Julia C R Gray: Strength and Vulnerability

In today’s blog post, sculptor Julia C R Gray writes about her work in the 20/20 show and her life under quarantine:

“I am intrigued by dichotomies of life. If I explore strength, I must also reveal vulnerability, or desire/aversion, or extinction/restoration, etc. The struggle to reveal/hide is apparent in the ceramic torsos’ design. The deeply textured organic torso form contains hidden flat geometric surfaces within. I contrast red glossy glaze and gold luster details with matte oxide and underglaze hand-painted portrait narratives. I start with the vulnerability of the oceans and our bodies, balanced with the dialectic message of the power of the oceans and the strength of our bodies. I research current events, Renaissance Women Master Artists, and my own images captured during beach walks.

Shifting Sea and Community is part of a series of wall sculptures inspired by images captured during my beach walk ritual, as well as my alarm over the effects of Climate Change on the viability of the oceans. Touch/Don’t Touch Me is an exploration of the Me Too Movement. I examine opposing emotions: desire, confusion, fear, the need to be touched by someone desired compared with the trauma of unwanted touch. I cannot explore one emotion without considering the opposing experience. In Sunrise Stories I focused on my love for and concerns about the ocean and environmental vulnerability/strength. Each column has underglaze painted images of seaweed and other compositions from my beach walk ritual.

When Covid-19 first closed down California, I had mixed responses. I was concerned for the galleries and businesses that were shuttered. The art exhibitions that my work was exhibited in suddenly halted. But I was also given a gift of time in my ceramic studio, which I step into, right out my back door. I started my largest ceramic torso to date. Using hand-rolled clay coils, I am building six 40” high columns that form a huge female torso. Hand-building this large work, inch by inch, is meditative and calming. I am grateful to have my work to fill this time of chaos. I do not yet know what images I will glaze paint on the hidden surfaces. There is so much happening in our society, people are in pain. The world is finally recognizing that Black Lives Matter. And people are still dying from Covid-19. Yet, I have hope. Hope that we, as a society, will make changes to address systemic inequality.  I have hope a vaccine will be made available. My challenge, as an artist, will be to sift through and decipher the multitude of changing images affecting our lives. I will continue to get in the studio each day, and just do the work.”

Art Quilter Gillian Moss

Gillian Moss has been quilting for about 20 years. In 2008 she found the courage to submit a piece for a major quilt show in California and it was accepted.  Since that time, she says, she has been more focused as an artist and has developed her own voice and style.  Moss is considered an up-and-coming quilter to watch, having had work in several major juried shows. 

The love of color and pattern is what drives my designs. I was never a quilter who worked from patterns or kits; so it has taken a while to find my voice.  Now found, this voice has been getting louder and clearer and today I feel more sure of my design direction.”

Some quilts are narrative — based on stories or events in her life. Others are abstract art quilts, evolved from working with the fabric, color and pattern. You will find little observations and some quirky Irish humor thrown in for good measure.

Moss’ three abstract quilts in the 20/20 show were inspired by the phrase “the devil is in the details” and by photographs taken on a recent (pre-COVID19) trip to London.   “The conversation between myself and images caught on camera — after editing and upon closer examination — is the ultimate result.”  Moss painted on canvas in bright colors. She then cut it up and stitched it onto the quilts in layers of freeform shapes.

Gail Titus: Texture and Depth

“My work is physical, spontaneous and intuitive, particularly in the beginning stages of a painting.  As a painting progresses, I become more discerning and methodical until I feel that the painting is resolved.”  Gail Titus

Gail Titus began her artistic career as a ceramicist, creating wall sculptures and large installation work.  Eventually, however, her interest turned to surface development and texture exploration.  It was a natural transition to move from clay to canvas. 

