Thursday, April 16, 2015

Development of Style & Self

Detail shot of "Mother Matrix" in process
I was recently asked "Has your work always looked like this?"

Last week "Principia Alchemica" opened at True Love Art Gallery, which included three brand new pieces by me. Brand-new as in completed within days of the show opening. Not that I needed new work or lacked work that would fit the theme (since it was because of my portfolio that I was invited to participate), but because as an artist, I tend to be focused and most excited about new work - especially in the last few years.

I have been determined to back on track, as I still can't shake the feeling that my fine art suffered as I pursued dance and other areas. Those three pieces felt more me, more on track than any of my other recent work - even though I know it's all an ongoing process that will continue as long as I am live and can make art.  (Hopefully the end for one will come at the same time as the other...)

So that question gave me pause, and in my mind, I stepped back to view the last 30 years of my art life, and in particular, how my drawing style and overall look developed. And there were definitely several points that stand out.

1) In first grade (age 5-6), I attended my first formal art school - which was Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, NJ.  The particular moment from this time was the task of drawing a tall candle in a brass holder - and the instructor explained in order to get the correct shape and perspective of a 3D circle onto a 2D surface was to gentle sketch multiple ovals, circles - then choose the one that was the best and make it darker. I also received a book on how to draw horses, and that book showed you how to break everything down into circles and other simple shapes.  These two techniques merged in my brain, overrode the "trace the object/outline" approach, and firmly entrenched itself into my hand/eye.

2) After Perkins, I started to attend Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia every Saturday - where I took classes in drawing, painting, mixed media, sculpture, and ceramics until I was 14.  Being located in South Philadelphia, Fleisher was an amazing opportunity to learn about diversity - students of all colors and walks of life attended the school - and I'm very grateful to have been immersed in it that young in life.  I only remember a few of my instructor's names from those years, but one of the most influential was mixed media artist Fran Gallun.  From her, I learned important design concepts while mastering bringing together diverse media to make a cohesive message.  Considering that I mainly do mixed media now, those lessons were very deeply etched in my brain!

3) When I was 15, we moved from NJ to South Carolina, and I was very lucky that my new high school had incredible fine art facilities for 2D, 3D, and photography. But it was the process of applying to the SC Governor's School for the Arts that really pushed me as an artist.  At that time, the program wasn't full year - only during the summer. The application process involved having a live portfolio staff review and a studio class. The first year I applied (for my rising Junior year), the result of drawing exercise had the instructors talking in an excited whispers. My use of multiple lines and shapes reminded them of Alberto Giacometti (who I had not previously been familiar with). But at the portfolio review, with the consideration that I also had one more year to apply, when the staff asked me what I thought my portfolio would look like next year, I honestly answered "better." So I applied again the following year and was accepted. Two influential instructors stand out in my memory - Stephen Nevitt (2D) and Bob Chance (Ceramics) - and they also happened to be the staff who had reviewed my portfolio both years. Stephen not only fostered my awareness of my drawing style and further developed how I worked in 2D, but introduced me to printmaking (which I went on to get my BFA in at RISD). What I remember about Bob is his ease of self, a comfortable approach to teaching and to making art - a mixture of solid dedication mixed with a sense of experimentation and problem-solving.

4) And then there was RISD. As I mentioned in this post, the instructors I had my first semester of my foundation year were highly influential. Wendy Seller's keen eye for color and design continued to shape my mixed media style.  But in reference to my drawing, it was Tom Mill's fierce dedication to creating layers and depth that furthered the journey of my linework. To this day, much of my work is built through multiple layers - and not being afraid to obliterate the earlier ones in the process. And much akin to what I learned from Bob, 3D instructor Ed Oates taught me to look at the world a bit differently/embrace my weirdness, have fun with it, and always find passion in problem solving. Nearly everything that followed after at RISD that was about furthering and solidifying the concept process and/or mastering technique.

When I look at my work now, and compare it to the work I have created over the last 3 decades, I can see the similarities and the influences.  The subject matter really hasn't changed that much in the last twenty years -  spirituality, Witchcraft, folklore, spellcraft, deity have all been common themes all of this time.  I can see the many roots that helped make the proverbial tree of me into the artist I am today - building the trunk and branches - making it strong.  What's different is that now that life has shifted so it's the now finally the season to bloom and having the resources so that it actually produce and bear that fruit.  It's not the art that's changed, it's the artist.