Artists as Storytellers

By Judy Feldman | www.wildemeyer.com

What stimulates the artistic mind to pick up a brush and create a painting, or to produce a beautiful object, or, for that matter, to write a compelling novel? Sometimes we see something that triggers our imagination – whether it’s a beautiful landscape, a bowl of perfect fruit, colors that turn us on, or a story that we’ve overheard.

Airing Out
Ka Fisher
Some artists use many of these stimuli to create their work. Painters can tell the story of what they’ve been thinking about through narrative art. These storytellers don’t use words; they use images and color to inform the viewer.

Ka Fisher’s paintings, which have a lovely, Impressionist style, tell stories about Native Americans – their land and the things they do during their daily lives. She told me that she often visits places like Chinle, Kayenta and Canyon de Chelly for her inspiration. At the Hubbell Trading post, she has taken a “listening tour,” where she overhears conversations among customers.

“I get many ideas from the people I meet as well as places I visit,” Ka said. “In the Town of Tubac, they have open wood structures that are used for events to give shade. They also have the same type of structures on the Navajo reservation.” Ka took this vision and developed a story in her large painting entitled “Airing Out,” where rugs are hung to air, and horses walk between them. “I wanted the narrative to be happy and fun, so I added many animals in the foreground,” she said.

Dreamboat Annie Cruisin'
Ka Fisher
Another painting, “Dreamboat Annie Cruisin’,” combines stories that relate to the Navajo way of life and Ka’s own history. “Here, I’m mixing memory and imagery,” she said. “The vintage cars are embedded in my mind from childhood.” Ka sets the scene in the mountain foothills, where Navajo display their rugs in and among a vintage car show. That may not actually have happened, but it’s Ka’s story to tell! The bright colors of the rugs and the cars create a lively, appealing scene.

Sometimes memories can play a role in narrative painting. In Ka Fisher’s case, she spent her childhood summers in Canada by a river near two Indian villages. The scenes she paints incorporate some of that landscape, along with the Southwest she has adopted as her current home.
My Market
Linda Carter Holman
Over in California, artist Linda Carter Holman tells painted stories about her vision of life. Many of the elements in her paintings have special meanings for her. In her painting entitled “My Market,” she created a scene that’s “how it would be if I had a market.” She said that the sunflower over one woman’s head is symbolic of the sun, which she couldn’t show because of the awning overhead. The lovebird in the cage is another favorite image, as is the goldfish in the bowl under the table on the right side. “Goldfish represent the miracle of discovering the world to me,” she said. Above the goldfish bowl, there is a jug with a small ladder leaning against it. Linda said that image also tells a story of self-discovery.

Lotus
Linda Carter Holman
Even though Linda uses a strong color palette, her painting is serene. The four women in the painting seem to be enjoying themselves as they walk through the market. They are soft-bodied figures, since Linda thinks that curves are more relaxing. You see curved shapes throughout the painting, which is filled in every spot with an image, because, as she says “every inch of our lives is filled with something.”

Her painting entitled “Lotus” tells a different story. It seems more mysterious to me. The solitary figure has her back to the viewer, so we don’t really know what she’s thinking. When I commented to Linda that things didn’t seem to be in scale, she replied that she was just creating a composition – a visual story – which unfolded in that way. “I just painted a moment in this woman’s life.” I asked about the umbrellas, and she said that they symbolize being prepared (that’s more necessary in Northern California than here in Arizona). She chose the image of the lotus because “it comes from the mud and becomes something, just as a person evolves.”


Treats
Judy Feldman
After speaking with these two artists, I started thinking about my own paintings. Do I tell a story, too? I actually think I do, since many of my paintings are about places I’d like to be – cozy settings, with colorful furniture, and, usually, a contented dog. “Treats” is a good example of a typical story I tell. The open book, the slippers and the tea and cupcakes all indicate that a person will soon be coming back into the room. The dog shares its owner’s good life, with treats for him on the table.

