that some may call “seasonal”. Christmas art doesn’t have to be all Thomas Kinkade snow villages and fuzzy animals wearing santa hats.

Camille Rose Garcia

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Camille Rose Garcia’s work often deals with the dilemma of capitalism and its relationship to greed. “The Saddest Place On Earth” describes the story behind her pieces that feature the nefarious “Peppermint Man”. Apparently, he solves the overpopulation problem by luring all the “bad” little children  into his pastry factory, where he then feeds them poison candy and re-purposes their bodies by baking them into treats he serves at his chain of all-you-can-eat Peppermint Town Buffets. Lovely. I know quite a few people who aren’t much of Christmas fans due to its emphasis on over-consumption. However, I’d say any celebration is what you make it to be. If you don’t like all of our culture’s current traditions, then toss them out and make new ones of your own. Rather than becoming horrified by overeating and Black Friday shopping and tossing out the whole Christmas thing entirely, decide to make your celebration about experience, giving, and reconnecting. If you don’t like the way something is done, do it differently. Too often we don’t realize, it’s really all up to us.

Catalina Estrada

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I became hooked on Catalina Estrada’s work after purchasing a box of Christmas cards with the blue angel artwork shown above from an art museum gift shop in Chicago. Her use of color and pattern is pretty spot-on.

Leonid Afromov

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This year in Michigan, we have been enjoying anywhere from 40-60 degree days leading up to Christmas. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, this is freaking unheard of. This painting almost, almost, makes me miss the usual piles of snow. If you look up more of his work, they all exhibit his characteristic use of rainbow, prismatic color to depict strong light. I actually recognized many of his other paintings, I just had never known the artist behind them. His work is pretty much everywhere, and for good reason.

Artist Unknown

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If anyone recognizes whom the artist of this piece may be, please fill me in. I am absolutely scandalized at drawing a blank after all my years and years of art history instruction. This image caught my eye on pinterest but when I followed the link, it led me to a website boasting “Buy hand painted images from photos”, advertising even replicas of “Starry Night” and “The Mona Lisa”, among others. That’s not sketchy at all …  But, back to the lovely, totally legit painting at hand. Normally another painting of a pasty, blonde Mary and Jesus would elicit from me a lengthened sigh. Still, something about this piece caught my eye. Because of the mix of traditional garb, updated to be far more ornamental than it would have been during the actual time period of the Christmas Story; with the even further out of time decorative banisters and modern era floral wallpaper behind, the piece has a shifting, timeless kind of feel as it embodies many periods. The timelessness makes this a far more relatable piece to me. Adding to this is her facial expression. Her eyes are downcast, and she doesn’t seem unhappy, but doesn’t seem altogether cheerful and light either. Her mind still seems slightly burdened though overall she is at peace, and this makes far more sense given the situation in the story than the usual oversimplified portrayal of, “Immaculate conception? Cool, you know that sounds totally fine to me, let’s get to it!” Acceptance of any trial, or “new adventure” if you will, doesn’t mean you will never wonder or doubt. For if that were the case, I would fear the absence of a brain.

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On a less serious note, once again, artist unknown. These fun little pastel-colored nativity characters that look like cheap knockoffs of “Precious Moments” must have been really popular around the early 90s, because I had jigsaw puzzles of them, coloring books, even window clings my mom would always decorate the kids’ bathroom mirror with around Christmas time. I found this picture on accident and had to include it, though it is definitely of the cutesy, sappy variety I described at the beginning that I promised I was not going to show. I cannot be the only one who remembers these.

Mark Ryden

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A new take on a favorite Christmas tale from a pop-surrealism master – the Grinch, painted in eerie photo-realism. The sickly pepto-bismol color present throughout only adds to the arresting nature of this picture. You can almost feel the poor Grinch’s distaste for this entire Christmas-y situation.

Express Yourself Artshop also kicked off the holidays with the last week of classes, topped off with a holiday bash the Monday after the semester’s end. This was my first Christmas as program coordinator for Artshop (an arts and wellness program for adult students of varying abilities, including those with physical and mental challenges), and I feel more proud than ever to be a part of everything as I saw firsthand the joy bubbling over from this wonderful, inspiring, close-knit community of fantastic people.

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Louie with his very Suessical stocking

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Beautiful finished projects on display at the end-of-the-year Ceramics Class Party

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Friends and food, pretty much all that is required for a killer bash.

Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night.

Artists To Know! Installment 7 : Seeing The Unseen

I have always been the type of artist and art appreciator who tires of complete realism. I abhorred the same old make-it-look-like-the-photo landscape assignments in school growing up. I liked portraiture a bit better, but only if I made it my own, whether desired in the class assignment or not.

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Circa 2005 – Oh noes! The punk’s left eyeball has cracked and now little rainbow glass shards are floating out into the universe towards the viewers eyeballs, surely meaning to skewer them!

