Portlanders are known for out-of-the box thinking, maverick action and putting crazy ideas into motion – in general, keeping it weird. Portland Open Studio artists are no exception to the rule – you will no doubt be amazed by the 99 artists who will show you their processes over the second and third weekends of October (Oct. 13-14 and 20-21). But even amongst this powerhouse creative group, some have risen above and beyond to create innovative, interesting, and – dare we say it – weird ways of making art.
So where can you find the top most unusual artistic processes during open studios?
Angela White-Wenger (Studio 74, North Portland Community 5), harvests orb weaver spider webs on porcelain forms in her backyard, and fires the designs into the final product. “I imagine them lasting for billions of years,” she says. “The webs are records of many things. In their design, scale, shape, captured contents (bugs, seeds, leaves, dust and debris), in their broken and repaired areas – they reflect and record the bodies, locations, surrounding conditions and daily activities of their creators.” Linda Ethier (Studio 30, Southeast, Community 3), creates delicate, intricately constructed glass sculptures with an ancient glass technique known as pate de verre, a process using finely ground particles of glass packed into molds and fired until they melt into forms. She then piles these delicate glass objects layer upon layer, firing each layer, and using molds to maintain the shape of each individual piece. “I use images of the natural world of things gathered and cherished since childhood: feathers, leaves, bones, egg shells, twigs and the odd mysterious trinket, saved as treasures to be revisited, to be seen and pondered during quiet moments.”
David Friedman (Studio 53, Northeast, Community 4), is a paper cutter who uses color optics to add depth and texture to his work. That involves cutting more than one layer, and putting colored pastel papers behind black pastel paper, creating a duplex paper to cut from, then mounting it up so its colorful shadows reflect on a white matteboard to which it is attached. “That makes color an integral part of each piece,” says Friedman, who developed the technique on his own. How unusual is it? In July, he did a demo for the Guild of American Paper Cutters, which met in Portland. “None of them had seen anything like it,” he said.
When we tried to hand sculptor/welders Rio Butler (Studio #92, Southwest Portland, Community 8) and Robert Travis Pond (Studio #3, Oregon City/West Linn, Community 1) an art store coupon, both turned it down. “I never use art supplies,” says Pond, shrugging. His beautifully gestural, crafted sculptures of animals and other objects are based on materials he pulls from scrap heaps. “I look for objects with significance and meaning,” he says. Butler, whose whimsical structures create an entirely new, mechanical world, agrees. “I scavenge things from every job I’ve ever done,” he says, “and then I let the pieces talk to me to tell me what to make.”
Photographer Jon Gottshall (Studio #69, North Portland, Community 5) and multimedia artist Kit Carlton (Studio #93, SW Portland, Community 8), both fuse old-school and new school artistic processes. Gottshall starts by printing a photograph onto clear, non-absorbent acetate, which allows the ink to remain fluid as it prints – and the longer he waits, the more it changes. He scans several changes, then overlays the scans into the original photograph, before printing a final copy. The result? Photographs that look like paintings. Carlton creates marks using pen, paint, and other art supplies on various surfaces, then photographs and layers those images using a computer – a process she terms “digilog – a combo of analog and digital art.”
And finally, Elise Wagner (Studio #73, North Portland, Community 5), combines encaustic painting (mixing wax with paint) with collograph printmaking. She now teaches this process nationally.
A bit of background for the un-initiated: in an international, juried show like AWS, one sends a digital image, plus an entry fee, and a panel of 5 judges review thousands of entries to select a show of between 100-150 paintings from all over the world. Once the show has been through preliminary selections, the original works are shipped to the venue, and awards are selected, in this case by a different panel of judges.
GIANT DISCLAIMER: My hunch is that my friend asked me to write this post so she could glean my ‘secret’ to success. The secret is: there is no secret. The only way to success is through repeated ‘failures’ or rejections. I’m currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear So far, my favorite Chapter is titled “Persistence.” If there is one key to succeeding here, that would be it!
