Women’s Centennial Celebration Exhibit At Art Reach

Amidst a lot of bad news on a worldwide scale lately, I was blessed to receive some good news: One of my pieces shown in Art Reach’s Women’s Centennial Celebration Exhibit, July: She Is Free In Mind and Spirit, was awarded Best Of Show. This piece received a 2nd place award previously in 2018’s Midland Artists Guild Annual Juried Exhibition, and was a part of my Unlimited series shown in ArtPrize 9 in Grand Rapids. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to delve into this work deeper.

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July: She Is Free

A vital part of my Unlimited series was being sure I represented a variety of ages, races, and also abilities in my portraits. Though varying abilities can mean many things and a lot of disabilities are invisible, I wanted to represent an easily recognizable visible disability that is not often seen represented in art. I chose to depict a young woman with down syndrome.

When people think of the lives of individuals with disabilities, often all they can see is the struggles. Yes, we need to be aware of the struggles and be sure that we stand up for the rights of individuals with disabilities, make sure they have access to the healthcare they need and tools to help them live as independently as possible in their communities. But, like all people, individuals with disabilities are multifaceted beings. People with disabilities are rarely seen depicted in art, and are seldom shown in any media as empowered beings with their own unique personality beyond having a disability. I wanted to depict a woman who was confident in her own skin, and believed in her own unlimited potential.

The symbolism in this piece can mean different things to different viewers, and I love the fact that art is open to interpretation. That being said, I wanted to share what I was thinking when I created this piece. But remember, even as the artist, my interpretation is by no means the only interpretation :). I drew the face in prismacolor pencil. I wanted a scene around the head(mind) that exuded peace, so I filled in the hair with a watercolor landscape scene. Along with inner peace I wanted to depict the idea of freedom, of this woman not being limited by anything despite what others may assume. Birds taking flight have always been one of the biggest symbols of freedom to me, so I used prismacolor markers to draw birds in the same colors as the landscape circling around her. I reinforced the bird imagery with metallic gold prismacolor pencil in a radial flying bird pattern on her shirt, with an empty birdcage in the center of her chest. I wanted the figure and background to be seamless and flow into each other, but also wanted something to set off the figure so that she was the main focus. I wanted her face especially with its welcoming, content, confident expression to stand out. Using a black base created contrast, and I filled in this galaxy background with stars in the same pastel colors used throughout the rest of the piece. In most of my portraits I use the background to speak to the content of the figure’s mind and soul, and a galaxy fit perfectly to me as something vast and unlimited. 

“July” is very close to my heart, and the meaning behind it signifies why I am involved in the arts to begin with. In running an arts program for adults with disabilities, I feel I have found my purpose. I am excited to continue using art to form connections between all different types of people, help others tap into their unexplored potential, give a voice to those that often go unseen, and challenge ideas of what beauty is in art.

Art prints are available in my ebay shop!

There will be virtual tours of the show available through Art Reach soon. I can’t wait to see all the other work up close!

Artists To Know : U of M Museum of Art

It had been awhile since I’d gotten out of town to do something fun, so I took a day trip this month to the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, because who can say no to free inspiration? In addition to an array of art from centuries past with an especially robust Asian art section, there were some more recent pieces that really impacted mem resulting in some new favorite artists – all with amazing stories.

Guillermo Meza

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I am a mask enthusiast as well as a fan of anything inspired by surreal or dreamlike imagery, and the composition and color in this piece propelled me over to it like a magnet the moment I walked into the first room.

Meza is known for fantastical landscapes and distorted figures. He grew up in Mexico City, the son of tailors. His family was not wealthy and he himself only completed school through 9th grade, but they were a family that valued arts, music, and culture, and he started drawing as a child and never stopped. He helped support his family by illustrating for magazines. Other working artists took notice, and he was recommended to Galeria de Arte Mexicana by none other than Diego Rivera. I love his story because it shows that yes opportunity helps, but what more so determines success or failure is an artist’s skill and devotion to creative practice. 