Cote D'Azur
Judy Feldman
Another painting, “Afternoon at the Cote D’Azur,” is inspired by a visit to the South of France. Here, again, my story is of an inviting place, with a table set for a possible romantic dinner, observed by the family’s dog and cat.

We all have stories. Some of us are fortunate to be able to tell them visually. But, even if you can’t paint or write, it’s important to share your stories with others. And, don’t forget to embellish them a little!


You can see more art by Judy Feldman, Linda Carter Holman and Ka Fisher at Wilde Meyer Gallery.

The Painter’s Emotional Lens

By Judy Feldman | www.wildemeyer.com

We often think of landscape paintings as representational art. But, in fact, many artists are so inspired by the landscape they are experiencing, they prefer to convey these scenes through the lens of their emotions.

I recently attended a lecture by a docent from the Phoenix Art Museum about the Hudson River School. These American painters of the 19th century hiked in uncharted territory of upstate New York, in awe of the wilderness around them. They sketched and wrote their memories on site; then created paintings in their studios that we would call realistic, but which conveyed their fascination with and love of nature.

Dawn Mountain Glow
Fran Larsen
Today, some contemporary painters express their reactions to a landscape in a different way. They choose to ignore local color and instead, use hues that convey their emotions rather than describe what they see. Others prefer to express themselves with more stylized, abstract versions of physical realities. To explore these different concepts of landscape painting, I called two artists from Wilde Meyer whose work I admire.

When she moved to Santa Fe, Fran Larsen was thrilled by the wonderful light there, the amazing landscape and the interesting cultures of its residents. Fran says that her paintings are metaphors of her reaction to these unique New Mexican characteristics.

“I’m inspired by the way the environment here makes me feel,” she says. “Because of the intense light, I see color in entirely different ways. Once color becomes arbitrary – rather than local – shapes can be arbitrary as well.”

Hidden in the Mountains
Fran Larsen
Inspiration for her painting entitled “Dawn Mountain Glow” came as Fran was looking out her window at the canyon below her house. She painted the arroyo that runs through the canyon – a technique she often employs. “Roads and rivers are entry points that take us into things, and I believe that each painting is an exploration for me and the viewer,” she says. As you can see, Fran’s choice of colors is personal, and doesn’t reference the local scene. I sense that her emotional lens was a joyful one – the vivid colors in the canyon and the sky make the painting energetic and pleasing.

Fran departs from realism in other ways. In her painting entitled “Hidden in the Mountains,” she makes no attempt to portray a three-dimensional depth of field. “This painting is about a landscape, but my interest here is design and the use of flat space – a more cubist approach,” she says. Fran explains that she contrasts light and dark areas, using hues that vary in intensity, to give the painting a “feeling of push and pull.” She uses small dots to enliven the shapes and add texture.

There is another unique element in Fran’s paintings – the frames themselves. She designs, constructs and paints each frame to complement the painting. “The frame reasserts that the painting is an object, as opposed to a representation,” she says.


Sunlit Canyon
Sushe Felix
Sushe Felix lives in Colorado. Her southwest landscapes have a distinctive style, which she claims is derived from her interest in American abstract painters from the 1930’s and 40s, as well as the modernist movement. “In particular, I’ve been influenced by Raymond Jonson, who led the Transcendental Painting Group in Santa Fe,” Sushe explained.

Late Night Reflection
Sushe Felix
I looked up the group on Google, and found that the aim of the Transcendental Painting Group was "to defend, validate and promote abstract art. They sought to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world, through new expressions of space, color, light and design."

