After the 2016 election I reached a high level of overwhelm. I could not sleep. I needed to do something different: step back in order to move forward. I turned towards resilience, art. I recognized the feelings of despair and looked at working from a position of health and beauty, not from immobilizing despair.
I believe in beauty. It feeds me. Art and nature are transformative and sacred to me. In the studio I loose track of time – a rare experience.
I began this series with a major influence: Fra Angelico. Then I immersed myself in Degas, Ross Bleckner, Keltie Ferris, Carrie Moyer and others – all using color. I try to be my own student and an active learner. Being a learner in the face of narrow attitudes makes the world a larger place. It is an antidote to the climate of restriction. This antidote of learning is uplifting, and the process transcends the despair .
I hope people can recognize themselves in my work, and are moved to feel what Joseph Conrad calls the “invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts…”
To develop the sculpture, I hand-model and carve porcelain. When it is dry enough to hold up—leather-hard–I hollow it out, do more fine detailing, fire it to cone 6, and paint it with oils.
I study my dreams, keep a dream journal, and have read Carl Jung and others on dreams and the unconscious, and participated and led workshops in which the participants explored possible meanings of the imagery and the sequence of events in their dreams. I have gained the understanding that conscious awareness is but a small part of who we are, and that in our deepest core there is an invincible tendency toward wholeness. Visual metaphor is the major mode of dream expression and I learned to respect the sometimes bizarre, often comic images that come apparently out of nowhere in a dream, or in a resting, tranquil state. If I took the time to try to understand the images, they always rewarded me with insight into my feelings and behavior. It was natural to use this language in my clay sculpture.
None of my work comes directly from dreams, but all use that language. I don’t get an idea so much as a picture. It might arise in a moment of reverie, and if I give it time, it might develop. Situations and gestures that are not literally possible may express something I feel and communicate experience. And I may not even realize–at the time–all that the image does express.
I might be thinking I’d like to make a pillowy evening dress, a wedding dress. You know, youth and hope, and a chance to make puffy billows out of clay…Maybe I feel I’d like to make a boat. There’s something about boats…
Right now there’s a picture in my mind of a small boat with a woman in it…She’s facing forward. There’s an overstuffed couch or chair floating beside the boat, maybe upside down…Is she reaching over to hold on to it? Push it away? Or is she just looking forward, maybe unaware of the catastrophe which is sinking the couch. What—or who–is in the boat with her? I come back again and again to the image, and wait. Now I’ve begun work on this one, modeling porcelain clay on a piece of board, and trust that, as it progresses, this strange thing we call the mind will respond to my request with images of what might be there. Something out of nowhere…Flowers of Air.
With thanks to family and friends, who have supported me and given valuable suggestions, and to the late and much lamented Michael Himovitz of Sacramento who first exhibited my work.
Rachel Binah: My father used to say, “All colors look he same in the dark.” I have discovered that there is not white or black, except perhaps in our imagination. In this work, I am exploring color in many subtle understated values, in combination with the shadows the structures create. Purple, blues, browns and greys – even the reds and greens in the pieces – appear to be black. Although variations in white are most subtle, they cover the gamut in palest blues, greens, yellows, pinks and oranges. From a distance, our eyes blend the colors which we think are black or white. Looking closer, one can see each color distinctly.
Literally and figuratively, my hand-sewn paper constructions may remind the viewer of current events. Our diversity as a people, and in our politics, is a sign of the great complexity of our current America. In my work, the dark pieces reflect despair created by policies which are cruel and destructive. White pieces represent the potential for hope and a yearning for better, more harmonious resolutions. The constructions are made of water color, and painted color sample paper, fabric, paint, twine, screening and found materials. My process is intuitive. The materials suggest the content. They lead me to create structure out of the chaos.
EDR: would you give us some on the background of your new exhibition “A” My Name is Alice?
As a child growing up in the 1950s I spent many summers at my grandparents home in Brooklyn, though my home was in Philadelphia. I had my Brooklyn friends, who of course I can no longer remember. What I do remember is a ball and alphabet rhyming game we played out on the sidewalk. The game was played by bouncing a ball, one bounce for each word.
In current time, while I am biking or walking I think about teaching, upcoming conversations with people, ideas for art, and I also play this game. With the Alphabet series I want people to see each image and also be immersed in the experience; much like a performance in scope. Some of the images are political, some provocative, and some fun. I like to engage the audience; take the viewer on a journey.
As a college instructor I always give my students a final essay to write with the following topic: “You have unlimited funds and can purchase any work we studied this semester. Which would you choose and why?” This year I am teaching high school students and for the first time 80% of them chose the same image, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. They all said this image resonated with them at this time in their lives. When students chose The Scream I started the series.
Some images are a bit more unknown such as “X” for Xanadu (which is a glitzy hotel in Cuba), but all the images are related in some fashion with Trump.
EDR: It is interesting that your last exhibition was on election day, and this series feels like a reflection on the intense months of his presidency.
