Friday, October 3, 2014

Meet the Artist: James Johnston

Interview with Painter, Printmaker, and Photographer James Johnston

Inspired Journeys is on view at the Prairie Art Alliance Gallery until Thursday October 9th. 

The Double Winged Bird
Your show includes three different mediums: printmaking, painting, and photography.  Do you have a favorite medium?
I’d like to say that my favorite medium is the one that I’m currently engaged with at the time. Of the three, probably photography is most dependent on the circumstances of where and when a good shot is available, so it is the most challenging of the three. Painting for me has always been rewarding but challenging at the same time. It is most likely that once a brush loaded with a pigment touches a canvas, it is extremely hard to alter it.  And that leaves printmaking, which I have to admit is my favorite medium, especially intaglio, acid etching needle drawn images on grounded zinc and copper plates. Although the process is extremely messy, for me it is very gratifying. The process allows pieces to be produced in multiples, or limited edition original series. However, each print from the same plate is different, as no two prints are wiped with ink and run through the press in the exact identical way.

Rays of Hope
Does the concept for the piece drive the medium or do you design the piece around the medium?
Generally speaking, I do design the piece to fit the medium, especially painting and print making. With photography it is different, as you capture the image before you, and although you can frame the image, and select its composition to a certain extent, you have only what you’re seeing in front of you to make the final piece.

Rankin Inuksuit
Light has a strong presence in your work, be it as rays of light or dramatic contrast in your photographs.  Why is this?
I’ve attempted to create contrast, which I think adds significantly to the dramatic effect of the image. The artistic word for it is “chiaroscuro,” which is the use of strong contrast between light and dark. The old masters, especially Rembrandt, were very adept at this technique. 

You have a series of pieces (The Oneness of Mankind, The Double Winged Bird, True and Radian Morn, and The Garden of Humanity) that share similar imagery. There are a series of human outlines often contained within another form.  What does this imagery represent?
True and Radiant Morn
I’m attempting to portray human forms in the various metaphorical contexts that are given in the Baháí writings. In the piece “True and Radiant Morn” for example, the inspiration comes from the words that describe the time that humanity was gathered beneath a sacred tree, on a true and radiant morn.   For “The Double Winged Bird,”  the figures of men on one wing and women on the other represent that, if both wings are not equally strong, the bird cannot fly, as this is an interpretation of the Baháí Principle of the equality of women and men. The Oneness of Mankind’s human form with many individual forms inside represents the interpretation of the quotation that is in part “Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust?”  from the Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith.

What is next for you as an artist?
I have several more works on canvas that I need to complete, plus additional intaglio pieces, and I really want to get into screen printing—learn the process and explore its potential. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Meet the Artist: Pam Allen

Interview with Jeweler Pam Allen

Inspired Journeys at the Prairie Art Alliance Gallery is on view until Thursday October 9th. 

Where did the name Park Avenue Designs come from?
We used to live on Park Avenue. The name was classy. We thought we would live there forever, and we did for about 6 years (we lived there for 23 years) after I started the business, then we moved and it was just too much trouble to change it—plus Wydown Avenue Designs doesn’t have much of a ring to it. LOL

Your pieces combine a variety of textures into a single piece.  Why are you drawn to texture?
Plain metal for the most part is boring!  Layering texture makes a piece more interesting, gives it depth, and defines it.

Design and overall shape seems to play a key role in your finished pieces.  What inspires the design; the process, the metal, the stone, or an image in your head?
It all depends. Anything may inspire the design: maybe I have a piece left over, or I have a piece that doesn’t sell, so I take it apart and call it a do over; maybe I see something in a magazine, or another artists work, that makes me what to take off on the design with something of my own.  Almost anything and everything can inspire me or give me an idea that I can turn into a piece of jewelry.  For example, the base circle on the featured Sterling Silver Charoite Necklace was part of another piece that I made early on. It didn’t sell, so I took it apart, started playing  with a more fluid design around that piece of Charoite, which I love, and voila. 
The process /design thingy, is really chicken and egg.  The design may be conducive to “cold connections” or may require soldering.  If I want to combine metals again that may determine the process.  Or I may decide that today I want to do some Broom Casting—then the process is going to determine the design. I have recently gotten into “Torch Enameling”, a technique that really requires cold connections post enameling.  I have always said I have artistic ADD. I jump from one thing to another, and it’s always my favorite when I’m doing it!