Thomas Hart Benton, who was at the forefront of the Regionalist movement, also influenced Sushe, as did the southwest regionalist painters, who took the local landscape and abstracted it. Sushe does that in her own way, with a strong focus on forms, shapes and color. You can see her unique style in two of her paintings, entitled “Sunlit Canyon” and “Late Night Reflection.” She likes to define the shapes of the mountains and sky with sharp edges, but contrasts that with soft shapes inside the borders. When I asked her how she created the delicate areas of clouds, mountains and trees, she said that she uses old brushes to scrub acrylic paint on her canvas to create a pastel-like effect. “I studied pastel in college, so I know how to blend very well,” she says.

Sushe often includes depictions of wildlife in her paintings. Here, her love of animals lead her to create endearing “critters” with round eyes – as you can see in two beautiful paintings entitled “Nest of Blooms.” and “Full Brood.”


Full Brood
Sushe Felix
Nest of Blooms
Sushe Felix


Many people want a point of reference when they look at a painting. But more importantly, a painting should reflect the artist’s vision – seen through his or her emotional lens.

View more art by Fran Larsen and Sushe Felix at Wilde Meyer Gallery.


The Power of Simplification

by Judy Feldman | www.wildemeyer.com

Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting the Museum of Modern Art in New York to see an exhibit of Matisse’s cut-outs, a collection of the work he created in the final decade of his life. When he was forced to give up painting in his later years, Matisse began to work with painted paper and scissors, arranging the shapes into lively compositions, creating what he called gouache cut-outs.

Henri Matisse, "The Snail," 1953  source
Matisse called his new method drawing in color.  He stated, “For me it is a question of simplification. Instead of drawing the outline and establishing color within it, I draw directly in the color…this simplification guarantees precision as I reconcile two means now become one.”

Matisse’s cut-outs actually introduced a new medium in art: his compositions of colored paper were not like other artists’ collages of various materials. They were an intentional method of creating art. He also used his cut-outs as a way to create a composition, moving them around until he achieved what he wanted. Matisse was always thinking about relationships, harmonies and contrasts. Jodi Hauptman, senior curator for MOMA, called his cut-outs “a carefully orchestrated riot of colors.”

For me, the outstanding impression of this amazing exhibit was how Matisse simplified his shapes and used them to celebrate his love of form and color. For this blog, I started thinking about some artists at Wilde Meyer who use simplified shapes and strong hues in their visual language.

Shadowland, 48 x 48 inches
Jaime Ellsworth
Blaze, 48 x 48 inches
Jaime Ellsworth
Jaime Ellsworth uses a limited palette and images distilled down to their basic shapes to create contemporary depictions of animals she loves. I really like the power of “Shadowland,” where the partial image of the horses and their shadows connect in interesting geometric patterns. Here, simplicity is conveyed in such an elegant way. Jaime continues this theme in “Blaze,” again using partial shapes and limited colors. In this painting, both the positive and the negative space are of interest.

Dog Days II, 24 x 48 inches
Jaime Ellsworth
Things get more colorful in “Dog Days II.” But shapes are still very simple, and Jaime has painted the scene at the dogs’ eye level, which makes it so much more fun and appealing.

Trevor Mikula uses a palette knife to create his amusing paintings. He keeps things simple, too, with large blocks of color and a focus on one particular image. In “Like Your Hair,” he’s distilled the plant down to its basics: some curvy leaves and a red pot. That’s probably because Trevor sees things in his own humorous way! He also likes to transform mundane objects into a work of art – such as the old phone in “Ringer.” Here, the powerful hues and beautiful shapes of the background provide the art platform for the old black telephone.

Like Your Hair, 24 x 24 inches
Trevor Mikula
Ringer, 24 x 24 inches
Trevor Mikula
In Robert Burt’s paintings, strong color compositions portray the landscapes and architecture around him. Like Matisse, Robert distills his scenes down to their most elemental and powerful components, giving his paintings a very contemporary, stylized look. In “Colorful Morning,” he uses basic shapes to convey the mountains, trees, a house and a winding road with 3 cars – a seemingly simple endeavor that took considerable skill – especially his choice of colors that burst with energy to convey bright sunrise.