Gilbert writes about “The patron goddess of creativity” and how she “can make really weird decisions about who gets her money.” “In short, she may show up for you, or she may not. Probably best, then, if you don’t count on her, or attach your definition of personal happiness to her whims.” This is how I look at it, and how I was able to write “Rejected Again, Hooray.”
I’ve been working to gain entry to this show for about 15 years. It is a tough nut to crack, and I’m not sure I have a lot of light to shed on how to do it. I think a lot of it is luck… Of course luck often finds me hard at work! But for what it is worth, here are my observations.
Believe in your work – this particular painting was rejected from the AWS show last year… I still thought it was among my best work and decided to submit it again… This time it was accepted!
Gain exposure by entering other high visibility shows – if the panel of judges have seen your work before and been suitably impressed, they are more likely to recognize your piece. This piece had been in a national show and won an award.
Save your best work for the most competitive venues.
Strong contrasts and Unity are big selling points – This painting has both.
Thoughtful design choices – this painting utilizes a z shaped design, and shape repetition.
Look for areas of complexity and areas of simplicity – this painting has both.
Listen to what peers say when they view your work. In this case, a respected friend said she couldn’t stop thinking about the painting, couldn’t get it out of her head. Another friend identified it as a quantum leap in my work.
I think there is something to be said for letting the ‘Hand of the Artist’ show… The gestural line work in this piece definitely qualifies, and contrasts with the more regular, geometric patterns.
I can’t stress enough that belief in oneself is the key- even when this piece was “Rejected Again” I still liked it and believed in it. Be persistent.
Go with your gut!
Another reason to believe in your work is that the perfect buyer for a painting might not surface immediately. Often it takes years for an artwork to find its forever home. In the meantime, it is easy for us as creators to feel doubt and insecurity creep in, regardless of the quality of the work, or how we viewed it when we first completed it.
This can be one of the most difficult parts of being an artist: being an objective viewer of one’s own work. Where does it fit within the body of work? Which opinions or critiques does one listen to? Ultimately, the artist must listen to their own instincts most strongly.
I’ll leave you with the words of Honore’ de Balzac:
“All happiness depends on courage and work.”
Karen Lewis had the pleasure recently of visiting Beth Yazhari in her studio. Here is an idea of what you could experience in a little over a month when Portland Open Studios opens.
When you enter Beth Yazhari’s studio, you first notice a rich collection of textures and patterns. She delights you with colorful designs, many reminiscent of Persian carpets or Amish quilts. Then you are drawn in to discover the layers and layers of textures that make up her beaded textile collage paintings.
Beth begins her work on canvas, using acrylic paint in washes textured with cling wrap. This gives the piece a rich, luminous color field, much of which will be covered in subsequent layers. Vintage textiles inspire the design, defining the initial pattern of the piece. She will play with a bit of fabric or lace as if it’s a puzzle, cutting out pieces and laying them out in symmetry– hence the carpet-like designs of the paintings. Once the starting piece is in place, Beth layers her painting with gold paint, more textiles, stenciling through laces, and thin layers of acrylic paint. She creates transfers from her own photographs, adding those and painting over them for permanence and color harmony. And she sews beads on to the canvas, making everything secure so that the painting will stand the test of time, as the pieces of lace and vintage beads and buttons have done.
Beth delights in searching for interesting pieces of vintage textiles. Her collection of materials is global, embracing Victorian era lace, Indian sari fabrics, embroidery from Pakistan, beads from Africa, buttons from Germany. Items with character and handwork catch her eye. Beth’s collections fill a whole closet in her studio, and just browsing through the materials can be a treat.
In creating out of recycled and found handicrafts, Beth is “giving new life to the hand work of women” through the ages, honoring their creativity and giving it a place in our modern life. Take a trip through time and space and visit Beth Yazhari’s studio!
Chantel Green (PDXOS Artist #34) is both a scientist and an artist. “I use art to investigate and dissect the world around me. Art allows me to understand and connect with things by exploring the associations between ideas and images. My work is heavily influenced by my formative teenage years spent in an alternative science centered high school, where my art was limited to dissection drawings and microscope illustrations. My understanding of how things worked was not complete until I drew it in some way. When I started making art as an adult I always came back to these technical and biological themes and I enjoy using these images in a creative way, merging art and academics.” Chantel is an encaustic artist. Here she shares a recent blog in which she explains the process of creating encaustic art.