Your pieces seem to seamlessly incorporate stones.  Do you design around the stone or create the piece and choose the stone and placement as you work?
In the past I have added stones to designs. Lately I have been buying unique stones and designing around them.

Do you have a favorite stone?
I love Larimar, the clear blue stone, and Charoite, the marbled purple stone.  I am fond of many others and I am drawn to the unique, be it cut or color. There is an annual “rock” show at the fair grounds and one particular booth that I visit has stones that he personally collects and cuts; I’m like a kid in a candy store.

What is next for you as an artist?
I have no idea.  I am really happy with “what is.” At this stage, I really don’t think about what is next. Whatever strikes my fancy, or grabs my attention, that’s what’s next.  I just keep learning, having fun, and creating art that I can share.  As customer once said, “When I saw that piece it made my heart sing.

Follow our blog for interviews from the other artists featured in "Inspired Journeys" on display at the Prairie Art Alliance Gallery until October 9th.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Meet the Artist: E. Vern Taylor

Interview with Painter and Print maker E. Vern Taylor

Inspired Journeys at the Prairie Art Alliance Gallery is on view until Thursday October 9th. 

You have described the theme of your work in this show as “Beginnings”.  What does that mean to you?
Oh Joy...'One' Rite of Spring!
Beginnings in the next phase of my Life.  Beginnings in another way of producing a painting or work of art.  Beginnings in the senior years of my career as a fledgling artist.  Beginnings with a deeper, more meaningful means of expression - emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  I chose "Beginnings" for the title of this particular collection because of the unwanted, long hiatus I was away from my painting - the very thing I've come to focus on, more and more as I continue this march in my retired years.  It's one of the things that keeps me active and alert, as I'm finding out what the elemental and fundamental joys of painting really boil down to, in creating a piece of art "that I feel good about."

Each piece is paired with text you have written, many of which are lyrical poems.  What comes first, the writing or the artwork?
The artwork always comes first, then the—what I've always called, my "Lyrical Writings"—comes after, or during the making of the piece, sometimes when it's almost completed.  It is said that "a painting always speaks for itself," but, I guess, I try to add a story or a little more depth by doing my Lyrical Writings (which I learned to do in my college Art classes) and it just blossomed from there.  Writing is a favorite pastime of mine and has been for many, many years.

How do you feel the text is connected to the piece? 
If it's a "Lyrical Writing," it has everything to do with the poetry of the painting, or the story behind the piece, or of the image.  Expounding on or explaining my motivation for doing the piece.  The Lyrical Writing completes the "cycle" for me—if I'm inclined to do a Writing or feel it needs it.

Toddlin' toward Losin' the Blues
While the pieces in the exhibit are quite varied, they all are connected to landscapes.  What draws you to this subject?
This is a direction that my "wandering eye" took me—for what reason, I know not, or why.  I adore the complex simplicity of and by Mother Nature—her greenery has captured my senses, all of my life!  Being of this Earth, which is all we know, I look forward to each Spring—these are all images of Spring I'd like to remember; holding them close to my love of Spring—and I am working on many more Spring pieces.

Light plays a strong role in many of your pieces but is often used to backlight elements of the image.  How should the viewer interpret this inner glow?

It had been mentioned to me, that the "inner glow" of my paintings may represent my religious or spiritual beliefs.  If this is so, then the naturalness of my pieces is manifested with markings of Nature's innate and wonderful complexion, which appears to us all—particular during its Awakening (Spring), when she flaunts and beguiles us with some of her best "outfits."

Follow our blog to meet the other artist featured in "Inspired Journeys" on view until October 9.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Meet the Artists: Teri Zucksworth

Interview with Sculptor Teri Zucksworth

COLORX3 at the Prairie Art Alliance Gallery closes on Thursday August 14th. 

Why birds—especially tropical birds? What attracted you this subject?

"Long Tailed Parakeet"
Birds have always been one of my favorite animals. I have rescued baby birds since I was a teenager, (sparrows, robins and a blue jay) along with rabbits, squirrels, and raccoons. The rain forest seems to be a magical place with all the brightly colored exotic birds and plants so I wanted to recreate a little part of it. If I had the chance to visit the rain forest I would have my bags packed in a minute!  

Paper Mache seems like such a simple material to create such striking sculptures. Why did you choose this medium over a more traditional fine art medium, such as clay?