Surface development is a focal point of Titus’s large abstract paintings.  She uses a variety of tools, brushes and techniques to create depth and texture.  In the artwork for this show, a smaller format than she normally works in, Titus experimented with adding fabric and hand embroidery to build up the surface of her work,  the thick layers creating interesting nooks and crannies, places for the eye to linger.  It is as if, being smaller in size than her usual work, these are denser, more concentrated.   We can see in the layers the fascinating history of their development.  I especially like the layering of paint on top of heavy cotton lace in Metamorphosis 1.  Titus has taken something traditionally soft and feminine and changed it into something strong and solid. Taking the metamorphosis metaphor a bit further, the end result of the transmutation is perhaps not so much delicate butterfly as metamorphic rock.

Detail of Metamorphosis 1

Recently, Titus has taken this new experiment further: “The stay in place orders due to the pandemic have allowed me the time to further my exploration and experimentation in my paintings. I am digging even deeper into fabric application, freeform knitting and crocheting, and applying embroidery into and onto my abstract, painted canvases. “ 

Titus has found the Covid19 shutdown fruitful.  “Not having the usual distractions of a normal life” she says, has freed up her time to be devoted to painting.  She says “As much as I long for the freedoms that existed before the pandemic, I am relishing the additional studio hours and freedom from outside distractions. The vast hours of alone, uninterrupted time lends itself to quiet contemplation regarding the development of my art.”

Ellen Dieter on Recent Events

20/20 artist Ellen Dieter sends these musings from her studio today, looking back at the past few months:

“Saturday March 7th was our TWA Twenty Women of Vision reception at Fresh Paint Gallery and was soon about to be what we called a last hurrah before the world changed forever. 

On March 12, the school where my daughter works and where my grandsons go to school sent an email that the school would be closed effective immediately. It was a Thursday night. My grandson was to go to his 6th grade dance on Friday.  Canceled. He was to have his last game of the playoffs that Sunday.  Canceled. The world was on high alert because of this coronavirus. My daughter and grandchildren were living with me, which meant our lives were about to change in a profound way.

On March 19th, our Governor Gavin Newsom declared a house arrest type situation. We were all to shelter-in-place unless deemed essential workers. We were in a pandemic.

As I look back and remember these past three months, I have a hard time believing that we have all done what we have done and that we are here. I couldn’t have believed that my daughter and my grandsons and I could make it through the rest of the school year with what we now call distance learning. I would never have guessed that I would be part of a “drive-by birthday” and more recently arrange a “drive-by” baby shower. I didn’t want to believe that our trips would be canceled, that the museums would shutter, that the world would close down.

Who knew my daughter would learn how to make movies and I’d be filming her so she could teach her classes on-line, or that we would be making videos of the boys snowboarding down the stairs, and surfing in rain puddles. My 6-year-old grandson learned how to add by playing monopoly and the 11-year-old has become a real estate tycoon.

As for me and my art, I had to return to late night painting as my days were taken up with well, what I was just talking about and oh so much more.

At first it seemed the work didn’t change.  I was adding paint to canvas. However, when one is affected so greatly by one’s surroundings, it is a challenge to not be moved. 

I feel like the work I do takes on new meanings. I have always layered paint and shapes and colors only to take away, scratch and carve into to reveal what is underneath. Today the world itself is doing a lot of deconstructing.  We need to do a lot of deconstructing, so we can build new and more mindful ways of communicating. We need to stand together, #Black Lives Matter.

When I look at my paintings that are part of Twenty Women of Vision, I can’t help but see how relevant they still are, and maybe even more relevant because of our recent events. I see worlds and different views, creativity and challenge, a push and pull that I feel more now than ever.” 

Diane Hall: East meets West

“Through life’s many changes and challenges, it is revealed that through our pain and adversity we build our greatest strengths…” Diane Hall

In her twenties, Diane Hall studied Chinese brush painting under several Zen masters.  She uses traditional techniques masterfully blended with a contemporary sensibility to create works that are Western in their abstraction but Eastern in their Zen balance.

Hall’s starkly beautiful pieces in the 20/20 show are individual works of art; but they work together fabulously as a group.  The four form a narrative that reads from left to right.  Beginning with Prevailing Darkness, to Seeking Light, through Finding Balance to final Solacethey chronicle years during which Hall’s husband struggled with and eventually succumbed to frontal temporal dementia.  We don’t need to know this story to feel the power of these pieces, however.  In the gallery, viewers are immediately and instinctively drawn to their minimalism and mystery.  The progression of the visual narrative, from complexity to simplicity, feels right and natural.  We respond to it intuitively.  And intellectually we understand the technical virtuosity and the years of experience that go into the choices Hall makes – this line precisely here, that one there.  As usual, the pictures don’t do the work justice.  You must come see for yourself.