An Explanation of Encaustic
I create my artwork with encaustic paint which is bees wax, damar resin, and powdered pigment for color. Beeswax is relatively durable, flexible, and has a high melting temperature so it won’t melt under normal indoor temperatures. The resin raises the melting temperature and adds hardness and shine. The wax is kept liquid while painting by keeping your paint in metal tins on a heated surface that will reach 220 degrees, like a pancake griddle.
The word encaustic means “to burn in” and is an ancient medium that Greek artists used back as long ago as the 5th century BC for portraits and panels. The earliest surviving encaustics are the Fayum funeral portraits found on mummies that were created by Greek artists in Egypt between the 1st and 3rd centuries A.D. Encaustic paint was also used by contemporary artists like Rembrandt, Diego Rivera, and Jasper Johns.
There are a few simple rules for dealing with encaustic paint. Number one is that you must have a sturdy substrate so that the wax won’t bend and crack. Number two is that you can’t mix acrylic paint with encaustic because the wax won’t adhere to the paint. Finally, number three is that you have to fuse your painting after every layer with a heat source like a heat gun or torch.
What I really enjoy about encaustics is how it is both flexible and unpredictable, which leads to a lot of experimentation. The process of painting with encaustics is technical and creative which allows me to walk the line of scientist and artist. You can scratch lines in it, build it up, scrape it back, add texture, collage materials, and even do image transfers. It’s versatile, flexible, fast, and just plain beautiful.
Blessed with great hearing and strong night vision, Army draftee Lance Grebner was often assigned duty on night watch for his company in the Vietnamese central highlands during his tour in 1968-69. His story about how he became a go-to guy on the starlight scope brought up some Naval and academic memories for me before it took a turn way beyond my field of vision—down a path not fit for sensitive readers.
We talk about everything from cooking excellent tamales to predictions on when the first people will land on Mars during our biweekly meetings to work on Lance’s portrait. (My partner in portraiture, Christopher Wagner, mentions some of the topics here: http://paulrutz.com/from-chris-wagner-conversation-as-shortcut-to-art-based-resonation/.) We also chat through a free-association mix of politics, Oregon outdoor adventures, and details about our early adulthood, which for Chris are colored by his early plans to be a preacher. For Lance and me, those stories often have a military hue—mine the color of an aircraft carrier at sea, and his the color of long mountain marches.
Lance’s company spent much of the daylight combing the craggy mountains for signs of a massive tunnel system rumored to house an underground combat hospital for the North Vietnamese Army. At night the NVA and Viet Cong came out of the tunnels, which brought about a stealthy cat-and-mouse game of ambushes and counter-attacks. Much of the American company would spend the night roving around setting up ambushes in the brush. But with his good nighttime reputation, Lance didn’t have to do a lot of that. Instead he was able to enjoy setting aside his bulky M-60 machine gun to take his turn with a smaller rifle and a startlight scope, looking at the rustling nighttime through it: two hours on, two off, until dawn.
I’ve never seen the shadowy world through a 1960s-era startlight scope, but in my Naval aviation role a decade ago I saw through similar military equipment. As Lance spoke about lying in wait on a hill, panning back and forth while looking through that round scope, I remembered Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Starlight Scope Myopia.”
A well regarded poet of the Civil Rights era, Komunyakaa received a Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam the same year (1969) that Lance earned his. It took Komunyakaa fourteen years to write about the war, finally publishing a book on it in the 1980s called Dien Cai Dau, which is Vietnamese for “crazy.” I know this thanks to background research related to my dissertation on combat art in Iraq. (Brian Turner, a rare breed who did a Master of Fine Arts in poetry before enlisting in the Army and serving in Iraq, has published some poems that make some Komunyak-esque moves.)