Colorful Morning, 30 x 30 inches
Robert Burt
We see this technique again in “Autumn.” Here, the fire red of the tree and its oversize shape get our immediate attention, but the muted trees in the background and the negative shapes of the sky, and the foreground with its shadow are still worth inspection.
Autumn, 44" x 44" inches
Robert Burt
Maybe this is kind of obvious, but I think that in this world of over-stimulation, it’s nice to look at art that celebrates simplicity! It’s such a powerful form of expression.

PS. Here’s a quote by the musician Frederic Chopin that recently appeared in a blog I read: "Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art."

View more art by Jaime Ellsworth, Robert Burt and Trevor Mikula at Wilde Meyer Gallery.

The Gift of Art

By Judy Feldman | www.wildemeyer.com

Holiday time inevitably becomes very stressful, especially when we have to select the perfect gift for a friend or family member. The stores are loaded with merchandise. It’s overwhelming! Here’s a better solution: give the gift of art. A small painting, a ceramic or glass object – any original work of art is certain to please. And, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, as they say, because the recipient can enjoy it for a long time.

Sadie in the Red Room
16 x 12 inches
by Judy Feldman
At this time of year, Wilde Meyer Gallery asks its artists to produce small works that would be appropriate for gifts. At first, that was pretty intimidating to me, since I didn’t have experience painting in a small format. But once I started, it was so much fun! By keeping the subject simple, you can work quickly, so the piece is very fresh and energetic. Small works are more intimate, too, so they have a certain charm that larger formats can’t provide.

The Blue Vase
16 x 12 inches
by Judy Feldman
The painting I just finished, entitled “Sadie in the Red Room,” was a great way to explore all the different shades of red, and since I worked quickly, I used the wet-on-wet technique, which gives a painting a nice, soft look. Red also played a role in another painting called “The Blue Vase,” since I used a layer of this color before I started painting the image. That technique gives the painting a nice, warm glow.

One of the great things about purchasing a small work of art is the chance to give (or acquire for yourself!) a piece from a favorite artist that you may not have been able to afford in a larger size. The Wilde Meyer artists that I’ve spoken to enjoy creating these small works – sometimes they work as studies for larger pieces later on. And, if your budget is larger, you can purchase several small paintings and offer them as a group arrangement.



You might be a bit overwhelmed when you see the wall of small paintings in the holiday show at the gallery. But, it’s worth taking the time to look carefully, and ask Laura, Andrea, Ryan or Jonathan to show the ones you like by themselves. The gift of art is a unique and memorable one!



The Tricks of the Trade

By Judy Feldman | www.wildemeyer.com

Whenever I admire a piece of art, I can’t help but wonder how it was done. How did the artist get that amazing texture? What colors did she or he mix? What type of brush or implement was used? In other words, how did they do that??

I looked at the works of some of the Wilde Meyer artists, and decided to ask them about their artistic process. I wasn’t sure if they would appreciate my questions, or want to divulge their “secrets,” but they did! (I think artists really love to talk about their work.)

Yellow Sun Vinyard, 28 x 30 inches, oil on canvas
Rena Vadewater
Rena Vandewater’s charming paintings are full of color and energy. She combines several techniques: pointillism, patterning and what she calls “scruffling,” which is her way of moving her brush very quickly on the canvas while mixing color. All three combine to create vibrant scenes.

Rena says that she sketches out a plan on paper and then on her canvas. To emphasize an area, she uses a warm color to draw an outline; then she paints inside that shape. “My patterns come from my head,” she says. “They go together like a puzzle. When I don’t know where to go next, I stop for a few days, and wait until I feel inspired to go back to the painting.”

Dingo Dogs, 19 x 23 inches, oil on canvas
Rena Vandewater
Travels often inspire her paintings. “Yellow Sun” is a scene from vineyards Rena saw while visiting France. “I want the viewer to see a real reference, yet enjoy the wonder of the painting,” she says. The red ground behind the vineyard patterns, as well as the red outline of the small buildings and the sun give this painting so much energy! The shapes remind me of quilting.