I always believed art should only show us what we cannot see in reality, or else what was the point? However, how much of reality do we really see, and how much simply slips from our view unnoticed? Human perception is a funny thing. You could have two people walk down the same stretch of sidewalk in a park, and if in the end you asked them to describe the scene they just participated in, I am 99.9% certain that they would each describe it completely differently. We notice what draws us, and ignore what repels us. That idea is the basis of the following artists’ work, work that shows us the marginalized and disenfranchised; the very people who often slip to the periphery of our awareness either consciously or unconsciously. Viewing these works, we are shown a reality that seems like a completely different world.

Aaron Draper

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For his “Underexposed” series, Aaron Draper captures lit photos of the homeless, aiming to portray them in the most pleasant, visually appealing way possible. Draper sites author John Steinbeck as an inspiration, and admires how he used his craft to highlight the plight of the poor, and expose social issues and inequities.  With this series, Draper is using lighting to draw viewers towards the person shown, causing the subject to be viewed with humanity and compassion. Draper says, “When it comes to social activism, you achieve greater public awareness by communicating hope as opposed to hopelessness”.

Diane Arbus

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Famed photographer Diane Arbus takes almost the complete opposite approach to the previous artist. The black and white photographs of her subjects seem to be developed in such a way as to accentuate each imperfection, every wrinkle, blemish, and flaw. Her work turns its lens on society’s outsiders : those with physical abnormalities, nudists, transgender individuals, those with extreme tattooing or body modification, and rarities such as twins. Unlike Draper’s work, there is a darkness to it and a definite surreal quality (One of her photographs of twins actually inspired Stanley Kubrick’s iconic “The Shining twins”.).  She is certainly a disputed artist. Some argue she was voyeuristic and exploitative , her photos no better than the circus “freak shows” that thankfully no longer exist in this day and age. Her motives and connection to her subjects have been called into question since her photographs were not necessarily being used to communicate a social purpose or to inspire a change in the treatment of the individuals, but more for striking visual interest. Additionally, her series in which she photographed individuals living in group homes for those with mental challenges, of which the above is a part, brings up a consent issue. Since the photographs were taken between 1969 and 1971, a time when individuals at such institutions were given little to no rights, the permission to photograph the residents was not given by the individuals themselves but the institution. Such a project would not be allowed publication by today’s standards. Others argue she is possibly one of the most misunderstood artists of the 20th century. Consent between photographer and subject is important, and I cannot speak to the validity of the permission she received. However, to me, Arbus wasn’t looking at her subjects with revulsion and disgust. They don’t appear isolated or lonely but confident, happy and uninhibited. They are comfortable in their own skin and are completely unaware of how they appear to others. Arbus had a great respect for her unusual subjects she sought out, saying “Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.” (though I do flinch at the way she throws around the “f-word”.) If anything, it was the so called “normal people” Arbus portrayed as lonely and disconnected and silly.

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Asa Johannessen

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The subjects of Johannessen’s “Looking Out, Looking In” series are individuals who don’t identify with any gender, male or female. An article in Independent about her show describes the portraits as “challenging the onlooker defiantly to try and categorize them”. All photographs are untitled, the subjects unnamed. The goal is to draw the viewers in to whom each individual is as a person, rather than the viewers obsessing over the single facet of “Are they male or female?” This is an interesting concept to me as someone who has always felt gender is about the last thing I notice about someone. This has led to some interesting social kerfuffles in the form of myself ending up on dates I never knew I was on. I pretty much am this comic below anyway, only with brown hair and zero barista skills.

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All that aside, the point is once again using art to bring humanity to those who are often misunderstood or ignored. Everyone struggles with identity crises from time to time, but most of us can’t even imagine feeling that such a basic component of our personhood is alien to us. Many of us can’t imagine the feelings of confusion, isolation, and despair such a conflict would bring. Individuals like the ones in Johannesson’s photographs often get treated like unicorns, an interesting idea, but they don’t really exist. This series confronts those misconceptions head on. No matter what we each individually believe, empathy and above all love is possible, and I daresay required.

Debbie Rasiel

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The goal of photographer Debbie Rasiel’s “Picturing Autism” series is to explore what autism looks like across language and cultural barriers. The series spans New York, Mexico, Peru, Indonesia and Iceland.”I wanted to offer those not familiar with autism an opportunity to see what autism looks like, a safe space where social mores would not prevent them from staring,” Rasiel stated in an article for The Huffington Post. Again, art has urged people to lock eyes with and confront images of individuals from whom they normally may avert their gaze due to unfamiliarity or uncertainty.

Art not only has the ability to show us things we can’t see in real life, but it has the ability to force us to see the unseen, and that is a wonderful and magical thing.

 

I’m Not The Only One Who’s Been Busy This Summer …

The summer flew by, and while I think this summer for me has been the most productive yet as far as art making, I am not the only one who has been hard at work. My Express Yourself Artshop students really applied themselves creatively, and pumped out a lot of amazing art over this past semester. Hard to believe what one can accomplish in only 6 weeks! I’ve shared some of the highlights here.

