Surface and Soul: An Exhibition of Recent Works By Sandra Paynter Washburn
Opening Reception April 11, 2014 from 5:30-7:30
Creative Arts Guild, Dalton GA
Show runs from April 11-May 30, 2014
As a multi media artist, I enjoy exploring various art materials, combining media in unexpected ways, and working in many genres. I have a low threshhold for boredom and repetition and I like to move freely from one style of art to another, as a brief perusal of my website will testify. The challenge comes in keeping my body of work from resembling the machinations of a crazed gnat, jumping at random from one thing to the next.
To address this issue, I have worked in a series format for the past twenty years, choosing a large enough topic of interest that I can create many pieces that relate to each other as I explore the challenge I have set up. This pattern of art-making keeps one’s thinking fresh and one’s body of work consistent, yet diverse and interesting. Over the years, I have produced the Tapestry series, the Icon series, the Flow series, and the Noir series, among others.
My most recent series, under the working title 30×30, is a group of paintings on 30×30 gallery wrapped canvasses that explore mixed media and metal leaf combined with acrylic painting techniques. Each piece is executed in a limited though colorful palette with mixed media inclusions such as oil bar and oil-based pastel resists, hand made collage papers and raised textural passages, with an eye towards strong composition. Each piece in this series also features gold, copper and/or silver leaf, partially obscured and layered color and papers. Pictured on my website are several examples from the 30×30 series, including It is Written, Rapt in Red, Perique, Aurora, and Silver Lining. The latest piece I have done that loosely fits with the others, Sultana, is actually 30×40, the exception that proves the ever-evolving nature of my work, the stretching beyond what is working to be further challenged.
Before I worked on this series, I found it easier to work on paper, preferring 300 # d’Arches cold press and Strathmore Aquarius. I wanted to teach myself to work effectively on canvas and not to sacrifice any of the mixed media and visual techniques I had developed over the years as an art on paper artist. I also like the clean lines of a gallery wrapped canvas, and the immediacy of the imagery unencumbered by glass and framing. I am buying a new 30×30 canvas today, intent on continuing this series until I have gleaned all I can from it and exhausted the internal supply of images, color palettes, and provocative titles that are floating around in my head.
As artists, we must develop the ability to deal with rejection without losing heart about our work, or worse, personalizing it. Rejection comes to us in many forms- your rejection may arrive in a self-addressed, stamped envelope, declining your entry in a juried show, or a gallery owner may tell you tactfully that your work is not a fit for them, or a random person may make unkind or even insulting remarks about your work within earshot of you at an opening. For some artists, close friends and family may not be supportive about your art making, or the direction you are taking with it. I have endured many of these unwelcome, soul-squashing experiences, and here is the factual and emotional enlightenment I have achieved through enduring and processing them, for what it is worth.
1. When you are rejected for a juried show, this decision is usually one person’s informed opinion. It is a truism that another juror, given the same entries, would have selected a different collection for the exhibition. Also at play may be a running tally that is playing out in the juror’s mind as he looks through the entries, “This landscape is really good, but the show seems heavy on that genre already.” “Oh, here’s another abstract that looks like a workshop piece from______. Can’t take another one.” Most jurors are conscientious about selecting the best possible show, as most are artists themselves, but as human beings they still bring with them their notions and preferences. I once actually heard a juror say that he was trying to pick a ‘southern-looking’ show because it was for the Tennessee Watercolor Society. How disappointing! I’ve never seen so many paintings of barns in one place in my whole life. These things are outside of an artist’s control. What we must do is to present the best, most recent work we can do and try not to take it too personally if we are declined.
2. When you are approaching potential galleries for selling your work, do your homework first. Look around for places where you could actually imagine your work displayed, and never approach a gallery owner to look at your work without making an appointment. You should be neither the cheapest nor the most expensive artist there. Your work should be different enough that you aren’t a repeat of other artists who are showing there, yet still consistent with the mission of the gallery. You should present a cohesive body of work that represents one style in which you are competent and engaged, but still have room to grow. If you are declined, feel free to ask respectfully for feedback, and really listen to any advice or criticism they may offer to help improve your chances in the future.