Marcus Jansen

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Marcus Jansen is originally from South Bronx and now resides in Florida. He was always interested in art, but chose to enlist in the military as a career. He is a veteran of Desert Storm who upon returning to civilian life in 1999 found he had trouble adjusting, and struggled to find work. He started selling his paintings on the street, and garnered recognition for his unique, abstracted landscapes that often include social and political metaphor. ​He is the founder of the Marcus Jansen Foundation Fund, which assists low-income community organizations in South West Florida by bringing them arts, music, and cultural awareness. His foundation also supports organizations that help veterans diagnosed with PTSD, bringing them art as a form of expressive therapy. This is another artist who I liked even more after not only just seeing their physical creations but researching their personal story. His work for me created a dynamic new world that I couldn’t step away from, with a unique blend of realism and abstract and a specific style that is completely new, a hard thing to achieve in this time when it sometimes seems everything has been done. 

Ouk Chim Vichet

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The above piece was part of the Peace Art Project of Cambodia. PAPC is a project sponsored by the European Union as well as some celebrity donors in which students at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh worked on projects turning weapons technology into peace time vocations by using them as an art material for beautiful sculptures. This particular piece depicts Asapara, a female Buddhist figure whose traditional dance holds an important place in Cambodia’s culture and history. The juxtaposition of the elegant, peaceful figure with what she is created out of is a strong image conveying the end of violence. 

Mari Katayama

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I had already been a fan of this artist, so in this case it was a very special moment for me to see one of her installations in person. I hadn’t even checked out the website for the museum beforehand, just decided to go, so I didn’t know she would even be showing. I love random life surprises like this! Mari Katayama is a Japanese artist who was born with a rare developmental condition. She had to have both her legs amputated at age 9, and has only 2 fingers on her right hand. She began photographing herself at first to understand her own identity beyond society’s simplistic, “one size fits all” view of individuals with disabilities. She says that she doesn’t view her images as self portraits though, more that she uses her body as an art material to communicate messages about body image that she feels speak to both individuals with disabilities and able bodied individuals. It’s no secret I’m big into mixed media, and I love the idea of someone using their own body as an art medium. I also am interested in her use of recreated fiber art limbs, and the mix of indoor and outdoor environments used in her overall installation. There is not near enough disability visibility in arts and entertainment, and Katayama’s work is incredibly important. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my favorite finds! As always, if you have a favorite artist feel free to leave their name in a comment. I love discovering new sources of inspiration!

 

Weekend Art Experience at Creative 360

This past Saturday I enjoyed being a part of an art experience at my workplace, Creative 360 Studio and Gallery. I call it a art experience rather than an art fair because it was so much more than just an opportunity for people to “buy stuff”.

We had a diverse group of local artists working in a variety of mediums and styles, and also featured beautiful art and handmade items from our artists with disabilities in the inclusive arts and wellness program I run, Express Yourself Artshop. Treats were catered by the program’s culinary class.

Throughout the day, we also enjoyed a number of performances by talent of all ages and abilities. Our Artshop Community Theater members each performed the monologues they wrote portraying themselves as their favorite artist, writer, or musician. There was a singer who performed a song they’d written about their personal faith. We were treated to a vibrant stand up comedy routine by a very young aspiring comedian, complete with some mind bending riddles at the end 😉. A young woman with autism who has been passionate about playing piano since she was 2 performed a series of pieces.

One of my personal favorite parts about participating in fairs is the fun of art trades, and I was thrilled to go home with a cozy fleece blanket perfect for the sudden descent into winter over here in Michigan, and an amazingly unique “80s Death Mask” (Check out the artist’s shop for some of their other sculpture and mixed media work).

Attendees found the fair inspiring, joyful, and uplifting with an environment of openness that encouraged sharing and connection. These events can only be as successful as the number of people who come out to support our local talent and enjoy the atmosphere of creative community! We are hoping to do another fair in the Summer, and in the more immediate future we have our Express Yourself Artshop Talent Show coming up this Monday the 18th at 6:00 inside Creative 360’s gallery.

