Wednesday, August 25, 2010

10 Things to Love at a Gallery

Object would Not Stand Still, detail, HKH ©2010
I was taken with this recent review of Lessons from Things in our newspaper, the Davis Enterprise and asked Melissa Hiatt, the author, if I could repost it for you to enjoy. It's not every art review that includes lines from William Blake together with a pancake spatula! I was grateful for her comment about my work, and, I think you'll get a kick out of the metaphors she uses to introduce the show.
I also included photographs of pieces I love, but were not included in the review.

By Melissa Hiatt
Enterprise art critic
August 19, 2010

The little things can really get under your skin: the gummed-up, crusted-over toothpaste that slowly oozed out of its hole in a desperate attempt to reach for its lid; the milk left out on the counter, which clearly establishes a horridly sour smell ... and the simple fact that another trip to the market will be necessary, in order to facilitate morning coffee and continued existence.

Underwater Drama, Marcia Cary ©2007
They say that we shouldn't sweat the small stuff.

I think they might be wrong.

Just who are 'they' anyway ... and what do they want?                  

Who would knowingly prescribe 'failure to pay attention' as a life philosophy? After all, a great deal of spiritual counseling advises noticing all things.

Entire practices can be devoted to the art of present observation.

Shell, Sara Post ©2010
And there's William Blake, and this passage from Auguries of
Innocence, which says it all:

To see the world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Everyday, ordinary things cannot only be transformative; they are, by their very nature, formative. The things we use daily offer cadence to our movements, rhythm to our methods.

Imagine flipping pancakes without a spatula.

Code, Tomas Post ©2010
While this last reflection might be received with a tone of triteness, rest assured, that isn't my intention. Pancakes are covetable and highly prized in our house.

Little things can become so much a part of our lives that we fail to notice their significance: whether they serve to annoy, dole out convenience, or provide the placebo of peace of mind.

Artist and curator Sara Post is determined that we stand up and take note. This month's Davis Art Center Tsao Gallery exhibit is filled with art centered on everyday things. Post's concept refers to a lost curriculum practice from French primary school, regarding the study of objects: their history, their evolution and their uses.

Dark Freesia 1, StaceyVetter ©2010
'Lessons from Things' houses the works of 16 artists who've approached both natural and manmade objects, and transformed their imagery into works of art through painting, collage, ceramic, printmaking, encaustic, fiber and mixed media.

According to Post, 'this exhibit offers an opportunity to slow down, to focus, to be with and perhaps to add to our understanding and enjoyment of objects that surround us.'

The participating artists are Chris Beer, Marcia Cary, Magdelena Crivelli, Barbara DeWein, Julie Haney, Hannah Hunter, Diana Jahns, Jose Moreno, Sondra Olson, Sara Post, Tom Post, Laura Reyes, Adele Shaw, Alison Smith, Stacey Vetter and Stacey White.

Sara Post is a nationally exhibited artist, and she shares a studio with her husband and fellow artist, Tom. While she has one piece in the show, 'Les Animaux d'Ivoire,' which bears her brush and hot wax signature of encaustic, she also shows three companion pieces that are a clear departure.

Jar, Sara Post ©2010
While her work of late has reflected lines fluidly carved out of deep layers of wax, she now brings the form of lines and edges to a flat surface with a collage of pencil, paint, wax and digital prints.

'Jar,' 'Umbrella' and 'Shell' depict these singular objects within a surreal environment and rest them ethereally, without the force of gravity. Their suspension creates both tension and intrigue. By removing the object from a traditional setting, the viewer is forced to consider
it solely on its own.

Jose Moreno's 'Bell' rings from his found object series. Moreno sees 'the object as a tool for expanding one's understanding of surface and light.' His tremendous skill shines through. Moreno's definitive realism
is imbued with a rich, warm light and tender sense of antiquity.

Coffee Container, Jose Moreno ©2010
His works are a singularly dramatic highlight. The juxtaposition of 'Coffee Container' with 'Praying Figurine' and 'Toy Dog' works seamlessly to inspire reverence for Moreno and his choices.

The list of things to love is long. Christopher Beer's pill-popping pieces are both witty and intriguing. Hannah Klaus Hunter's collages
consistently radiate a vitality and evolution that are intensely emotional. Julie Haney's 'Pie Spatulas' are a surprising favorite. Her choice of monotype led to an extraordinary representation, wherein the
purpose of the object fades completely when faced with its design.