Grace, Watercolor

Grace, Watercolor

Nancy, Ink Drawing

Nancy, Ink Drawing

Brenda, Handmade Tote Bag

Brenda, Handmade Tote Bag

Lacey, Acrylic

Lacey, Acrylic

For those who haven’t read my blog before, Express Yourself Artshop is an art program I work with that is open to those of all abilities, and is an accepting, friendly and safe environment to artists with physical and mental disabilities. I know myself how important creating can be as a tool for expressing what you feel like you can’t with words, and how it has the ability to calm the mind and soul out of tumult and provide a reprieve from the stress and sometimes heavy weight of everyday life. One of my students loves owls, and so we collaborated on some trippy, colorful owls done in my go-to style for these birds (shown below). I drew in pencil, she outlined and painted. Along with an affinity for owls, we also share a love of Deco Art’s Glamour Dust craft paints – a win-win.

Look familiar? So glad to share my enthusiasm for quirky, surrealist owls!

Look familiar? So glad to share my enthusiasm for quirky, surrealist owls!

Anne Marie, Ink and Acrylic With Glamor Dust

Anne Marie, Ink and Acrylic With Glamor Dust

I love these people, and the unfamiliar environment of being in a truly judgement-free space … Everyone simply accepts and embraces each other as they are. I feel so loved in return while I am there, and it is one of the few places I don’t feel pressured to put on an act (Convenient, as I’ve never quite mastered the art of situationally adjusting my personality. For better or for worse, I just can’t seem to grasp that particular life skill.). I can’t wait for next semester. I’m going to be channeling my inner Mark Montano and doing a really cool DIY decor class, so hopefully that gets some interest. I am right on the cusp of finishing two new projects that will be going up with a selection of other pieces at Espresso Milano coffee shop in Midland in September, so I will be sharing that soon.

Montano, seriously, what a snazzy guy.

Hello Spring! Holidays Are The Best.

The first day of Spring is here (Well, I live in Michigan so it sure doesn’t feel like it yet, but at least there are blue skies and lots of SUN!). For those like me who may in fact be some sort of human/plant hybrid as we absolutely wilt in the cold and require a certain amount of sun each day to function happily and properly, this is fantastic news. I must say, I didn’t get the winter doldrums this year like I usually do, and I think being busy creating has a lot to do with that :).

Along with the possibility of temperatures above 20 degrees (woohoo! Again – Michigan), spring also brings us into the holiday times again after that lull that falls following the nonstop celebration over the 3 months from Halloween through Christmas. I am a big holiday person, mainly because my family has always kept up special traditions for all the major through minor holidays, and I look forward to any reason to do something out of the ordinary and shake up the routine of life. Any excuse to get excited and celebrate something? I’m all over it.

Along with my birthday in 10 days, Easter and Mother’s Day are coming up! I love finding people unique gifts that they aren’t going to find anywhere else, especially items with beautiful artwork that really fits the recipient’s personality. Local handmade gift shops as well as Etsy, Redbubble, 10,000 Villages, and other online shops featuring independently designed or handmade gifts are always my go-to. Back to the thing about my family really loving holidays, I still get an Easter basket. I’m turning 27 end of this month. If you too have Easter baskets to fill, I have a lot of fun, super affordable gifts that will make both younger (and maybe older) kids smile.

Small, inexpensive wallet size prints of my artwork (called ACEO for Art Cards, Editions, and Originals if you haven’t heard of them) are available on ebay in a ton of different designs and are an easy gift to stick inside a basket or card. In addition to the fun stuff I have on etsy and ebay, I also have a RedBubble shop which offers a lot more functional items and home decor featuring my designs. For kids, there are die-cut waterproof STICKERS of my art. Who doesn’t like stickers?! There is a wide range of unique gifts handy for Mother’s Day, even if all you need is a card.

Paper doll sets available on both etsy and ebay

Paper doll sets available on both etsy and ebay

Plush hair clips perfect for Easter - bunnies, strawberries, little birds, and more on etsy!

Plush hair clips perfect for Easter – bunnies, strawberries, little birds, and more on etsy!

Coloring book enjoyable for kids and adults alike featuring lineart versions of my most popular illustrations! Available on ebay and etsy.

Coloring book enjoyable for kids and adults alike featuring lineart versions of my most popular illustrations! Available on ebay and etsy.

All kinds of earrings from chandelier to stud on etsy

All kinds of earrings from chandelier to stud on etsy

Surround yourself with art, and turn someone else's world into a more interesting, inspiring place :).

Surround yourself with art, and turn someone else’s world into a more interesting, inspiring place :).

This Spring, why not surround yourself with art? I promise it will help to melt away that dull, uninspired winter fog. As for me, I am going to continue being my own little self-sustaining factory and will be cranking out more designs daily so be on the lookout! So long for today, going on a nice long walk while the sun lasts :).