I am also working on adding more inventory to Artshop’s online store featuring all student made fine art and crafts. Having the opportunity to get their creations out into the world provides a sense of confidence, ownership, responsibility and motivation for our students and also allows them to make income for themselves. Be sure to check back as I am going to start filling the store this week and next! For those in the area, hope to see you at our next event :).

 

Interview With The Artist

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed for an article on the website of a local artists’ group I’m a part of. The interviewer asked some thought provoking questions, so I thought I’d share my answers here for those who are interested in gaining a little more insight behind my work and process. You can also check out the resulting article on the Exploding Circle of Artists website. Friend and fellow artist Heather Deogracia manages and writes articles for the site, and I’d also encourage you to check out her blog. She is an innovative artist, fierce mental health advocate, and regular volunteer and supporter of art happenings in the community.

1. Why do you do what you do?

I have been drawn to creating pretty much since birth, and was lucky to be supported and encouraged in this from a young age. Art has always been a therapy for me and a vital avenue for communication and expression as someone who has also experienced social anxiety well, pretty much since birth. In addition to creating art myself, I also run an inclusive arts and wellness program at Creative 360 geared towards adults with disabilities. Every day I see how creativity both empowers the creator and impacts those around them. Integral to my own personal art and my day job is the idea that everyone can be an artist, everyone can do something creative that touches another person and it is never too late to begin.

2. How do you work?

For the most part I work in my home studio. I started out as primarily a pencil and ink drawing and watercolor artist, but at this point it is rare that I only use one or two materials in a piece. I have fallen in love with mixed media, and though the main bones of my art are usually created in prismacolor pencil, ink or watercolor, I enjoy mixing in acrylic, metallic enamel paints, beads, fabric and lace, old jewelry pieces, collage from old books, and other findings. I especially enjoy using materials I have been gifted by friends or family that have a specific memory or story attached. For a recent project, I used sparkly lace scraps leftover from a very extra angel costume my mom sewed for me when I was five, and some mismatched clip-on earrings that belonged to my grandma.

3. What are the background themes and ideas that makes your work stand out?

With my art, I enjoy making the internal external. I’m very interested in the dynamic of the individual’s public/interacting self versus their private self. Rather than using dramatic facial expressions in my portraits, I tend to leave their expressions mysterious and neutral and let the external surroundings speak to the content of the subject’s mind and soul. This most likely stems from my interior design background, and the idea that the external environment should reflect the people who inhabit it. Much of my work involves psychology and is inspired by my own thoughts and experiences, but I like to leave the visual narratives open ended so that each viewer can bring their own experiences to a piece and connect with it in their own way.

I am fascinated with the detail in both the external and internal structure of all living things; humans, plants, and animals. The natural world around us is truly filled with the most amazing forms of living sculptures if we take the time to look, and keeping this idea in mind reminds me even on the worst of days how luck we are to be alive. This appreciation of observing and exaggerating the most minute details in the world around us is another element that finds its way into my work.

4. How would you describe your style and how is it integral to your work as an artist?

My style is very vintage inspired, and I like to make my art timeless in a way by incorporating visual elements from all different time periods. I am also influenced by surrealism, and always want to show people something in my art that they can’t see in real life. In my work with portraits and figures, I look to antique photos as a reference and usually combine multiple sources to create the exact body and face I am picturing in my head for a certain piece. I am very much a visual thinker, and one day a friend was venting to me over the phone about a stressful week she’d had. (I promise I was listening, but …) As she was talking, I started to see a little cartoon in my head of her standing staring at me, wearing a tall top hat, and her brain was growing out of the top of the hat with all types of different objects representing what she was thinking about sticking out of the protruding brain … The image was a nice blend of hilarious and disturbing, and also gave me the idea to start doing portraits with visual representations of each subject’s thoughts flowing outside of their body.