I told Lance about the poem with some enthusiasm, extolling what I take to be its effective meditation on the scope’s tendency to pull the shooter-viewer into this round, monochromatic world—a unique kind of near-sightedness. Komunyakaa closes “Starlight Scope Myopia” this way, refining—I said with scholarly authority—the distance between shooter and target:
One of them is laughing.
You want to place a finger
to his lips & say “shhhh.”
You try reading ghost-talk
on their lips. They say
“up-up we go,” lifting as one.
This one, old, bowlegged,
you feel you could reach out
& take him into your arms. You
peer down the sights of your M-16
seeing the full moon
loaded on an oxcart.
The poem ends like that, with this strangely beautiful image of the moon on an ox cart. We pause on the shadowy, quiet, mystical scene available through spotting scopes and explore how the sight of moving mouths can mingle with a viewer’s imagination and other night sounds into the illusion that we can hear the far-off people speaking. And Komunyakaa’s “you” adds an important, menacing layer. With “you,” he leads readers to imagine ourselves in the role of shooter instead of him. The power inherent in a rifle with night scope becomes yours. You think you know the men represented in this monochrome, shadowy text. You feel you can embrace them, and you can kill them.
I made sure to give Lance a copy of the poem in an anthology, hoping for more opportunities to talk about the optical strangeness in those situations. I’m a painter. I think about these things all the time. What I don’t think about much—and here’s an example of my own myopic view of combat scopes and luminance—is the memories someone like Lance must have entwined with those of the full moon apparently loaded onto an oxcart. They aren’t pleasant memories.
Lance earned his reputation for good starlight scoping this way: One night, on watch with his platoon sergeant, Lance whispered that he saw a figure appear in the scope, and then he started counting… 2, 3, 4, 5. “When I got to 8,” he told me, “I said, holy sh** there’s a company of NVA down there. I saw a mortar tube. It was very scary.” He said it turned out there were 200 troops on their way to take out another American company that the North Vietnamese had located earlier.
So Lance and his sergeant immediately sent word to their company to wake everyone up. He said, within a minute they lit up those ghostly shapes with everything they had. Lance set aside the M-16 with the starlight scope and picked up his usual M-60 machine gun. The barrel got so hot he worried it might melt.
In the morning they found no bodies and no weapons among the helmets and other equipment left behind. The North Vietnamese rarely left any men or weapons behind. “And there were a lot of blood trails,” he said. But later, following those blood trails, the company found several shallow graves. The NVA often would put maps or other sensitive intelligence material under a rotting body to keep anyone from discovering it, guessing that pure revulsion would keep people away from valuable intel. “But we had orders,” Lance said. They turned over those bodies—careful to avoid any booby traps—and searched the whole scene thoroughly.
One grave appeared unusual. The man’s body was buried with some formality, in a wooden box instead of a simple hole in the ground. The Americans suspected the man must have been some kind of high ranking official. Opening the box revealed something big, yet not quite what they expected. It was obvious the man had still been alive when he was buried, Lance said. The tips of the fingers had rubbed away from scratching at the coffin’s insides, and the man’s face was still twisted in what looked like a ghastly scream.
Conversations like this one give me some glimpse at the narrow scope I’m looking through almost all the time. I hope talking about it 45 years later helps Mr. Grebner, too.
“Between Here and There” is a two-media portrait project that I and Christopher Wagner will be brushing and carving into until we show the series in November at Good Gallery in Portland, Oregon. The series is funded through a generous grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council.
By Rebecca Conant
I recreate in my weaving my experience of the natural world, incorporating randomness, asymmetry and balance in designs that express memories of my personal geography. –Sylvia Emard
The one line that defines a brand may sum up an artist on a jury application, but it does not begin to define the richness that Sylvia Emard brings to her work. From dye pot to loom, Sylvia plays with color like a painter painting a landscape. Indeed, landscape has been her source of inspiration in playing with color as living or traveling at one time or another in most of the Western states, Sylvia has taken in the wondrous variety and combinations of color that exist in nature.