I am going to donate $25 for each of those images of this series on The Scream sold. The purchaser can chose between Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union or National Resources Defense Council.
I also made a lot of alphabet blocks – art for art’s sake. With the blocks scale is important. I enjoy doing them because it is an opportunity to produce 6 intimate paintings at a time. In fact I work on multiple blocks at a time so there is often a visual tie-in because you can turn them to any side. I like to carry something forward to the next show from the previous show. The last show was maps. The blocks are an art practice and the last things I’ve done. I know what I am onto next – my plan is to take those and change them in scale: use the blocks as an spring board for the next show.
The show has a lot of duality and contrast: a childhood game and some fun, somewhat nonsensical phrases with political or social content, a graffiti mural type with provocative content. There also seems to be a duality of past and present in your work. The same as with The Scream: maps, images that contrast with geographic and current event content. Your work could be in many different mediums, not merely that it is mixed media but multi-dimensional and textured.
I am fascinated by patterns and textures. Throughout college the process of creating depth and layers interested me.
EDR: What artists or art works impacted your in your early art life and in current time?
This one is hard to answer- there are so many. Mark Rothko and Morris Louis for color, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, Eva Hesse for “paint”, Marcel Duchamp and John Cage for guts.
Picasso’s “Guernica” used to live at MOMA in New York and was always my first stop whenever I went there. It moved me in so many ways and while I was happy for it to go home to Spain I felt bereft for longer than I expected.
EDR: In your studio, what do you do when you get stuck?
I start something else or move to a different work. I always have a number of things going at the same time. I have a regular studio time 5 days a week from 6-8 am which is not a huge amount of time but there is no “down time” as I make a plan what the first thing will be on the next visit to the studio before leaving each time.
EDR: You work quite a bit as an instructor of Art History. What epochs interest you? What surprises or emerging topics capture your attention?
My favorite course is ancient art history (prehistory to the 13th century) because everything that came after that is built on it. I am a religious person and most of the art created from the beginning of time to the modern age is religious and almost all of the world’s religions came into existence from ancient time. I like to teach this because most people know little or nothing about religions that are not their own. I think that might be our biggest problem in the world today.
EDR: How do you see the intersection of the personal and the political in art?
Art has the power to heal, to change (as in propaganda), and to awaken people. An example, is the morning of 9/11 I was in my studio and heard the entire thing unfold as I listen to the radio news while I’m working. Once I realized what had really happened and how the world would forever be changed, I stopped what I was doing, got a blank canvas and painted my thoughts.
A Short History of Fringe Festivals….It all started in 1947 in Edinburgh, Scotland, as an alternative festival that played concurrently with the Edinburgh International Festival. Though not invited to participate, groups of actors, musicians, and the like performed at various venues on the fringe of the EIF. In 1948, Robert Kemp, a local journalist, gave it the name Fringe: “Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more private enterprise than before…”
And so the Fringe as we know it was born. Fringe performing arts festivals can now be found all over the world, with dozens thriving in the United States today.
In honor of Mendocino County’s Almost Fringe Festival, Partners artists are pushing their artistic edges further than usual.
Domestic art meets fine art when artists from Partners set up their ironing boards and do their ironing. Visitors are invited to bring their ironing or just come to sit and visit and talk about their ironing experiences and how to iron a shirt and whether ironing is a meditation or a chore. Is one person’s fringe is another person’s labor? Is the mundane or less visible “fringe”? Come and talk while ironing takes place!
The ironing takes place April 13th, 14th and 15th from 1 to 4 pm.
The gallery features works using solarized computer images, tea bags, decorated brooms, mysterious scenarios, Marcel Duchamp, paper balls, dangling fringes and velvet sea anemone tentacles.
This February the theme for the exhibition is Boarders and Boundaries. The artworks range from geographic elements using maps, landscapes, to images of a wall, separation and banishment. The moving structure by Carolyn King reminds us of the plaque at the Statue of Liberty by Emma Lazarus: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….” and at the base of the structure on one side are the Lost Souls, the opposite side a swath of dollar bills, provoking the question of freedom for whom – and at what cost?
The members of Partners chose this moment to present images on the timely issues that divide and unite us, all from the viewpoint of abstract and semi-abstract art: images that provoke, please, distress and stir us up. From separation in intimate circumstances to visual layers of borders, the show is an array of artistic interpretation.
Green Line, Border Line, Security Wall by Mina Cohen
Donovan Clark is one of the artists in the Winter Invitational exhibit at Partners Gallery including Benny Bones, Sharon Bowers, Deth Sun and Jacob Hewko. I talked with him recently about his work.
My art continues in the vein of the Pop Art movement of the 50s and 60s. I use superheros, toy characters and iconic imagery as a kind of autobiographic representation. I also photograph toys in a diorama structure. The images are toys, movies, and the visuals that I grew up with. I think that “banal art” should be just as valid as other art movements.