5. What role does the artist have in society?

Though we don’t always realize it, art and design is everywhere around us in our society … In the music we hear, in the buildings we live and work in, in the ads or posters we see, the clothes we wear, the furniture we sit on, the movies and tv shows we watch, and the list could go on and on. Without art, our world would be empty, inefficient, and without meaning. Beyond that, art has the power to give people a voice. Art is an important tool for communication, and is able to open people’s minds to ideas they may not be as receptive to if delivered in a different way. Each artist has to define their own role for themselves based on the goals they have for harnessing their own personal form of creativity. As for me, I feel called to use art as a tool for connection and reaching out to others. Sharing the therapeutic benefits of creating with others is a priority for me because of the anchor I know it has been in my own life. I aim to make art and creativity accessible to all, no matter their age, ability, income, or any other qualifier. Do artists have to use their skills to make the world a better place? I suppose no one technically has to do anything as we all have autonomy over our own lives, but I certainly think they should.

6. What is your favorite artwork you’ve created and why is it your favorite?

This is a hard question as I develop a connection to almost every piece of art I create like they are my children, no joke. That being said, at this point my favorite piece of art I created is “July: She Is Free”. This piece was from a 12 part series titled “Unlimited” that I showed at Founder’s Brewing Company for ArtPrize 2017. The series was comprised of 12 mixed media, surreal portraits in which the meaning was influenced by the use of pattern and color. The series depicted women of all ages, races, and time periods, each communicating a different story. The aim was for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we currently reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day lives 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. We are all worthy of love, safety, respect, and dignity. I am particularly attached to July because it depicts someone with a visible disability, something that is almost never seen in portrait arts. I am a huge proponent of disability rights, empowerment, and visibility. This piece was shown and awarded at the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition of 2018, and I actually overheard an attendee afterwards whispering to a friend, “But why would you want to draw those kind of people?” This is why I do what I do. Visibility and education are vital, as prejudice is rooted in ignorance. I aim to continue to challenge what beauty is in art.

Elizabeth Jameson – Creative Minds Art History Project

Hello all, it’s time for another artist based creative project! I have a great group of ladies in my Creative Minds class this semester at Artshop, and have loved seeing how they interpret the techniques of the masters and make their creations their own. Though often times the focus of my class is renowned artists from history, I also love sharing inspiring and accomplished artists from the present with my students. I work primarily with adults with disabilities so I especially enjoy the opportunity to share the stories of artists with disabilities with the class, and how the artist’s identity as a person with a disability influenced their art and legacy.

Elizabeth Jameson is a visionary artist who found her creativity through an unexpected MS diagnosis. Jameson is a Doctor of Law, and her lifelong passion and driving force for her career was to fight injustice and poverty through the law, striving to make a difference. In the late 70s and early 80s her health took a turn suddenly, and she was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Due to the progressive nature of her illness she was unable to continue working, and she felt her purpose was lost. A caring friend pushed her into trying an art class just to get her out of the house, and this class ended up changing the way Jameson saw the world and her life. Art teaches us to look at the world through a creative lens, and upon receiving her usual MRI scans from a doctor’s appointment, she came up with  the idea to etch in the stark, clinical and emotionless black and white images with rainbow colors. Her work evolved from there. Today, Jameson is still living her dream of changing the world, and says the goal of her work is to encourage others to, “contemplate the beauty of the brain, discuss what it means to live in an imperfect body, and to stare directly at the imperfect brain’s beauty and complexity with curiosity”. She collaborates with Neuroscientists and a studio assistant to continue her work.

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Messages that can be learned from Jameson’s art and story are that with creativity it is never too late to begin, it doesn’t make you any less of an artist to ask for assistance, and individuals with disabilities have an unlimited potential to change the world for the better.

Obviously, we don’t have access to MRI machines ;), but to pay homage to Jameson’s art we did drawings with colored pencil on black paper. Students were asked to imagine a visual representation of the inside of their head, thinking about the emotions or memories different colors may symbolize, what straight, smooth lines versus wavy or jagged lines may say about what is going on inside their head, and to think of any representational forms that speak to who they are. Some students chose to indicate blocks of color for the different things that consume their thoughts, and some chose to do an all-over image or pattern. One student even dated hers in acknowledgement that one’s mental state changes over time.