Many of us first love the colors that look good on us and make us happy. Were she to work only in those colors, Sylvia exclaims she would make everything blue—perhaps allowing the occasional purple with accents of copper. So, preparing to weave a project her process is very organic. Sylvia will stand before her cones of yarn like a patient project leader, waiting to see what colors come forward and volunteer for a project. It may not be until the weaving is completed, and she sees how the colors play out that she realizes, “Oh, these are the colors of the bottom of that lake.
Or, when weaving a commission for a person who doesn’t wear vivid colors, all the neutrals stepped forward resulting in a scarf with every color of mushrooms—and which the client wears when mushroom picking.
Occasionally inspiration comes in more mundane settings, such as the view outside her office window of autumn maple leaves of the trees surrounding a parking lot.
When you visit Sylvia’s basement studio you will marvel at how she is able to bring her personal geography to life in the colors of her textiles. In addition to weaving, she also dyes fabrics using a variety of techniques, including shibori, creating veritable works of wearable art as the scarf shown in this photo suggests a gentle interplay of Earth, Wind, and Fire.
Sylvia Emard is perhaps most in her element when summer comes; and she can spread her garden fairy wings and paint the colors of nature into the warp threads of her loom.
To see what is on her loom and learn more about her process, visit Sylvia Emard’s studio during Portland Open Studios October 8-9 and 15-16. She is artist #23 on the map.
by Careen Stoll (as printed in the Hollywood Star)
One of the intriguing aspects of the annual Portland Open Studios Tour is being able to catch a behind-the-scenes look at the everyday lives of the participating artists. Two artists in NE are dedicated creative mothers with a full family and social life who still manage to devote time to their artistic work. Dafna Margalit and Rebecca Conant are both participants on the Tour this year. Margalit is deeply devoted to her family and its extension, the human family of patients who she nurses at the cardiac ward of OHSU. Conant has enjoyed a lifetime of explorations in the folkloric dances of the Middle East, which have inspired her creative output of accessories for the expressive costumes of belly dancers.
The strongest theme running through the sculptural work of Dafna Margalit is that of family health. In one piece, as many as 20 small sewn stuffed felt “manbirds” are hanging from the ribs of a birdcage, mouths open in animated conversation, with one fallen to the floor of the cage. This is a family, perhaps her large and loving extended family, all chatting away at a gathering, and the one on the floor is the one remembered but lost to the passage of time. Margalit herself is of Middle Eastern background, and her partner is from the Philippines. Though she felt a very strong connection to her extended family in Israel during her younger years living in Eugene, the past few have been full of distraction. She is anticipating an upcoming reunion with great excitement, and it seems evident in her process.
Her parents were both artists and worked in the fields of architecture and engineering: Margalit was exposed to the arts constantly as a girl. She says that she tends to absorb the details of a whole room. Her work is similarly of multiple dimensions: the tactile but also the auditory. She might incorporate the sound of a heartbeat into a piece. As a mother, she spends a lot of time sitting with her children, so she finds a way to carefully stitch scores of die-cut felt hearts.
When you visit Margalit’s studio during the Portland Open Studios Tour, you will also see one part of her extended project to create a cross-cultural understanding of women’s experience of childbirth. Wedges of a wooden octagon are the foundation for a grid texture of the bulb syringes, which are given to every new mother at the hospital. One space is a window peep through which you can see the transcript of a new mother’s recounting of her experience. Each wedge of the octagon is devoted to a different culture.
Rebecca Conant’s attention to detail is focused on character expression in the folkloric dances of the Mediterranean Rim. A performer who is often complimented on her authentic portrayals, she captures the essence of the dance in both the soul of the movement, the costuming, and the accessories that compliment the costume. These accessories she makes for herself and for others. Bias-cut silk ribbon is folded and sewn in such a way that it captures the essence of light and movement in a flower. She delights in creating hairpieces, corsages, and fascinators that move with the person wearing them, that move as if integrated with the character and costume, not distracting from the real star of the show, which is the person.