The message is clear: It's time to consider the things we so often dismiss.

Lessons from Things, on view at the Tsao Gallery in the Davis Art Center through September 3rd.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Elul, Or, "Back to Our Senses"

Identity Seeker, H.Hunter ©2000
It's that time of year again, the month of Elul. In the Jewish calendar, Elul is the month that comes before Rosh Hoshanah, the Jewish New Year. During Elul, a shofar (an elegantly shaped ram's horn) is blown in synagogues all around the world  announcing the beginning of this time. Its otherworldly sound is said to call us back to our senses--in other words, it's a wake up call.

These next 40 days through Yom Kippur are the season of t'shuvah (or return), of returning to our essential selves by fearlessly examining our lives and choices. In the Jewish mystical tradition, the senses are the gateways to the soul.

...How better to begin the practice of t'shuvah than to mindfully observe our responses to the input of our senses: noticing the bombarding array of sights, sounds, fragrances, touches and thoughts, discerning which ones to attend to and consciously choosing our reactions.  --Rabbi SaraLeya Schley

My approach to practicing Judaism is a spiritual one. I spent many years as an active seeker and my road to Judaism, the religion of my father's family, took me on a journey not unlike that in the movie, Eat, Pray, Love.
Flood, H. Hunter, ©2009

When one takes a roundabout route, it inspires questioning and re-examining everything, which is exactly what Elul is all about. This time of soul searching coincides (in this hemisphere) with the end of summer,  harvest time, when we gather in the yield of all that we've sown and tended over the previous year; whether it is plants in the garden (harvest that basil girl!) or the relationships in our lives, our work or art that we've created. 

Most of my reflections have to do with being an artist. I'm sitting here in the studio of my good friend, Linda Clark Johnson. It's a friendship that's come to fruition over the last year after taking Alyson Stanfield's Blastoff class. After that class, I got out of my studio more often and got to know other artists- meeting for coffee, doing trades, talking about work and exhibits. It is a rich and ongoing process.

Also as result of Alyson's classes (I took both the Blastoff and the Blog class), I've nurtured a regular partnership with an artist in Florida, Beth Rommel, a mutual support system made possible by a handy combo of e-mail, internet and good old fashioned phone talks. We've seen each other through good shows and bad shows, as well as times, also good and bad.

Many Chambered House, H. Hunter, ©2004
A special gift is my blog and my blog friendships with all of you. I've been introduced to artists from around the world and seen a variety of work I could previously only dream of, not to mention having actual conversations with some of you. It's all very exciting to me, a person, who as a five year-old, could not walk across a school stage without bursting into tears of anxiety.

When I began this post, I thought that I was going to write about the process of self-inquiry, looking at where I'd missed the mark. But I do that every day of my life and maybe there is a wider definition for this time of t'shuvah. Perhaps a more generous approach is to appreciate how we did it right, where we were right on target.

The other day in art group I had just one patient, a young boy wearing a leg cast up to his hip. He could move, but just barely. We created a target a la Jasper Johns, with many different, colored concentric circles. Once finished, we put the target on the wall, blindfolded him with a bright bandanna and played "hit the target." The first go around, he missed, placing all the arrows on the outer perimeter. On the second try, he touched the center two out of three times. It strikes me that most of the time, we get second chances to get it right. This is the season to try again...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Plant Dreaming Deep"

"Plant Dreaming Deep" is the title of a journal by the poet, May Sarton. In it, she details her restoration of a house in New Hampshire where she began planting what turned out to be a series of spectacular gardens.

I read over the lists of flowers and trees she chose, my lips moving silently, as if I was reading over a mouth watering menu. When I first read Plant Dreaming Deep many years ago, it was my safe place to go, my retreat when it seemed like the critiques and sharp barbs of graduate school threatened to tip over my craft.

I'm closer now to May's age when she began her journal and I've turned my mind to a dream of my own planted those many years ago; botanical drawing.

I'd heard of botanical illustration and wanted to take a class, but never did. 30 years later, flipping through our art center catalogue, I read a description for a botanical drawing class. It noted that  "The emphasis will be on careful observation of our subjects with a playful, open-minded approach."

