Artists To Know: Black History Month

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Artists To Know post, and I wanted to take the opportunity for February to highlight some of my favorite black artists currently working – most new, some mentioned before. Enjoy, and be inspired!

Lina Iris Viktor

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Viktor is a British – Liberian artist based in New York who creates “queenly self portraits with a futuristic edge”. Everyone knows I’m a sucker for surreal, fantasy-like portraiture and after coming across the image above, I had an instant new favorite! Viktor studied film, photography, and design and uses all of these backgrounds to create her unique fantasy worlds that combine elements of painting, sculpture, photography, and performance. What makes her art so compelling to me is the contrast of seemingly opposite elements … Her works are detailed with a lot of pattern and texture to look at but the colors are kept minimal; many of the scenes she creates are contemporary or futuristic in appearance, but still contain elements of the classical. As well as a diverse study of art, she also had a diverse upbringing as far as culture, being raised in London by Liberian parents and also spending time living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Viktor aims to use her immersive scenes to convey a philosophical commentary on both a social and historical “preconception of blackness”. Her work is a category all its own.

Woodrow Nash

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Nash is an artist from Akron, OH who works in stoneware, earthenware, terracotta, and porcelain. He is most well known for his unique bust sculptures that capture an expression, depth, and personality that I have never felt before in this type of art. He began as an illustrator, working as a fashion illustrator in New York in the mid 70s and then returning to the Midwest to do technical illustrations. Just as he uses multiple materials for his sculptures, he also employs various firing methods from pit firing, to electric, to raku (one of my personal favorites!). He calls his style “African nouveau”, because although it is influenced by African cultural aesthetic he blends in elements of art nouveau, and his sculptures tend to appeal to a wider audience beyond just those of African heritage. Each gorgeous figure he creates has a story, and they draw you in instantly.

Kehinde Wiley

If you can’t already tell, creative portraiture is my thing. I love portraits that transport the viewer to a new place of the artists’ making, where every pattern that is used is not only decorative, but an element that is used to speak to the subject’s unique psychology. I have been a fan of Wiley’s unique, powerful style of portraiture for a long time, and was excited when he was chosen to do Obama’s official portrait. Possessing a MFA from Yale, he combines contemporary figures with aesthetic elements from the past, giving his portraits a surreal, timeless feel. One of his most recent projects for the Saint Louis Art Museum featured oil paintings of black men and women dressed in their own clothing, styled for their usual everyday, posed in traditional poses from European and American art history to make a comment about under-representation. The photographic realism coupled with ornate pattern and creative approach make it no wonder his work has garnered the acclaim it has. His art is a testament to the fact that it is possible for an artist to stay true to themselves and not follow the crowd, and still be successful.

Tawny Chatmon

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A self proclaimed “army brat”, Chatmon did a lot of traveling as a kid and had resided in 3 different continents by the age of 12. Once settled in the US, she turned more in the creative direction of theater. She didn’t start getting into photography until her early 20s, when she was gifted a camera at 19 and through self teaching and experimentation saw an opportunity to make a living through the lens. After losing her father to a battle with cancer in 2010, Chatmon’s portrait photography became not only a career but a way to communicate and process emotions, an art. What first drew me to her work was the image above, part of her series titled “Deeply Embedded”. The composition and heavy use of pattern on the clothing reminded  me a bit of Gustav Klimt, one of my favorites from art history. Chatmon writes about this series on her website, “Deeply Embedded was created during a time where I continued to come across negativity centered around natural black hair & styles. Anger followed by frustration and sadness forced me to refocus that energy into creating work to speak for me as our words fell upon deaf ears.” There are many different forms of beauty in our world, and photography is the perfect medium to capture that fact.

Pierre Jean-Louis

 

I love art that plays with the merging of people and their environments, which is why I found this 26 year old artist’s work so inspiring. This self taught artist from New Jersey grew up in a deeply conservative religious household, but also a deeply creative one being the son of successful Haitian painter Bonaventure Jean-Louis. He moved beyond his roots with multimedia approaches, taking his inspiration from the beauty of the natural world that God has created, and with his series “Black Girl Magic”, explores specifically the beauty of natural hair. Models’ hair is transformed into forest, flowers, and galaxies, making a comment against exclusionary beauty standards.