Describing her flowers as “impressionistic”, she is most pleased when they show “aire”, translated as breath or spirit. Using terms like ‘aerodynamic’ and ‘roll’, she describes the qualities of bias-cut silk as particularly suited to the purpose, since the fabric is luminous and lightweight. That it is cut on a bias (45 degrees from the directions in which it is woven) lends it a slinky open quality. She says, “think of Jean Harlow in the 1930’s- that flow…” Her historical research into regionally accurate costuming pushes her into combining colors that she might otherwise not dare do. Now she adds details to more complicated compositions, such as beaded leaves, feathers, or a berry that only the wearer might see.
You can see Rebecca Conant, stage name Far’ha, perform at the Blue Monk once a month with the band Arabesque. You can see these two artists’ studios on the tour this weekend. Rebecca is number 60 and Dafna is 48.
What really knocks me out about Angelita Surmon’s work is her uncanny ability to go directly into the chaos of lines and layers of tangled branch and twig; into the complexity of shadow and reflection; and to arrive at peace and quiet. Her current paintings on canvas and fused glass are derived from her frequent walks through the local and regional forests and wetlands close to home. Movement in branches, the play of light, and the contrast of textures are what most capture her attention as she revisits each place over the change of seasons. She takes refuge in these frequent meditations on foot, which provide respite from the stresses of daily life in the city; and she invites us to share the peace.
Her work reflects a willingness to investigate her surroundings, and communicates this experience of deep seeing. Her use of color is both rich and subtle, by turns… undemanding. Viewed at close range, the images are abstract and impressionistic. Step back and the images are ordered and classically representational. She paints in a manner that is both fluid and meticulous. The work is careful, but not cerebral.
Surmon’s new work in fused glass is reminiscent of her earlier lithographs. It retains the delicacy and fluidity of her sketches, but now it is infused with light. In fact, she refers to the technique as “painting with light”. The work has this light, intuitive feel to it…just enough information to create the illusion of depth.
Angelita is intrepid in her willingness to re-invent herself artistically, over time. I’ve watched her work evolve over the past 25 years, as it has passed from watercolor landscapes; to pattern and decoration on her own handmade paper, influenced by the a kimonos she saw in Japan; then a preoccupation with antiquities in the form of fabric scraps and mummy wraps, and the way things look after aging. Her work then turned toward illusive space, and became looser and more influenced by Abstract Expressionism. When the work became too predictable she shifted again, this time to the innocence of children’s drawings, and the shadow puppets she found while traveling in Bali. Later, a shift toward more classical representations of the human figure, and the classical roles that having a child presents. This work evolved into a more psychological study of figure in landscape. And now the work has come full circle, with a return to landscape.
Most of our everyday interactions with textiles are utilitarian and the processes behind clothing, quilts, and rugs seem governed by traditions and rules, the idea that there is a right way to do something, that if instructions are executed properly the desired product will be achieved. In contrast, Kim Lakin’s fiber work is surprisingly improvisational, the initial design so loosely imagined that she has no idea what the final size of the piece may be. She focuses on shape, pattern, proportion, constantly evaluates and makes changes, and always “remains open to ideas”. It’s a sort of game, one with no clear end, and with a lot of problem solving throughout: how to make the root impulse succeed, how to reform the current state of the piece into one that is both instantly appealing, but also complex enough to warrant multiple viewings.
In ‘Meanderings’ shapes similar to crooked piano key teeth in an open mouth of green and red streak across the piece, interrupted by grays against a background of white further marked with wandering stitchlines. The piece has a hectic energy, though further study reveals that the repeated motifs are actually rife with subtle variations. The piece is both playful and studied, a result born of experimentation: exactly how far apart do the elements need to be to balance each other, how can the right amount of movement be achieved. It is impossible to tell what element started the piece or how much else once resided on the piece that has been stripped away, but what remains bears the mark of solutions found, of a victory.
Lakin’s textiles could be called painterly, and it begs the question: Why fabric? Lakin admits, “I ask myself that all the time. Could this be done better in another medium?” It seems illogical to pair Lakin’s intuitive process with the rule-based and precision loving media of sewing, but that challenge is part of what makes the results refreshing. Further proof that this should by all rights be the wrong media for Lakin comes when she pronounces, “I don’t like to use straight lines.” This disposition made her “a lousy seamstress” in making clothes the way her mother instructed her in her youth, but now she has made it a touchstone of her artistic style. In every piece her lines wobble, rove, and shift in a cubist manner; she has bent the media to her will, made a tame horse wild. It comes down to this: she says, “I like the feel of the materials,” and that the finished work “has a subtle dimension, [occupies] a middle ground between 2-d and 3-d.” The fabric simply has qualities one can not achieve in paint, her work literally and figuratively has more depth because of the medium she has chosen.