The hardened Paper Mache mixture I use consists of "celluclay" (shredded newspaper), wood glue, powdered joint compound (aka drywall powder) and linseed oil to speed drying. This mixture is very easy to use versus clay. It can be applied about a 1/2 inch thick and, after about a 1/2 hour, you can use a tool to make the indentations/lines needed. Let it sit outside for a day (for drying) and it's ready to paint. It is lightweight, inexpensive, and extremely durable. Clay is very heavy, hard to get the fine detail I need, and pricey for the amounts I would need.

I start with a chicken wire form, cover with strips of newspaper that I hot glue together (to completely cover the wire form), and then I can apply the "Paper Mache mixture." I was using flour and water to apply the newspaper strips. However, hot glue is a lot less messy and the Paper Mache mixture can be applied right away versus waiting for the flour/water newspaper strips to dry.     
"Red Billed Toucan"
What other materials do you like to work with?

Oil and and acrylic paints are also on my list of favorite mediums. They both have their pros and cons though: oils are easier to blend but messier and harder on the brushes; acrylics are harder to blend but easier on the brushes. On my newer paintings, I am now under-painting with acrylics and finishing with oils.

My original medium was colored pencils, which I don't use much anymore. With the colored pencils, I worked from light to dark, and for the paints, I work from dark to light so that is still something I am perfecting. Since I have no formal training, I learn as I go. With the paints, it seems like I struggle with them but not with the Paper Mache. With the Paper Mache mixture I use, I know exactly what I am doing (most of the time) so it flows with little effort.

I also enjoy working with metal, as in aluminum cans that I have collected on the walks with my dog. I made a series of over-sized "can flowers" a couple of years ago. I would cut the last inch off the bottom of a can, pound it flat then form it into a curved shape to resemble a flower petal. Then I would punch a hole in one end and "rivet" this petal to a cooking pan lid and would continue this in a circle until the lid was covered—about 100 cans. These are fun to make and I like making something out of discarded "trash." There are so many aluminum cans discarded that I would never run out of cans!

What do you hope viewers will take away from your exhibit?
"Red-Headed Hummingbird"

If someone can forget about their worries for a minute while looking at the birds, I have accomplished my goal—and maybe they have viewed a bird they never knew existed.

And I believe everyone has a talent and I hope to be an inspiration to any budding 3D artists out there.

As a group, you tend to call your subjects “the birds” or “the flock” but when you speak about the birds individually, I have heard you personify them—giving them life, choice, and desires. Are you aware of the connection you have made with each piece?

Several years ago, I became interested in taxidermy mainly to honor the beauty of God's creatures and to preserve their spirit. However, I quickly realized this was not a direction I wanted to go in, but I still wanted to create a "taxidermy" look, so I decided to try to create my own taxidermy birds out of my own materials.

And I believe I left a little part of myself in each bird!

 What is next for you as an artist?

Since I love working in 3D more than painting, I will continue making more birds and maybe a few other animals. I plan on making most of my new pieces smaller, just to save time and materials—so many fabulous creatures out there ready for duplication!

COLORX3 closes on Thursday August 14. Don't miss it!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Meet the Artist: Rich Ford

Interview with Pastel Painter Rich Ford

COLORX3 on view at the Prairie Art Alliance Gallery until Thursday August 14th.

With the exception of the Barns series, most of the images in the collection are of trees or pathways.  Why did you select these types of images for this exhibit?

Sangamon Heading North
One of my downfalls is design.  I am constantly looking at the design of an image or landscape, analyzing how it works and how I can adjust it to make it work for the painting.  The design needs to move within painting.  This can be done through line but also values or color.  Even in plein air landscapes, design has to be there or the painting does not work.  You have to edit and refine what you see to create a design which carries the viewer’s eye through the painting.  That may mean altering a branch, so it leans into the painting instead of out of it.

Reading about the subject made me realize this work in the practical sense once I began transferring that knowledge to the painting.

Are your images created from photographs or plein air (outside)?

Almost all the images in this show are done from photographs.  However, I do a lot of plein air painting.  Plein air has taught me how to create and make decisions quickly.  This allows me to decide what in the photograph I am using and what to edit out.  I never want to directly duplicate my photographs.  I might alter the design or even the color of things.  For instance, I can use washes or change local colors while maintaining the values.  By doing so, you can magically turn a summer image into a fall image.

