By Lisa Griffen
For several of the artists in the Portland Open Studios Tour, art came as a later career. Some had early artistic ambitions but postponed pursuing them. Others only discovered their need for creative expression after doing other kinds of work. Regardless of their age at starting, art became central to their lives.
Below: Kelly Williams working in her studio
Kelly Williams began painting with watercolors as a way to relieve the stress of her work with troubled children. With her background in psychology, she quickly realized that art could give children a way to express their feelings about traumatic experiences. It ended up serving the same purpose for her, becoming an important outlet.
Kelly found that art allowed her to communicate about issues emotionally rather than intellectually. Painting became a bigger and bigger part of her life. She eventually became dissatisfied with watercolors and found that encaustic painting felt like a more dynamic medium. People responded. They asked for her paintings and encouraged her to share her work.
The most important aspect of Kelly’s work is truthtelling. She says, “To live like I want to live, I have to paint like I want to paint.” She strives for emotional honesty in her art. She is currently combining her former work and her art career into a project that she hopes will help people deal with the pain of addiction and recovery.
Above: George Perrou
George Perrou had no background in art. He was in his early thirties and working as a waiter when he started feeling a need for a creative outlet. He made collages from magazines, then got interested in photography. His black and white images quickly found an audience. Within a year of buying his camera and learning to print photos, he was selling prints. This early response encouraged him to try painting.
George painted a few paintings freehand but was dissatisfied with the results. Preferring clean edges, he developed his own technique of using masking tape templates. Despite a positive reaction to his art, George was reluctant to give up the security of his restaurant job. He continued to do both for several years, even after sales of his art matched his earnings as a waiter. In the end, the restaurant closed suddenly and he began painting full time.
George thinks his lack of training let him develop his own unique painting style. In fact, George’s art education has occurred backward: he learns about past artists when people relate his work to theirs. He believes that every person has the seed of an artist inside, but the hustle and obligations of our daily lives can mask that creativity. He seems awed that art has become his career and the center of his world.
Above: Carole Zoom working on a woodcut
Carole Zoom had always taken photographs as a hobby but when her life changed dramatically, art became a new calling. In her mid-thirties, Carole was hospitalized for months and had to accept that she would physically dependent on others from that point forward. She says, “I drove myself to the hospital but when I got out I couldn’t even lift a cup of tea.”
During her recovery, Carole started painting with watercolors. Then her mother asked Carole to reprint the woodblocks Carole had done as a middle school student. Printing was something Carole could do on her own. She had some extra ink so she bought linoleum and began carving blocks.
A five-day class with a master printer from Japan helped show Carole the potential for a career in printmaking. She also realized that art could help inform people about issues affecting people with disabilities. She says she is trying to communicate “a fairly raw message” about losing independence. Since 2006, Carole has combined working as an artist with being an activist for social justice.
Below: William Park
William Park always thought he would be an artist but had not gotten around to it. At forty-one years old, he was working as a sign painter. One day he pictured his life at age seventy and imagined the regret he would feel over not pursuing art. He began painting that day. He did not think of art as a career but simply something he needed to do.
He kept working full time and spent four or five hours each day painting. Gradually, the time he spent on his own work increased. He considered going to art school but felt that he had already lost too much time and could learn faster by painting as much as possible. He did take several classes over the years and says they helped teach him what it means to be an artist. Technique, he believes, is something that is mainly gained through practice.
Below: Nicky Falkenhayn welding
Nicky Falkenhayn also had an early interest in art but decided to coach and teach Physical Education because she thought there would be time to be an artist later. When she moved from Switzerland to the United States she decided it was time to focus on art rather than getting certified to teach.
Nicky took classes at Oregon College of Art and Craft. She chose fiber arts as her field because she had sewed her own clothes as a teen and felt comfortable working with cloth. When a close friend had breast cancer, Nicky wanted to figure out a way to make her a metal bra. She had no experience working with metal so she crocheted the piece out of wire. This led to a new interest in sculpture and jewelry making.
Nicky got involved in welding because she wanted to make more interesting supports for her crocheted wire sculptures. Once she started welding, she was hooked. She appreciates the immediacy of the results. It is an art form that is well suited to public pieces, a challenge that Nicky especially enjoys. Nicky believes she benefitted by starting her art career later in her life because she has more confidence and more life wisdom to put into her art.
As Nicky and these other 4 artists illustrate, art and creativity can become a central part of life, no matter your age.
You can visit the studios of Nicky Falkenhayn, William Park, Carole Zoom, George Perrou and Kelly Williams during the Portland Open Studio Tour, October 10, 11 and 17 ,18 from 10 am to 5 pm. Pick up your Tour Guide at New Seasons, Art Media, Powell’s or on our website at www.portlandopenstudios.com