I hope you will take the time to explore more of these artists’ amazing work. It was so hard to pick just one or two images to highlight!

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Happy New Year! ArtSnacks Unboxing

Happy New Year everyone! I got a couple more months of ArtSnacks for Christmas this year, so let the unboxing begin! I will be honest, I hate the art journal page I created for the Artsnacks Challenge this month, which is too bad as it revolves around one of my favorite literary quotes :-/. No judging!

In this box I received a:

Starting with the fineliner – So sad, but I hated this pen. It comes down to personal preference, but I felt the tip did not allow for fine details, and as you can tell from my end result below, it cannot be used with liquid media without bleeding really badly. I had to go over a lot of lines again because they had nearly disappeared after I applied paint, and the bleeding and smudging is still visible. The ink was definitely dry, as I outlined one day and came back the next to finish the journal page. I feel like it would be better suited for writing than drawing.

As for the paints, I have heard of Golden Acrylics because many of the artists I know will only use this brand exclusively. These paints lived up to their reputation for sure – smooth to work with, nice blending, bold colors that keep their rich look after drying, and great coverage. If anything, this exercise reinforced the fact that I need to sign up for that acrylic painting class I’d been debating taking next month. I mainly use acrylics on crafts or for small scale accents in my mixed media work, and my skills are pretty rusty. I kept trying to use the paints like watercolors, and ironically this line of Golden paints is a great option for acrylic painters crossing over from watercolor due to their intentional transparency.

I also had good luck with the paintbrush. I adore fine line brushes since when I do use acrylics, as mentioned previously, it is mainly just for adding subtle outlines or small details to enhance a larger project in other mediums. Taklon is the material I prefer for my acrylic brushes, and I could tell that this was a quality brush that was going to last. It was the perfect Goldilocks brush – not too soft, not too firm. I haven’t replaced my paintbrush collection since… probably about 10 years ago, so I will definitely be keeping these in mind when I need to get some new brushes.

I found the paper included very interesting as well. The surface is like watercolor paper, but the weight is like painting on a board. It’s a great option for acrylics when you don’t want to use a canvas, and I’d love to try it with watercolors as well … I feel like it wouldn’t ripple as much as traditional watercolor paper.

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As I said, I really don’t like how this image turned out but, nevertheless … I apologize, Mr. Vonnegut, for besmirching your memory with this so-so art. So it goes … 😉

Watch out for another unboxing next month! I also will have some new art and project ideas in queue for posting, so keep your eyes peeled!

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!

 

 

 

Gustav Klimt – Creative Minds Art History Project

I got a bit behind on sharing my projects, but have now caught the awful Fall cold that is going around, so no better time than the present to sit and type with a hot cup of tea at my side. Gustav Klimt’s work, like that of the earlier covered Van Gogh, is one of those bodies of historical work that is recognizable even by non-artists because of his unique style that has been made readily available in print form to this day, and is appropriated and referenced constantly in new art. Though I’ve never experienced an emotional connection to his work, I love the use of metallics and vivid, overwhelming detail of his pieces as well as the merging of both realistic and painterly elements.

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Klimt began as a decorative painter under the belief that art’s true purpose was to show viewers something beautiful, and got his start painting murals on the walls and stairways of lavish, wealthy homes. His personal work was charged with an eroticism that was not present in art at that time, and it earned him a good deal of disdain but he remained committed to depicting the beauty of the world as he saw it. His pieces have resonated and stood the test of time, enough that virtual immersive experiences of his work were made available this year in Paris and Austria.

Not all of his work is sensual in nature or contains nudity, and there are plenty of other examples to show as inspiration if you are doing this project with younger audiences.

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Klimt’s work incorporated figures and portraits, but learning how to draw faces and the human body properly is a whole semester of lessons within itself! To make a Klimt project that was accessible to all skill levels, fun, experimental, and stress free, we used collage. Some of Klimt’s portrait work does remind me of a very early form of fashion editorials, so we cut out models and celebrities from Elle and Vogue magazines to become the subjects in our Klimt inspired artworks.