In the Barns series, you mention that you have restricted your color palette.  What inspired this challenge?

Entrance to the Milk House
For this challenge I started with complementary colors.  The sky is one set of colors and the barns are another.  You have to move the color around, weaving things together so the eye can make sense of it.  “Yellow Ivy” was done with split complementary.  This time I wanted a yellow sky.  That meant the evergreens would be purple.  This type of color challenge dictates what the final colors will be. 

I take each painting as a new challenge.  I may approach the same subject but in a whole new way, always pushing the boundaries.  It keeps things interesting.

You don’t have to paint exactly what you see. The overall design and shape have to be there but the color can always change. In the Barns series, I wanted to see what could be done by narrowing scope. The first one I created in the series was very abstract. “Barn Shadow” is fairly abstract as well. It was a very careful analysis of just shape and value.

Why did the rest of the series not continue as abstractions?

I have not succeeded to get back to the abstract. I think because I keep seeing the details and like them.

The Way Out
Light seems to play a key role in your paintings. Do you feel this is true and why?

Not light but value contrast, for example in “The Way Out” the contrast grabs you. I use the focal point as the place to have the biggest contrast. If you get it set up right your painting will be successful. Next is to decide how warm the light is going to be. Do you want cool light and warm shadows—the temperature of the color can be different?

 What is next for you as an artist?

I don’t know. I keep running up against new challenges that interest me.

Right now I am working on cacti, but I am using limited color. No green for the cactus or white for the flower. I am also doing this series on recycled paper, paper that I used for previous works that did not pan out. Good paper means that you can hose it off. There will be a stain left on the paper. That creates an additional challenge to find a way to work with the remaining stain. If there is a red orange background I may have to use a turquoise to compliment. The color wheel can work for you—a tool to make things work properly.

Follow our blog for to meet the other artist features in COLORX3 on view until August 14.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Meet the Artist: Jed Leber

Interview with Watercolor Painter Jed Leber

COLORX3 on view at the Prairie Art Alliance Gallery until Thursday August 14th.

Do you work from models, images, imagination, or a combination of all three?

All three.  They never come out anywhere close to the source image; I figure that is what photography is for.  I alter the image to better convey the emotion.

Do you sketch your paintings beforehand?

99% of the time. 

These images convey a variety of emotions. Do these tones originate with the subject or are you imposing them on your subjects?

I select images (either the sketch or photograph) because there is a look or a feeling that stirs an emotion in me.

“Dischord” seems to be different from the others in that there is pigment on most of the canvas.  Can you talk about how you approached this piece differently than the others?

I approached the same way but I was not happy with the results, so I washed the image off the canvas with a grout sponge and a bucket of water.  I stopped halfway through because I liked the result. 
That painting has created a seed for a tangent that I will be exploring further.

You have stated that you challenged yourself with this series to create images with as little pigment as possible.  Where did the inspiration for this challenge start?  Do you think you can take this challenge further?

It was just an idea that popped into my head last winter.  Yes, I can take it further.  This series prompted a ton of tangents that I hope to explore.

Because of the scale of the canvases, the exhibit truly surrounds the viewer.  Why did you choose to use 4 x 5 foot canvases?

These canvases are pre-stretched and pre-gessoed.  I find the factory gesso is very compatible with the way that I paint.  These are the biggest canvases that the factory made.  I would have gone bigger if they made them bigger.

 What is next for you as an artist?

More painting.

Follow our blog for to meet the other artist features in COLORX3 on view until August 14.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Meet the Artist: Becky DuPont

An Interview with Photography Becky Dupont
See Becky's photography as part of the Curiosities exhibition on display at the Prairie Art Alliance Gallery in the Hoogland until June 19th.  Don't miss the amazing work by Becky, Barb Maddox, and Ruthann Mazrim.

Where were these images taken?
All of the images for Curiosities were taken in Southern Illinois, at Ferne Clyffe State Park and Giant City State Park and surrounding areas. My husband Rick and I love to camp and hike the trails and each year we try to attend the very fun Turkey Vulture Festival on the third weekend in October, in Makanda. It is a weekend, full of artists and musicians from many areas, amazing crafts and even a “rescue” Turkey Vulture or two, in case you have never experienced one of those up close. It is always entertaining and inspirational.