3. There have been times when I have heard a random viewer at a show or gallery making unkind or uninformed remarks about my work. I usually just let this slide, because everyone has a right to their own opinion. If they are especially persistent, loud or unkind, I may put on my most disarming smile and say something like “Pray tell me, how would you paint this differently?” or “I’m curious, are you basing your comments on a critical evaluation of the merits of this piece or is this your opinion?” Sometimes I offer to explain my philosophy of creativity or I give them a mini-artist statement, always couching my responses positively.
4. If your family and friends are not supportive, first try to understand the reasoning behind their reticence. Perhaps you have undertaken too many projects in the past without following through, and this new art thing seems like the treadmill in the basement that is currently being used as a clothes drying rack. Maybe they feel threatened by changes in your behavior as you begin to read and talk about unfamiliar ideas. Maybe the monetary investment necessary to fund classes, equipment ands supplies, etc. is troubling to them. Maybe they resent the time you are spending in your pursuit that takes away some of their access to you. Whatever the reason, your listening to and crediting their objections will help you converse with them without hostility about your need to do this. If you ask for their help and support in setting up a home studio area or blocking out time to work or budgeting for expenditures, you are more likely to get it than if you resentfully soldier forward alone. In the end, you may have to be your own best friend and supporter for a time until everyone understands that you are needful of a creative outlet and that this will help you become a more complete and joyful person.
5. Finally, if you are an artist, you can no more separate yourself from creative expression than you can from food, water, rest, and shelter. It is a necessity for your wholeness and well-being. It will help you be a better, more perceptive and generous person. Through art, you will explore and give voice to thoughts and passions that go beyond the expressive capacity of words. So what if you didn’t get into a certain show or gallery? Keep making art! So what if your piece didn’t sell this time? Keep making art! So what if your homies don’t get it? Keep making art! Keep making art and it will become a force for good in your life.
Call it a weekend party and sleepover for women baby boomer artists. Call it a gathering of art professionals who enjoy each other’s companionship and critique. Call it an exchange of new ideas, new materials and new ways of thinking about art-making. All of these things and more were enjoyed recently by the Paper Dolls at a weekend retreat at Pam’s Red Nest Studio near Cookeville, TN. “Paper Dolls” is an apt name for the group because, as artists and signature members of the Tennessee Watercolor Society, one of our primary materials is paper. Paper has many diverse manifestations in terms of weight, texture, color, surface finish, and fiber content, and its artistic uses are just as varied. It can be painted, punched, stenciled, stamped, drawn on, torn or cut, layered, glued, sanded, folded, creased and crumpled, sized with medium or gesso, and attached to other surfaces. At Red Nest, we experimented with two new types of paper for many of us: lineco- a thin bookbinder’s tissue that is used between pages of text, and a roll of blank deli paper typically used as sandwich wrap at Subway. Using whatever paints and texturing techniques pleased us, we each came away with several beginnings that can later be completed and attached to canvas or board, or presented under glass in the traditional manner for water media. We also came away creatively refreshed and stimulated. I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with, based on our beginnings!
Validation for an artist may take many forms-getting a gallery show, winning an award, selling work and cultivating collectors, and just being able to complete the work that comes across the studio table. For a teacher of artists, validation comes as testimony from your students that they are integrating what you have taught them to develop their own style for their own purposes. And hopefully, they also learn to treat themselves with the kindness and patience that a friend would show and give themselves permission to “mess up”. I recently received an e-mail from Cielo Sand, a skilled photographer who attended several six-week sessions of my Experimental Acrylic classes to develop painting skills for enhancing her digital designs.
In part, Cielo writes, ” I think of you often and visit your website frequently. Studying your paintings, so well presented on your site, is a teaching tool. I am painting nearly every day. Yes, it has gotten under my skin…Painting keeps my spirit high and brings great joy to my life now. I am consumed with delightful mental strategizing about where to go next with a painting. Finally I am no longer afraid. You must know this is big. I finally feel free to experiment and to play, and am learning patience and forgiveness when the next step is not what I was hoping for. I am beginning to trust that in joining with the painting and listening to where it wants to go, that eventually the puzzle will fall into place (no rush). You, my friend, have been and will continue to be a faithful, gifted guide…I’ll be back for another class someday soon. I’m grateful for your inspiring and generous spirit, Sandy.”
When I read her words, I was filled with joy and exhilaration at Cielo’s persistence and her breakthroughs, so well expressed in her writing. And as a teacher, I felt validated!