Students were then encouraged to place their magazine cutout where they wanted it on the page, and trace around it with pencil to save the space. I recommend gluing the magazine cutout on last so it doesn’t accidentally get smeared with paint. After outlining, students could add on and sketch the outfit of their dreams with pencil. Once the basic outline was complete, students filled in the background and clothing in different shades of metallic paint first, and then could add detail overtop with pattern. As I’ve mentioned before, I work with a lot of adults with disabilities and seniors in my art program. Painting small patterns with a brush can be hard for some depending on their dexterity level so we made this project more accessible by also introducing the use of ink stamps for those who were struggling with fine motor skill. Innovation can lead to some simply amazing results, as can be seen by the work-in-progress above! Be sure to check back soon for more artist-inspired project ideas!

Henri Matisse – Creative Minds Art History Project

Another week, another artist! I shared my Van Gogh project last week. In week 2 we covered Henri Matisse. His personal story really resonated with the students, being a group of adults with varying disabilities.

Matisse spent the majority of his artistic career as a painter, being one of the leaders of the Fauvism movement in the early 1900s. Fauvism is characterized by a painterly, non-realistic representation of people and objects and a strong use of bold “crayola crayon” colors. Unblended strokes of pure color divide objects from their background rather than shading. He wanted his art to be calming and cheerful, an escape from the world’s troubles. In 1941, everything changed when Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and had to have surgery. His life was saved, but from that point forward he required the use of a wheelchair for mobility, and struggled with dexterity. Matisse famously said, “Creativity takes courage“, and at the age of 72 no matter how he had changed physically, he refused to give up on creating. He shifted gears to a cut paper collage format for his work as painting was harder to manage with his dexterity changes, creating yet another influential body of work. He ended up liking this new, modern style even better than what he had been working on before, and you can still see similar shapes, styles, and color schemes taken from his paintings and applied to his collage works, such as the organic leaf shapes. His final project was stained glass windows for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence as seen pictured above, designed in his iconic collage style.

Though the term disability pride wasn’t part of our vocabulary at the time Matisse was alive, I think his legacy perfectly embodies this concept. He did not look at disability as a barrier, but an opportunity to innovate.

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For our project, we created beautiful decoupage bowls inspired by Matisse’s paper cut works. I chose to focus specifically on shapes present in his chapel design, though if you do an image search of his collage work you could find many other ideas. I cut patterns out of some scrap matte board for the students to trace. We used colored printer paper for the cutouts – It is thin enough to be able to bend along the round shape of the bowl without popping back up or creating massive wrinkles, but thick enough that the color of the bowl won’t show through. We used matte Mod Podge to apply and seal the shapes onto the bowl, and the bowls themselves were picked up at the dollar store, making this a ridiculously inexpensive project with beautiful results.

This would be a fun project to do with all ages from kids to seniors, and makes for a great gift idea if planned closer to the holidays or Mother’s Day. Since Mod Podge is not food safe, obviously you do not want to try to eat cereal out of these or something ;), but they are a perfect catch all for jewelry, keys, pens pencils and paperclips, or change. Also a cute decoration when filled with decorative orbs, glass marbles, or stones. I love color, and may just have to make one of these for myself at home!

I’m Back With Some New Art!

This first piece in a new series was a long time coming … I am obsessed with working small, and tend to work in 11×14 or maybe 16×20 max, and wanted to start doing pieces that were at least 18×24 or larger to allow me to include more detail and further develop the background in my pieces. My new series, Dwell, really taps into my background of interior design study. These pieces will contemplate how our environment affects us, but also how we interact with and affect it. The word dwell also has a double meaning, not just the physical space where we live but the places we create inside us that we allow our mind to dwell in. How are these psychological spaces affecting us, and how much control do we have over them or they over us?

“Dwell In Possibility” was a challenge for me because it involved a lot of brown, a color I literally never use in art. I tend to create pieces that are mostly grayscale tones with pops of bright color, and gray just would not have been right for the earthy feeling I wished to evoke. The other challenge to this piece was that I was creating an interior that was not very attractive or intricate … the remains of a decaying building, dirt floor, rough wood paneled walls, weathered plaster ceiling once grand but now stripped of any color or design … The only furnishing an abandoned, sun bleached chair frame.