I have always produced self portraits and autobiographical art. Even with the superheros I reveal who I am including the gross or horror images. I am interested in those versions not only the “good” heroes.
Earlier I looked at graffiti art that spoke to me – images that continues a rebellious nature. In the beginning I drew on dollar bills and left them as tips. It became part of the life of the town I lived in. I asked myself how far I could take the image – not only the face, but coming off the bill. Lately they have become more like pop-up books.
A big part of my artistic life was formed by working collaboratively and with a group of artists at a center we run called Empire2 (Empire squared). We all chipped in and produced great edgy shows. This took place over a decade and was important in my teaching and evolution as an artist. We learned all the aspects of holding shows as well as developing our work.
The students in my high school classes now follow my work on Instagram. What is meaningful is that high school is a pivotal age and it is a positive impact for students to see work that they think is cool. This creates a positive accessible experience for students.
Donovan Clark produces a vast array of images. I encourage you to visit his website at: https://donovanclark.blogspot.com/
These last months I have been reflecting on resilience, particularly heading into winter holidays and listening to the news. I find myself searching for inspiration, connection with depth and humor, and maintaining hope while brushing against the real problems on the planet. These questions have me recalling the definition and key factors of resilience.
Resilience is our way of bouncing back after difficult, oppressive and/or traumatic experiences. It’s part of how we live through very hard moments or times, and what can fuel happiness, connection and well-being. It’s what keeps hope alive, gives us strength, and lets us thrive.
In life we see people who encounter unbelievable events and are able to re-establish the ground beneath their feet. We also see those who do not. There are practices that can help us build resilience in ourselves and others. This includes our organizations and our communities. While it is ideal if resilience factors are built into our habits, we can also cultivate resilience throughout our lives.
Based on studies of resilience factors some of these include: spirituality, a strong relationship with animals and/or nature, creativity and art including music, movement and visual arts. Other more relationship-based resilience practices include: being able to help others, making greater meaning of difficult experiences, and being positively connected to at least one other person during difficult events.
Over the last months at Partners Gallery I have been struck with how many images in the gallery are about or inspired by nature – so there are two factors at one time: nature and creativity. At a young age I distinctly remember the somatic sensations I experienced while riding my bike or drawing in my room. Of course to work plein air must be a resilience plus event! When I am in my studio I experience sensations of safety, unbridled energy, timelessness and (occasionally) some undefinable force beyond myself. Producing art is a rigorous process, it is also uplifting and offers possibility beyond the constraints of daily work.
Whatever winter holidays – or simply winter days – you observe, I hope art is part of your vista.
Elizabeth Ross: Your new show title Two Year, Two Coasts makes reference to the Mexico Coast and the Mendocino Coast. Could you tell me about working in Mexico and Mendocino?
Arlene Reiss: For many years I have spent a couple of winter months in Puerto Vallarta and Yelapa (a close by village).
To travel I roll large sheets of paper into a PVC pipe in order to transport the paintings. The bulk of my time in Yelapa is spent painting – every day. I work outside there. In Puerta Vallarta I work on smaller pieces and, whether in Mendocino or Mexico, I work standing as I feel more expansive that way.
ER: How do you develop an image?
Arlene Reiss: I start out by covering the painting surface with color variations in tone or with collage. Something will emerge and will pull me one way or another. There is a dynamic with the medium, with color, or with natural elements that takes me to the next stage. In Mexico I work outside and am affected by wind, water and nature. Here I am affected by the woods as well as the ocean. In my studio, before I begin to work I often look at art books or magazines to help me get into my making art space. Color is also a stimulus: setting up to work my first question to myself is “What Color”.
ER: Your paintings create a feeling of stepping into a world of color and movement. What would you like to summon from your audience in terms of experience?
AR: I find it mysterious and magical that by making marks on paper you can create a world. I really want the door open for people’s interpretations of the work while still providing a form for people to grab on to. It isn’t conscious that I create a “going into” experience but it has been said to me a number of times. Since I work intuitively, I don’t have a preconceived image when I work.
ER: Can you give more background and the role of Partners Gallery?
AR: Years ago I was to doing plein air pastel paintings. I loved being outside and using the rich colors of pastel. There came a time when my paintings seem to loose a feeling of aliveness, they lost the essence, So I took two years off of exhibiting in order to work on developing more personally expressive work. At the end of that time I had a show of abstract paintings and this was when Partners was forming: 1999. I joined and have been a Partner over these 18 years.
It is incredibly rich to work with other artists. At the gallery we are all self-determined, creating our contemporary images with our own artistic voice. The group is supportive, sustaining. The fact that I am producing abstract work in a rural environment in a gallery with other supportive artists is noteworthy. We don’t do this wonderful demanding work alone.
October 6-15, 2017 Businesses throughout Mendocino County will Celebrate American Craft Week with shows and demonstrations by Mendocino County Craft artists. Partners Gallery will be participating in this event with a live craft demonstration on Saturday, October 7 with Carolyn Carleton will demonstrate her felt boxes technique.