Diana Carey: Controlled Chaos

Diana Carey paints organic subjects based on her travels and from her natural surroundings at home in the hills of Southern California. She exhibits regularly in Los Angeles, San Diego, Laguna Beach, Boston, Luxembourg and in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Carey uses sticks and brushes to splash, throw and spatter multiple layers of paint onto prone canvases.  Her technique had its origins in an effort to understand the work of Jackson Pollock.  However, Carey has made it entirely her own, creating striking abstract impressionist work that visually references the neo-impressionist pointillist movement.  Her work wrests coherence from chaos.  From a distance, we see the image; up close, we see the controlled chaos of the technique.

Reflecting on the Covid-19 lockdown and the recent Black Lives Matter protests, Carey says “I believe it makes the fractal nature of my work, even more poignant. We are a Nation seeming to come apart at the seams. However I believe, those seams and ideals needed to be examined and to come apart, so that all our particles, may re configure, to come to a new and hopefully better understanding, of ourselves and our Nation, as a whole.”

Diana Carey, along with Kathleen Kane-Murrell, was one of the main organizers of the current show “20/20: Twenty Women of Vision.”   Her commitment to supporting her TWA colleagues in creating a community where their work gives them and others agency has set the tone for the exhibit.  About the show, Carey says “It is a challenging time for women artists to not only determine the value of our work but to re-evaluate our interpretations of current events and techniques, styles and subject matter. But as women, we are fortunate to be flexible, to view the world with a different perspective and to find interpretation via any materials at hand.“

Christine Schwimmer: The Future is Female

“I love to paint, I love the challenge.  I struggle with every piece, mixing paint right on the canvas, using charcoal and scratching to make lines, creating images and then destroying them. Sometimes I am satisfied with the outcome quickly and sometimes never.  Painting allows me to express my emotions and/or the emotions I choose to explore.  Sometimes my images are abstract, sometimes figures without facial features.”

Christine Schwimmer grew up in Chicago and lived there until moving to San Diego in 1982.  She lives and paints in her studio in La Mesa, California. Her passion for art began as a child growing up in a culturally and ethnically diverse city.  For the past 15 years, she has pursued her passion for painting by studying at the Athenaeum School of the Arts in La Jolla and San Diego, UCSD Extension as well as the Art Academy of San Diego.

In addition to participating in Artwalk/San Diego for the last several years, Schwimmer has exhibited, donated, and sold her work throughout Southern California at both juried and non-juried venues.  Her paintings are in numerous private collections.  She is a member of the San Diego Art Institute and The La Jolla Athenaeum. She is inspired by artists such as Nathan Oliviera, Antoni Tapies, Franz Kline, Cy Twombly and Basquiat.  

Detail of Words Transcend

Inspired by natural and urban surroundings and drawing from life experiences, Schwimmer’s paintings employ simple strokes to evoke a mood, a thought, a feeling or an emotion. Her work is narrative but open-ended; she suggests a story and leaves the narrative to be completed by the viewer.  What are these people doing?  What are they thinking?  The four pieces in the current show are from a series called “The Future is Female.”  Schwimmer says “I painted the dresses using bright colors to convey female energy and emotional intelligence.  I chose to use two figures as a representation that women stand together for equality and opportunity now and in the future, and demand recognition for their contributions and leadership. ‘The future is female’ appears in each painting as my declaration that women will have better, brighter and more equal opportunities, reminding us that each of us has a voice.”

Bronle Crosby: Walk Treasures

“When my kids were small, we walked: neighborhood, seashore, park. Those walks meant hunting for those small and happy finds that might turn up — if you were looking. Some were only sightings, some got to come home and join the collection on the windowsill. We learned plant names, bird species, bugs, sea creatures, stones, seeds… and we petted all the neighborhood cats who would put up with us. The best thing was all the seeing, touching, smelling, and pleasure those small treasures gave. I still have the marble and the sand dollar. I treasure them.”