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I did a lot of layering of different media overtop one another, and used my clear prismacolor pencil blender for the first time in my entire life. I usually use a white pencil to blend, but this time I couldn’t use an opaque blender because I wanted to be able to still see the underlayer of watercolor through the blended pencil. I left the flowers and hair purely impressionistic watercolor as opposed to the detail in the background and the model’s face. I didn’t use as much dimensional mixed media as usual, not wanting to add too much clutter, and stuck to a lace fabric overlay on her dress and clusters of beads for the centers of the poppy flowers.

dwell in possibility progress

The closer you look, you will see there is a lot more going on than just a smiling woman holding a bouquet. She is already stationed in an odd setting, an old deteriorated building. She is surrounded by decay, including uprooted, dying plants. Even some of the flowers in her hands are dead or dying, but they are slowly coming back to life as she grasps onto them, holds them and nurtures them. Behind her through the door there is a cavern of light, where a grand tree has taken hold. There are no leaves yet, hardly any soil for his roots to grasp onto, yet he is still alive somehow. Robins circle around, a bird that symbolically means rebirth. Change and growth are always possible.

As you can also see, I can’t seem to put down the metallic gold acrylic lately! At work, my students always want to cover everything they make in metallics and glitter, which often makes me shake my head, but I can understand the temptation ;). Speaking of which, I am starting a new class called Creative Minds where each week students will be learning about an accomplished artist of the past or present, and completing a small project based on that artist’s iconic style with a focus on artists with disabilities and mental health. I will be sharing my projects as well as some of the students’ interpretations, so be on the look out for a new project post each week! I am hoping some of you reading this will want to try it at home yourself. It’s always fun to play :D!

A Month In The Life of An (Almost) 30 Year Old Artist

Well, I missed posting this month’s Artsnacks unboxing, which is unfortunate as March is Artsnack’s birthday month as well as my own! I still did a very late Artsnacks challenge art journal entry (this morning, actually ;)), and I swear I had good reason! This month has been a busy one, and just kind of flew by in a blur.

Since the end of last year, I’ve had trouble getting any art really going. I started a handful of things, but then got stumped and had to put them away until who knows when. Artist’s block is common, but I have not experienced such a thing for a long time. It’s weird, and I don’t like it.

Since I don’t have any big personal projects that are going anywhere, I figured this was the perfect time to go out on a limb and try something new. When I saw a call for proposals on my local city, Saginaw MI’s Art and About facebook page for their Painted Piano Project, I knew I had to enter just to have a new art goal to work towards. Only 12 entries would be selected, so I didn’t go into this with any expectation of being chosen, and figured it would just be fun to give it a try. I was shocked to not only find out I was chosen, but that my entry won 3rd place for People’s Choice while they were displayed at the Saginaw Art Museum! Guys, I have never won people’s choice anything since the time I tried to run for student council secretary in 5th grade and got the least number of votes, despite my very impressive posters. Generally, popular opinion and I are not friends or even distant acquaintances, so, I will consider my life experience padded.

The project is exactly what it sounds like … I will be covering a piano with my artwork very soon! I may live to regret the level of detail I have committed myself to, but I don’t do simple. My instrument has yet to be delivered, but I will definitely keep everyone updated as I begin the process! The pianos will be scattered throughout the city all summer, available for people to play.

Some other adventures this month are the Midland Artists Guild Annual Juried Exhibition, which I look forward to every year.

This time around, I am so grateful to have been awarded 2nd place overall for my piece, “July: She Is Free”, one from my “Unlimited” series that is very close to my heart. I hope to continue to open minds and push the bounds of what beauty and empowerment look like through my art.

Another highlight of this month, my boyfriend and I finally got to see our favorite play live! This after going to a whimsical arcade bar and overdosing on 90s nostalgia with the X-Men Arcade game and some N64 Mario Kart, so basically the perfect early-birthday trip.

I know traditionally a lot of mourning goes on leading up to one’s 30th birthday, but I have to say this has been a pretty epic month so far, so bring it on!