What type of camera do you use?
Normally I would use my Canon AE1, an old fashioned 35mm with a standard lens and a Sigma zoom lens – 75-200mm.  I work between the two lenses, using whichever I thought might get the best result for me.

However, the majority of the images in “Curiosities” happen to be digital thanks to the generosity of my dear friend Ann Frescura, who allowed Rick and me to borrow her Canon EOS Rebel. I realize the day of film is fast going by the wayside. Venues to affordably purchase and process film are hard to find.  I am in the process of purchasing my first digital camera, a Canon EOS Rebel T3i, with two lenses – a macro .25 m / .08 ft and a zoom 75-300mm.

I am a huge fan of black and white photography though and absolutely adored dark room work so I will keep my film cameras, along with my

stored darkroom equipment (enlarger, trays, safe lights, reels and tanks) as I hope to resurrect them someday.  I would love to teach others the joys of doing the entire process for yourself, from shooting a roll of 35mm, using manual settings, to loading your film in total darkness, developing and printing. I always believed it to be magical.

Do you enhance your photographs?
In this exhibit none of the photo images are altered, though I have added paint and word to a few of the pieces. I only show my classic and purist prints, unaltered and as they are, when exhibiting at the Gallery. However, I view photoshop as a great artistic tool. I am usually moved by the image when it comes to this. Sometimes they are just “right” as they are, but other times there is something that still longs to be “tickled” out of an image – something that needs to be altered, ever so slightly, to have it say what needs to be said, if you will. I liken it to the dark room work I spoke of earlier. I was very fond of the “dodge and burn” techniques. I also liked to overlay negatives when enlarging to get some other-worldly effects and the digital advantage in photoshop makes this type of manipulation much easier.

What is “Flaming Buffalo” an image of?
Flaming buffalo was actually a side view of a dark recessed area inside of the natural amphitheatre at Ferne Clyffe State Park. It had some rich warm tones and I crept back into the overhang area and shot the image horizontally. When I got out into the sunshine and looked at it from another angle I thought “Wow! This looks like a buffalo running through flames.” Later, when it was enlarged I discovered what I think is a woman, swaying and riding on the back of that buffalo, her long gray hair flowing as she rides. This is where my kids would be making fun of me, but hey, I can use my imagination even if I am a senior citizen – LOL! In fact, what better time to indulge in your imagination, right?! I’m sure that the colors are there because of years of damp, lack of sun and mold, but it is a lovely cave painting to me, and I did not enhance it one iota.

What is the inspiration and story behind Earthen Goddess?
The little “goddesses” are clay figurines that were being sold by one of the artist attending last year’s Turkey Vulture Festival. Her name is Rebekah Klitzke, and her stuff is very unusual to say the least. I was really drawn to them, they seemed to have some strange energy, but totally positive, even though their appearance was a bit odd. They were some cross between earthy bird figurines and aliens! I loved them, and they had hair as well as personality, so I asked Rebekah if I could photograph them and use them in some type of art. She agreed and I promised to give her credit, send a picture, and let her know when and where they were being shown. She seems pleased with the outcome, and that makes me happy.

What drew you to the sculpture figures that just called you to photograph them?

Rick and I have collected rocks and dried wood all of our lives, so when we met and figured out that we both had a collection of assorted driftwood and stone that needed some enhancement we discovered a talented friend, Dave Dardis, who owns and operates a metal smith and eclectic art shop on the Makanda boardwalk, to help us decorate these pieces. Dave has made us multiple little copper people, one of his specialties, to climb and sit and walk on our collection of wood and stone. He has a lovely garden behind his shop that is full of unique and wonderful metal work and sculptures. I asked his permission to shoot photographs of and include those images in this display, and like Rebekah, he generously agreed. I love his sculptures because they seem to have “spirit” in them also. I feel something when I see them, some energy. And I hoped that this is conveyed in what I am showing.

What came first the artwork or the poem?
The lovely little women came first with the Earthen Goddesses image. They inspired me to write something describing how they made me feel when I viewed them. They are something to behold, and they seem to have some alien wisdom to share, and I wanted to say that as well as show them to others who could appreciate their uniqueness and the craftsmanship that went into bringing them into being.

What is next for you as an artist?
I hope to bond with my new camera and play outdoors, finding whatever gifts God puts in front of my eyes. If I am lucky, and blessed, I hope to be able to share those new images with everyone again in a few years. Thanks so much, for giving me this opportunity, right here, right now. It means the world to me!