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.
ER: Do you think your spiritual practice informs you work?
JB: For me the greatest pleasure in my art, that I might not have paid attention to earlier in my life, is the spirit and nature that fills the images. Of course you have to work with form and color – but it is the presence of spirit that comes through.
ER: How do you think your work has evolved over the last decade?
JB: I’ve let go inside. I let it – the art – be more what it wants, not what I want it to be. It’s a mystery and a gift.
ER: At 80, what has shifted for you as an artist?
JB: The goals are to be as present every moment as I can be. I am not orienting “out there”. This presence is across all areas of my life.
ER: Any surprises in the studio?
JB: Gatekeeper was a surprise. It simply came to me.
ER: Your work is bursting with aliveness.
JB: I’m in a pretty good place in my life; I’ve never been “regular” or conventionally “normal”. I am more accepting and content.
ER: How would you like your art to affect an audience?
JB: I love it when people comment: “look at all this color” and “how radiant”!
ER: Tell me about one of the paintings..
JB: Opening to the Light: I love that sense – I’ve always wanted to know how I began and became who I am.
ER: Any last comments?
JB: This is my best show. In the past I have been critical. This show I am content, I felt “I did it” and it is meaningful.
The Japanese have a poetic phrase, “mono no aware”, which recognizes the pathos of things, a sensitivity towards ephemera. Things that don’t last become dear to us. I don’t set out to create things that don’t last, but in the course of life I have encountered loss and change and many times that becomes reflected in my work.
In the beginning of my career I learned to weld because I thought it would make me strong and I could make things that had a long life span. It soon became clear that that I tended not treat steel and metal materials as inflexible or rigid, but rather as pliable material to be manipulated into softer shapes. I don’t have preconceived ideas about materials or subjects, rather I listen to the work/idea and what it wants to be.
I thought I would be a painter when I entered art school but I had a mentor who recognized that I see things in three dimensions. I count Robert Rauschenberg’s work as an early influence: he took from our culture and nothing was off limits. This framed my view and sparked an era of using “common” things – things walked on, discarded,
I lived and worked in Portland for many years and belonged to a conceptual gallery where the shows took the form mostly of installations. While in Portland I served on several public art selection committees for the city and also created and installed 3 public art pieces. My work with natural materials was a major shift that happened shortly before I left Portland to come to Mendocino. I became intrigued by the use of natural materials and wanted to work with in a way that had less impact on the environment.
In this show I began with a big wood round a neighbor gave me. I knew it was going to take a long time to carve so I also started the two smaller forms in the show. There are difficult periods, a gestation time, where it isn’t clear how the piece wants to be, but other times it is clear from the start.
With the hanging birds I thought “I need color”; they were fun and at that point everything started to come together.
With the piece “Catching the Currents” I loved the vines and birds – the freedom they have. It was hard to find the materials that felt right for the birds to keep them looking light and airy. I finally settled on the bamboo leaves for feathers.
Catching the Currents
I don’t really have a favorite tool. I use what I need to in terms of tools and materials – it’s all a playground to me. Some pieces come together quickly, some take years but it quite clear to me when a piece is complete.