Lakin started as a painter and had only a brief foray into fabric art, before she set both aside to pursue architecture, specifically historical preservation. Her years in this field led to a heightened awareness of and concern for harmony, organization, and division of space. Her spatial harmony is rarely achieved by a obvious method, as with Room with a View, where a snaking line of intense red dots severs a tan frame, the right half of the rectangle sliding away. At first it seems broken, but all the lines that no longer match are more dynamic for having been split, they justify their current positions. Over and over in her work Lakin demands you accept that certain dissonance is not only intentional, but correct. Parallel and straight lines are not always best, the disjointed shape that is not a rectangle should not be one, they are part of a new language of geometry.
Kim Lakin is artist #92 in the 2011 Portland Open Studios tour. For more information about Portland Open Studios, please see our website at: https://www.portlandopenstudios.com.
What do Kamala Dolphin Kingsley and Andrea McFarland have in common? As artists, their subject matter, style and use of medium are quite different. In age they are a generation apart. Yet they both share a love of nature, gardening, and the mysterious, darker side of things. They are also both artists who spent their formative years as back-to-the-landers in the same tiny coastal town before coming to live and work in Portland. As friends and as participants in Portland Open Studios this year, they decided to interview each other.
Andrea interviews Kamala:
A: Your work is highly detailed and layered. Can you talk about your media and what techniques you use to achieve this unique style?
K: I use watercolor, acrylic, glitter, sequins, rhinestones, and gold leaf, layered over one another in many passes to get at the look I’m after. I do a lot of dropping water and salt and alcohol onto the wet paint as well, to get the bleeding and crystallized crunchy aged effects.
A: You often include seemingly unrelated or incongruous things in your pieces, such as flamingos and artichokes or a glamorous woman and a toad. What is it that determines your choice of objects in your pieces? Are you driven more by the symbolic, the emotional, the sense of shape and texture, or…?
Flamingo Dinosaur Toad by Dolphin-Kingsley
Watercolor, Acrylic, Sequins, Gold Leaf 20 X 24
K: As a kid I obsessively made collages and I think this led to what I make now – a sometimes random mishmash of things, that end up working out together through much finessing. Sometimes it’s planned out in my mind beforehand; sometimes it’s not at all and I just toss things in there like some made up salad, curious to see the result. I’m also sometimes inspired by outsider, ‘uneducated’, psychedelic, or children’s art. I find allowing the painting to reveal its meaning after creation to be more interesting than having it all figured out beforehand.
A: You use a lot of shading, sepia tones and black silhouettes. Is this a visual or mood preference?
moody texture in Kamala’s garden
K: Since I was a small child, I’ve always been drawn to the more moody, darker, what some would call ‘creepy’ things. Bright happy and ‘normal’ always bored me. I’m usually aiming for a moody, mysterious, dense yet quiet vibe. I try to create a sepia look to make the paintings appear older, like they could be from 100 years ago. Ancient looking things feel soothing to me. My tendency to outline things in black might have come from watching my mom lead her detailed stained glass windows when I was young.
A: You are an avid gardener, and your garden includes many interesting arrangements of found objects. How does this relate to your artistic life?
Kamala’s garden wonderland
K: Same thing with the collage-y mishmash of my art… I love to arrange my thrift store knick knacks into setups that work in certain areas of the garden. I think this might come partially from my childhood interest in miniature dioramas and Natural History Museum-type tableaux. I like scenes that look kind of real, kind of fake and I love seeing what happens when you put different plants next to one another.
texture juxtaposition in Kamala’s garden
A: You started creating art at a young age. When did you first know that you were going to be an artist?