I can see this project being an interesting activity for any age, and was pleased within my class on how a dialogue between the students about the meaning of their developing “artistic MRIs” grew as they worked.

As always, feel free to steal, share, or try it yourself at home :). I am hoping others will enjoy and become inspired by trying this project out.

 

February ArtSnacks Unboxing!

Hey guys! So, I was very candid about hating the end result of my ArtSnacks Challenge from last month, and this month threw me another curve ball with a medium I have consistently avoided when at all possible, even in high school and later college art classes: chalk pastels!

In my February box, I received a:

As I eluded to, I have never been a fan of pastels, charcoal, or any chalky medium mainly because I struggle to get the fine detail I want as someone who also likes to work small; I can’t keep it from getting where I don’t want while I’m working (messy, messy, messy!); and I have a weird thing where I just hate the feeling of it on my hands as well. Still, I did enjoy using these more than most. The quality is great even for one like me who doesn’t know what they’re doing as far as pastels, the colors were rich, and they did stay put on the paper much better than lower quality soft pastels. I’m going to skip ahead to the Kraft Paper, because this paired perfectly with the pastels. Comparing the feel and ease of blending on the swatch of Kraft Paper compared to the mixed media paper in my journal, there was no contest. It just goes to show that the right paper can do wonders! The brown tone really made my colors pop too, and lent such a finished, harmonious look especially with my earthtoned set.

I’ve mentioned before I almost exclusively use mechanical pencils, and the Zebra DelGuard is another nice one! I’ve never been disappointed by a mechanical pencil sent in my ArtSnacks box. The led was smooth and dark, and I love the fact that there is a built in mechanism to keep leds from breaking! Though I don’t usually use kneaded erasers most of the time, the eraser that came in my box was also quite nice and will come in handy when I am doing commission requests that are entirely in graphite.

Last but certainly not least, the artist pen that came in this box was my absolute favorite item! With white paint pens, oftentimes it takes 2 coats but this India Ink based pen had perfect coverage with one go-over. I was also shocked at how well it wrote over the pastel! The tip didn’t even get much discoloration … It hardly absorbed any of the pastel and just needed a little scribble on a scrap piece of paper to clean it off at the end. I could see how a lot of neat effects could be created with this in much of my mixed media work, and will definitely be getting more of these.

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As mentioned, I am NOT a pastel artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I let the pencil outlining help me out and I do like this month’s result better than January’s! February being black history month, I chose to illustrate a portrait of Haben Girma with a powerful quote of hers that has stuck with me. Girma is a deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School, and a fierce advocate for disability rights which is an issue close to my heart, especially given that my day job is running an inclusive creative arts program open to adults with varying disabilities. I’d encourage you to read more about this amazing lady, and watch some of her talks.

“Fear causes people to lose so much. Lose potential knowledge, lose potential friends. I wish people would stop living in fear and start asking questions so that they can learn. “

 

 

Artists To Know: ArtPrize 2018 Edition!

I just made the last weekend of ArtPrize this year, and though to me it seemed like the venues had less art in them than usual, there were still some standout projects! Keep in mind I was only able to be in Grand Rapids for a day this year, so I by no means saw near everything. Of what I did see, the following were my favorites.