Detail of Walk Treasures

20/20 artist Bronle Crosby’s artistic goal is to invoke calm and contemplation. She paints focused natural histories: close-up corners of the big picture of life, “places for the eyes and mind to take a rest,” in subtle colors and painterly detail.  In “Walk Treasures,” the charming images stand in for treasured memories, inviting our own contemplation of special memories of childhood, our own or our children’s.  In all her work, she focuses on capturing the fleeting moment – the second before the dewdrop falls, the widening circle after the raindrop hits the water  — encouraging the viewer to pause and recollect the small miracles of daily life.

For more about Bronle, see this excellent interview.

Brenda York: Abstract Figure Painting

Brenda York
 has drawn and painted faces for as long as she can remember.  For the past few years, however, she says she has “become interested in deconstructing the architecture of the face to see how far (she) can abstract it and still capture the intangible human qualities.”  The resulting faces are both whimsical and compelling.  The work is fun and playful but also serious.  York sees art as “an attempt to make sense of our common human-being-ness.” 

The two fabulously fantastical paintings currently on display in the 20/20 show pay tribute to the Earth Mother.  In Greek mythology she brings forth the primordial sea and sky.  Wise and fecund, she is both guardian of the wild and mother of many gods. In one painting she gestures to the sun and the moon; in the other she holds an armload of rain clouds.  Puzzling white charcoal markings dance across the richly colored surface of these paintings — modern hieroglyphs, scientific symbols, words, phrases and nonsensical mathematical equations.  Mysterious signifiers shaken loose from what they signify, they provocatively resist our interpretation.  One says “A lie is just a lie,” another “Scenic Route,” and still another “Lost Again,” with a simple drawing of a compass. There is a childlike drawing of a rocket ship, a wishbone, a ladder leading nowhere.  Although the effect is lighthearted, the overall impression is of a world where language and symbolic meaning have fragmented in a way that parallels York’s deconstruction of the face.  We sense that the white markings are not merely decorative.  Yet, interrogate them as we will, we are rewarded with only a flickering comprehension.   In York’s “attempt to make sense,” it would seem the teasing pleasure of the attempt is more important than the sense we might make. 

Brenda York has over 35 years of experience in visual art.  In addition to her paintings, she also creates quirky and colorful wall sculptures; and she is the author/illustrator of the art book Big Little Paintings, Short Little Stories (Blurb, 2014).  When not in her studio, she teaches popular classes and workshops at Art on 30th here in San Diego.   Recent topics have included finding one’s visual “voice” and online art marketing.

Contemporary Landscape Painter Alison Haley Paul

“Tempting as it is to depict my subject matter in full detail and perspective, I continuously strive to subtract, simplify and suggest while keeping in mind how the viewer experiences subject, color, line, texture, and ambiance.”  San Diego artist  Alison Haley Paul paints with a palette knife, using oil mixed with cold wax to create richly textured landscapes that strike a delicate balance between realism and abstraction. While they are serene when viewed from a distance, up close one can see the dynamic traces of her effort.

Detail of Foresight

Paul spent countless hours on the water and in the woods while growing up and has a deep appreciation for the power of the horizon, depicted or suggested in all her work.  “Peace of mind and emotional stability are dependent on balance and equilibrium governed by our continuous reference to the horizon.”  Hence the sense of tranquility viewers experience in her paintings.

In addition to the two pieces she has in the “20/20” group show currently hanging at Fresh Paint, Alison’s work can also be seen around the corner at Contemporary Fine Art gallery in La Jolla.  And if you happen to be in Napa this month, you might take in her solo show, “Deja Vu” opening today, at Aerena Galleries.  She describes the more than 40 pieces in this solo show as “light, bright, upbeat.”  Indeed, all of Alison Haley Paul’s work is about “gratitude, peace and optimism,” a welcome and fitting antidote to these very trying times.