K: I always drew: I was the kid in school doodling in the back of class. But I finally knew that I really wanted to pursue art “for real” when I failed the math part of my Marine Biology courses in college. I realized that I couldn’t hack that part of it, and I remember thinking “OK, I guess I need to switch to art.”
A: What is the biggest challenge for you as an artist?
K: Making art. Hah! I’m a horrible procrastinator and getting worse. Once I get started it’s good, but getting started on a painting is usually really hard for me. I have a tendency to work in the garden rather than on my art.
Kamala’s studio ahead, with her dog reminding her to get back to work
A: What part of the artistic process do you enjoy the most?
K: Selling art to a happy home is pretty good. When I make a painting for someone and they love it and put it on their wall to look at forever, that’s a good feeling.
Kamala interviews Andrea:
K: What is your medium?
A: I work in dry pastel on sandpaper. People think of pastels as a sort of oily crayon, but dry pastels are more like chalk only with very strong pigmentation. What I love about this medium is that you can get a very smooth texture with blended colors, or a rough textured look with no brush strokes. The almost pure pigments give it an intense, velvety color.
K: You started doing art full time when you were older than many artists are when they start. Do you think this has any effect on the work you do, and if so, what?
A: I did draw a lot as a child, and I took one college course in drawing. But at that age it was all about getting it done and seeing the result. I think I was more impatient then, and my preconceptions and opinions were stronger. As an older person, I think I am more relaxed, with a less intense need for control. Because I’m still new to the process, it holds a lot of excitement for me, but I can let the drawing take me where it wants to go instead of having to drive it consciously. Also, I think that having slightly blurry middle aged vision actually helps me to see color and composition without getting lost in fussy details.
K: You’ve been a musician for a long time. How does this interact with your visual art? Any overlap, a similar vibe you’re trying to convey or a particular story you’re trying to tell with each medium?
A: I play Irish music on the fiddle. I think the paradox that I try to grasp in both music and art is the coexistence of joy and sorrow, how they not only blend in our lives on a long term basis, but how we can be aware of them both in our hearts at precisely the same moment. There is a strange joy contained in our longing itself, an imagining of other worlds, perhaps, mingled with the aching sweetness of ephemeral life. The tunes I try to play are melodically like rippling water, skillful blends of light and darkness. I find it interesting that since I started to do visual arts, my ability to hear the music has improved.
K: You’re an avid gardener; does this love of plants and garden design influence your visual art and if so, how?
A: For many years I was a back to the land hippie, and had a huge garden where I spent most of my day growing food for the family and the local farmers market. I developed a sort of lust for unusual shapes, leaf colors and flowers, but I also think my experience with gardening taught me to be minutely aware of color and shape without thinking about it.
K: You do a lot of scenes of the Columbia Gorge – why?
A: Because it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world! People come from all over the planet to see it; I can’t believe there are Portlanders who never do. When I first moved from a rural environment to Portland, I was depressed until I discovered the gorge. It is my church and doctor combined. There are very few of my problems that a hike up to Angel’s Rest can’t fix. I want more people to be aware of the gorge and to inspire them to explore it, enjoy and protect it.
Andrea McFarland: Sauvie Island Hedgerows dry pastel; 18″ X 25″
K: In your art, I see a lot of use of water, and of drama, heavy skies, a portentious feeling – is this on purpose, or do you think you’re just naturally drawn to such things
A: Well, the easy answer is that there is no shortage of clouds here where we live. But this question makes me think of my childhood. My dad was an avid photographer, and taught me a bit about it. He had a special lens filter he had to make the clouds look more dramatic. I thought this was a thrilling, magical thing. I guess I do love the mystery contained in water and rainclouds. I think some people find the infinite hugeness and power of nature to be threatening, but I find it comforting. I’m glad to have my minuscule problems put in perspective, and to be reminded that I’m a very small part of something so astounding and incomprehensible.
Airy plants in Andrea’s gardenPlease be sure to visit the delights at the studios of each of these artists: Andrea is number 41 on the map, and Kamala is 47. For more images of Andrea’s work and a link to Kamala’s website, click on their names.