Rynita Shepherd, Sex Ability: Smashing Stereotypes With Sex Appeal

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In approaching this piece, I experienced firsthand why I always tell people that when visiting a gallery or museum you absolutely should not just breeze by the artwork, but actually take the time to stop in front of each piece for at least 3 minutes. Looking at this series from way across the room, I thought it was just a set of typical boudoir photos. I am tattling on myself right now and admitting I assumed they were photos taken by a man, probably with some cringey artist statement about “appreciating female beauty”, and proceeded to internally rolled my eyes a bit. Then I actually walked right up to it and looked, and realized that first of all these are NOT photos! These were drawings with a story. Shepherd has a rare condition called Arthrogryposis which causes her to have limited mobility in her arms and legs. Because of this, she uses her mouth to draw. All of the women in these portraits have the same condition. Shepherd says, that society expects so little of people with disabilities, and that, “We are completely discredited as sexy, capable women by society due to our physical differences. We have the same hopes, dreams, and desires. We are every woman.” What a powerful statement, as this artist places the unseen right in our faces, and smashes stereotypes about disability!

Mher Khachatryan, Jesus

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I remember this artist’s work from the 2 previous years he was featured at ArtPrize due to his trademark effect of having his images trail off into wisps of smoke and vapor. I’d encourage you to visit his artist profile and look at last year’s tribute to 9/11. Everyone remembers those paintings of a Jesus looking wistfully to the sky, with long eyelashes and glossy auburn hair that every Grandma had hanging in her dining room at one point … This is not that. Khachatryan is from Armenia though he now lives in the US, and wrote lovingly in his artist bio about being able to see one of the first churches ever built in his home country. I can actually see the emotional, spiritual, and cultural connection the artist had to this subject as I look at this piece. The light, airy, glowing feel he has achieved using oil paints and mainly dark black at that is no small feat. I saw many viewers stop and audibly gasp in wonder as they approached this large scale painting. For your art to have that kind of power is a beautiful thing.

John Gutoskey, PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies 

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I adore mixed media, and this series stopped me dead in my tracks. Each piece individually is intriguing and beautiful, but hung together the viewer feels immersed and transported. This series uses monoprints to commemorate each of the 49 people massacred at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida in the summer of 2016. The series is rife with symbolism encompassing the themes of grief in the wake of a tragedy, and violence against LGBTQ individuals and people of color.

Daniel Robert Mattson, Sideshow

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I appreciate so many things about this piece, and would encourage you to click on the link to the artist’s ArtPrize profile to read all he has to say about it. This surreal allegory feels like such a release from the built up tension I know I have been experiencing in our current political environment. It is bipartisan, and Robert has made a piece rich with symbolism though even in his bio he will not divulge everything that was going through his mind, preferring to let the viewer think for themselves – a truly American sentiment. Robert said that “This particular piece has haunted me years”, and it does make a startling picture of our society, one that is not to be desired. However, if we can recognize it and call it what it is, then we can change it.

Kimberly Wolz, Rainbow Connection

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In this piece, Wolz created a ton of small, square pieces of art featuring quilled paper animals and plant life arranged in color order using Fibonacci’s golden ratio. It is meant to represent harmony, and I have heard that the paper quilling process itself can be quite calming, meditative, and harmonious. The detail is exquisite, especially to someone like me who couldn’t even make a paper crane during an origami craft lesson as a kid!

George Cooley and Margaret Brostrom, Human Targets

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This collaborative series confronts the psychological affects of using human targets. seven pieces exploring the dehumanizing qualities of human targets. The artists believe that using human shaped targets desensitizes the shooter towards real violence, and go as far to say practicing on human targets is premeditation for murder – In weapons training and competitions using these targets, more points are awarded for shots that would “kill” a real human in the area the competitors are aiming to hit. I am so far removed from recreational or even protective gun use that I honestly hadn’t a clue that these were the targets most commonly used at shooting ranges … No one in my family hunts, and growing up no one in my household was ever the least bit interested in owning a firearm even for protective use. I have never been to a shooting range, and always pictured targets as the little red and white concentric circles like Katniss Everdeen may use to practice her bow and arrow. It’s a lot to think about, and this artwork starts an important conversation. The artists produced over 50 target artworks, and chose 7 for the final display. I do a lot of series myself, and am impressed by their commitment to put their strongest work forward for this important and relevant issue.

This post comes a bit late, but I hope you all enjoyed learning about some new art and artists. Have an inspiring evening!