The words playful and joyful hooked me (because who doesn't need more of that?) and I arrived at the first class, my DeYoung tote bag filled with bright and shiny art supplies including sumi ink brushes, bamboo pens, waterproof black ink and a thick black bound journal of creamy watercolor paper.

Our first class began with a blind contour drawing of a flower--a multi-floral rose. Now you need to know that drawing is not my strongest suit. I studied it, took classes in it, but its finer points have always eluded me.

Stacey, my friend and instructor, advised us that we should approach the flower as if we were taking a trip with our pencil, curious about each bend in the road. I gulped, began--and loved it.

Stacey emphasized the practice of non-attachment to the results, straight out of Yoga and Buddhism. I could relate to this. I found my pencil slowly wandering along the petals, getting lost in the contours and subtle serrations of the leaves.

I was surprised how quickly the time passed and surprised too by the result, the wavering lines which overlapped and crossed each other, nonetheless conveying the feeling of a rose.

As my pencil continued to explore, I felt extremely relaxed and peaceful, a kind of peacefulness I hadn't experienced for some time and to which I connect the feeling of meditating. Meditation--one of those activities that I know is "good for me" but is hard to get to. The way my mind can spin! But with this drawing, there was none of that, no swirl of thoughts that accompanied my sitting meditations.

Could it be that I had found my own form of meditation? I'll find out as the class continues, but for now I'm resting my mind in the luxurious feeling of my sumi brush as I slowly brush the ink onto the paper. I've found a retreat. And I think I'm going to go back and reread Plant Dreaming Deep.

Happy the man who can long roaming reap,
Like old Ulysses when he shaped his course
Homeward at last toward the native source,
Seasoned and stretched to plant his dreaming deep.

-May Sarton, after Du Bellay

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sneak Peek and the Last 2 Questions

Here we go: last thoughts on this matter of Lessons from Things.

5.) Can you provide a little information or "sneak peek" on the pieces you've included in the show? (I.e., how long it took to make, what materials you used, etc.)
The Power of Desire, ©2010, collage
I've been working on the pieces in the show for about a month. If I had to break it down, each piece probably took about a week in time, although some came quickly over a number of hours and others over a period of days. Over the years, I've created a studio practice, spending several hours in the studio each morning before I shift identities and change from an artist into an artist therapist.

When Sara asked us to provide an image for the show, I put together a still life of objects from around my home that I love: a white raku vase, a jade-colored porcelain beaker and a palm-sized, brass Aladdin's lamp. Although I began with what I thought was a traditional still life approach, it quickly morphed into an exploration of the shapes through juxtaposition of fabric and paper, trying to create animated but believable forms. It was a lot of fun.

6.) What would you say to all of the other aspiring artists out there?

I had difficulty with this questions because it seems to presume that  I've arrived somewhere when, in fact, I feel like I'm constantly striving myself. The answer below is what I deeply believe.

Persistence, persistence, persistence. Very little happens overnight and real progress occurs over years. Never give up. Always believe that you have a unique voice, unlike any other artist. Have the courage to believe in this voice. Malcolm Gladwell makes this point about persistence in his book The Outliers. In it he talks about the 10,000-Hour Rule, saying that the way to success in many fields is, to a great extent, based on practicing a specific task for a sum total of about 10,000 hours. I haven't been counting--but I may be getting close.

L'Eau de Vie, ©2010, collage
 For the complete article as it appeared in the Monday edition, check out the California Aggie.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fresh Impressions: Part 2

Today's Part 2 focuses on the exhibit, Lessons from Things and the process of working on the still lifes that are part of it.

3.) What makes this exhibit stand out from others that have happened here locally in Davis?

Sara Post has gathered a wonderful group of artists together and given them a traditional subject, namely, familiar objects, and added a twist that is particularly hers, looking at art-making through the lens of another culture.

"In our object-rich culture, there is a tendency to skim over the presence of things, to cease to see them because of the sometimes overwhelming amount of objects in our lives. This exhibit offers an opportunity to slow down, to focus, to be with and perhaps to add to our understanding and enjoyment of objects that surround us," notes “Lessons” curator Sara Post.

Within the structure of the exhibit, she weaves in an educational component, so that the viewer comes away with more than an encounter with the works of art themselves. The unique quality of Sara's lively and provocative themes set her exhibits apart.