Rena has worked hard to create and maintain her unique style. Initially, she was self-taught; then she went on and obtained an MFA degree. “Although I’ve studied and learned classical painting, I prefer the na├»ve, primitive style,” she says. “Dingo Dogs” is a good example of Rena’s unique take on a landscape. Here, she employs all of her special techniques: the red outlines, the scruffling for the trees, the patterns in the houses, the flat paint for the dogs, and the wonderful pointillist dots for the land. Her use of the complementary green and red in the dots really makes the painting pop. To top things off, Rena encloses the painting in a patterned frame. It’s busy, but it works!

Desert Garden by Acacia Alder
40 x 30 inches, acrylic on canvas
Acacia Alder loves to hike in the trails around her Tuscon home. She’s inspired by the landscapes she sees, and wants to depict the dynamic energy that exists there. Acacia conveys all this through a technique she employs to give her paintings a sculptural, three dimensional look. I asked her to explain.

“First, I use acrylic gel to sculpt the surface in very particular areas,” she says. “That creates a form for the subject matter, which is somewhat abstracted. Then, I paint over the gel. Each painting has many layers of both gel and paint. It can take quite a while to complete.”

Elan: Palo Verde Musings by Acacia Alder
36 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas
Acacia uses many different implements, including palette knives, brushes, small spatulas and even hair combs for texture. She says that her technique enables her to impart tonal changes, because the gel textures can more easily highlight the light and the shadows. You can see the sculptural quality of the beautiful tree in her painting entitled “Elan: Palo Verde Musings.” Her excellent use of light and shadow, along with a dark outline, makes the tree emerge from the abstract shapes of the landscape behind it.

“Desert Garden” is one of my favorite paintings by Acacia. The many textural shapes and wonderful color palette create energy, and the smooth, burnt orange path is a great, restful contrast. I really like the foliage shadows she’s created on the path.

Tracy Miller has a very interesting creative process. “I have a specific set of rules for myself when I paint,” she says. “I tone every canvas with a wash of either yellow, orange, red or hot pink to give a warm glow that informs the painting.”

Tracy explains her next step: “I make a visual haiku with black paint to create a balanced design of lines, circles or disjointed forms.”

Roughneck by Tracy Miller
11x 14 inches, acrylic on canvas
Bear by Tracy Miller
5 x 7 inches, acrylic on paper
Then, Tracy paints an abstract design within the black lines, while she finds a shape to help guide her to her final image. “It’s like looking at clouds and seeing distinct shapes,” she says. Certain shapes evoke certain animals to her. She sees bears in circular shapes; cows in more boxy shapes and buffalo in sharp angles. Tracy’s fine art background and familiarity with animals enables her to depict their structure and muscles even in her unconventional style. She purposely doesn’t show the entire animal, since she wants the viewers to finish the picture in their heads. When you look at two of her paintings, entitled “Roughneck” and “Bear,” you can get an idea of how she works.

Blue Mood by Tracy Miller
20 x 10 inches, acrylic on canvas 
After the abstract painting is complete, Tracy draws a simple outline in pencil of the final image she wants. Then she paints the negative space around that shape, which becomes the background. Amazing! When you look at “Blue Mood,” keep in mind how the image of the giraffe emerged. As a final touch, Tracy creates her unique signature of paint splatters across the canvas. “I do this to give additional energy to the painting,” she says. “I’m very mindful of the color I use, and after I’ve splattered, I know the work is done!”

Each of these artists has refined her process over time, and is now completely comfortable with it. What’s interesting to me is how personal these approaches are, and that’s why their work is so unique. Even if we understand the process, we can never paint the same way. Who wants to, anyway?

View more art by Rena VandewaterAcacia Alder  and Tracy Miller at Wilde Meyer Gallery.