4.) What do you hope to gain from the exhibit (in any aspect, whether, spiritually, emotionally, or if more aimed toward the community)?

Lake Okoboji, ©1977, watercolor

The greatest gift so far took place in my studio. In order to create these still lifes, I've been reaching back into my days as a young student and drawing on my youthful enthusiasm. It was a magical time; so much seemed possible and everything was fair game for the canvas: a plein air landscape, the view from my apartment window, pieces of fruit placed on a worn wooden table.

Recycled take out containers for colored papers

As I've re-explored the subject of still life, I've been able to tap into that enthusiasm and ebullience. But there's a twist. I am older and the experience of the life I've lived since that time filters into these  collages as well. I see it in my approach; the willingness to take the objects I've studied "out of the box" and off of the linear plane. I experiment more freely with media and feel  confident in the way that I handle the colors and patterns; letting them come together in a sort of seeming randomness that is actually the result of working with composition for so many years.

The beige take out container has it all
I also look forward to the reception for the exhibit, to those equally random moments when I watch other people study the artwork on the walls and hear their exclamations as they move around the gallery. I love seeing so many people that I know from so many times of life here in Davis. I've never lived anywhere as long as I lived here: 22 years. That creates a rich tapestry of friends and acquaintances and you never know whom you're going to run into or what you might end up talking about. Perhaps I'll meet a new artist friend or even find the thread for a new series of collages.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fresh Impressions: An Interview in 3 Parts

Lessons From Things, postcard front on the "fridge" gallery
I've been working on a series of still lifes for a group exhibit entitled "Lessons from Things" at the Davis Art Center, in Davis, CA, 
August 2 - September 3.

Last week I was approached by Lea Murillo, a reporter from our University paper The California Aggie. Lea asked me if she could interview me for the exhibit curated by Sara Post.

I embraced the invitation, knowing it was one of those opportunities that Alyson Stanfield, in her book, "I'd Rather Be in the Studio," recommends for those of us who prefer to hang out with our paint, paper and brushes rather than write about them.

I'm reprinting the questions and my replies in the next three posts, because most of the time, I don't get the chance to read what an artist has said as he or she said it--simply because another person, the journalist, is doing the writing.

Lea asked me to answer the questions according to how they apply to me, the exhibit, and the connection between the two. Hence the segue between myself and the exhibit.

 1.) How long have you been an artist and, what does your artistic background consist of?

I've thought of myself as an artist since the age of 21, 33 years ago now. I received a B.A. in Studio Art from the University of Iowa (where I spent most of my time in the weaving studio) and an M.F.A. in Textiles and Sculpture from the California College of the Arts (where I spent much of my time crossing the campus between the Textile and the Sculpture studios).

Tempting Fate, ©2004, multimedia
I've always been interested in the intersection between media so that in both undergraduate and graduate school, I focused on textiles, painting, writing and sculpture.

Throughout my career as an artist, I've tried to blur the lines between the disciplines, or, another way to say it is that I try to find the liminal zone where two or more media come together.

When Sara curates an exhibit at the Davis Art Center, she engages in a similar quest; she becomes interested in a particular area, such as collage, and offers artists an open range for exploration.

In the current exhibit, "Lessons from Things," the title immediately produces a cornucopia of ideas. According to Sara, the title "refers to what was once a part of the French primary school curriculum—the study of things or objects and how they came to be what they are—their history, their evolution, their uses. It is a way of looking deeply into an object and seeing what is there."

That same title takes me back to first grade when I learned that a noun is a person, place or thing. From there, I begin to think about how I want to document some "thing," which leads me to thinking about which "things" in my environment inspire me.

2.) What inspires you?

Baby pomegranate
I spend a lot of time studying the natural world around me: ripening fruits, flowering oleanders, rows of sunflowers, furrows of rice fields off the causeway. 

Oleander on the way to work
                  I also love to study patterns in architecture, quilts and words.

Dancing Ring, ©2009, quilt
                   I distill all of these observations into the form of a collage.

Twins, 1 ©2009, collage
I also draw inspiration from my work as an art therapist at the UC Davis Children's Hospital. Much of my recent work (although not in this exhibit) is a response to my involvement with various children and their effects on my life.

More to come tomorrow. I'll be posting about my experience of working on the still lifes.