Church Can Be An Art Blessing

I’m really glad I went to church today. I discovered an incredibly inspiring artist who painted more than 7 decades ago.

helene_schjerfbeck_-_self_portrait_1942
Helene Schjerfbeck, Self portrait 1942

I’m really glad I went to church today. Yes, it’s always a comforting place where I can find friends and words that normally uplift me in this crazy, confused world. And today, I found an incredibly inspiring artist: Finish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862 – 1946).

I guess I should explain that in our Unitarian Universalist Church we use art, music and poetry every Sunday. When we removed a hand-made tapestry from behind the pulpit several years ago and added a large projection screen, I was concerned that we were becoming too computerized and maybe a bit cold. But they use this wide-screen to project poetry, words of songs, and yes, art every Sunday!

An Artist That Inspires

My newest artist that inspires painted more than 7 decades ago, and while she is best known for her early realistic paintings, the ones that mesmerized me are her later paintings that are nearly abstract images.

While unknown to me, Helene Schjerfbeck is a Finnish national icon. Her early style was very naturalistic, honed during her studies in France. Her talent was recognized early and she was widely traveled However, in her later years she spent much of her time in a quieter atmosphere.

Next year (2019), the Royal Academy of Arts will exhibit over 60 of her portraits, landscapes and still lifes. Their exhibit publicity calls this a “long-overdue survey  that traces the evolution of her remarkable career.” They plan to highlight a sequence of her self-portraits, which they believe reveal her “lifelong fascination with the physical and psychological process of aging”—what lies beneath the skin and bones.

Influences of My Current Work

I too have found that as the years pass, I am simplifying my paintings. While a lot goes in at the beginning, much gets covered up and painted over. I am finding I must be honest and clear about my intent, and I must spend a lot of time journaling and observing. It is not linear, but rather a process that allows for overlap—a back and forth, a push and pull, an addition and reduction approach.

In particular, I am observing women artists because I believe they are best at distilling ideas and objects to their essence. This is a challenge I have given myself: to find what means the most to me and to simplify the imagery until only the important elements remain.

Naming Our Children

Like most artists, paintings are somewhat like my children. I have a lot of time and effort and angst invested in them. So I want to send them into the world well equipped for any struggles they might encounter.

 

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Untitled, “10 x 8” Mixed media on paper

Continue reading “Naming Our Children”

The Little Black Dress of Painting

Texture in art is comparable to the “ little black dress” in fashion.

"Not Intended For Ground Contact," Mixed media on deep wood panel, "17 x 23"
“Not Intended For Ground Contact,” Mixed media on deep wood panel, “17 x 23”

Texture in art is comparable to the “ little black dress” in fashion. With texture you will “never be underdressed or overdressed.” It is always appropriate.

Carlene Olivia McElroy and Sandra Duran Wilson (http://darleneoliviamcelroy.com and https://sandraduranwilson.com) in their book Surface Design Workshop provide over 45 technique for creating texture which they call “a unique surface that has both history and mystery.” I think that is one of the reasons I am drawn to texture. It creates a mystery for me to solve.

In my artwork, even after the gesso or gypsum is applied and sanded, I am likely to add crumpled paper or fabric and more gesso or gypsum—even before painting. This can add movement or a place for the eye to stop. I also use texture to create depth, pushing back one element and bringing forward another.

How Can the Same Texture Appear Different?

Texture appears different if I use a dry brush, a wet brush, a fluid paint, a heavy body paint, gesso, or gypsum. And certainly, if it is different if applied with a palate knife, it will be heavier and perhaps structural. The real key is determining what type of texture fits the painting and finding the correct tools to apply it. Is the painting a landscape, a nonobjective abstract, or a portrait? All paintings use some type of texture, but the amount depends on the artist and what they hope to convey to the viewer.

Van Gogh’s thick and expressive brushstrokes created a flowing texture that added interest and energy to his paintings. It is almost like being on a roller coaster ride. Robert Rauschenberg went even further than the textural qualities of paint incorporating objects with their own textures in to his artwork. In Anselm Kiefer’s work the elements are not contrasting but layered to produce the desired effect.

Why Add Additional Texture?

Despite my fairly heavy use of tactile texture, I almost always add elements of visual texture. Sometimes these are pieces of photographs that relate to the subject or symbolism in the painting. I often use words torn from a magazine or book or just paper I have hand-colored or stamped. In the final painting, these elements may or may not remain recognizable and may even be painted over completely. But they are there for me the art maker, adding meaning and continuity, and I believe informing the painting. Texture can also create enough interest to motivate a viewer get up close—to see exactly what the painter has done and find their own meaning in the piece.

 

 

 

A Touching Story

I’m not alone in my love of texture. There are those of you out there just trying to control your urges every time you visit a gallery or museum.

texturebeforesanding copy
A textured panel ready for sanding.

I know you aren’t suppose to touch a painting, but one of these days I’m going to create an entire wall of paintings and a large sign that says “Go Ahead; I Know You Want To Touch It.”

Obviously, I’m not alone in my love of texture. There are those of you out there just trying to control your urges every time you visit a gallery or museum. And there are painters who apply paint so liberally that their yearly cost of paint is probably a budget I could live on (Brian Rutenberg).

In my world, texture comes in two varieties: tactile and visual (though I now understand there is a 3rd variety, hypertexture.) I spend weeks developing this texture, and often wonder why we say “don’t touch” when we spend so much time perfecting something. Perhaps it just becomes too precious.

Building Texture

My first love was physical texture, the variety that you could build up with all types of materials including wood, gesso, and gypsum. I am still enamored by it, just as I am also fascinated by rocks and stones that show so much beauty and energy in their layers. But the time I am able to spend in the natural world has also made me value visual texture as well. For example, the variation in leaf patterns and veining that we are able to see so much clearer in the fall when the leaves turn colors, the variations in the bark on different types of trees, the wisps and furls on clouds.

I think there is a subtle difference in the types of tactile texture. Architectural surfaces are often rectilinear and their texture is often controlled, perhaps by the materials they are using or because their textures must be structural. But some architects (think Antonio Gaudi or Frank Gehry) and many artists crave textures that are more organic and built layer by layer by adding to a surface slowly.

I experienced some of the challenges of structure in my 3-dimensional pieces with added wood as well as gypsum. While they have more of an architectural quality, I want them viewed as both stable and ever-changing at the same time. I use the wood elements to develop a bit of direction and movement. Then after sealing the wood I add gypsum and press in found objects for the tactile texture.

Texture With Emotion

Why are some artists drawn to color or composition and others to texture? Could it be artistic DNA or just individual choice? Obviously all of these elements must be incorporated into a successful painting. So how did I get from a flat undecorated surface to two-and three-dimensional paintings? Slowly, very slowly.

For my work on wood panels it is important that I anticipate the emotional quality of my texture. When I make markings in the gesso or gypsum surface, my goal is to create movement and foreshadow the emotion of the piece. Once the texture is prepared, dried, and sanded, then comes the moment of truth. It is the under painting that reveals all— the type of tactile texture and where I can best embellish or create more. It is just the beginning, just the start of the excitement.

And the next question: “when is a little too much.” (That’s Part 2)

 

 

Studio Mysteries and Other Confessions

Studio mysteries and other confessions.

artonthefloor
The beginnings of a mixed media painting—on the floor.

Actually, there are no mysteries in my studio. There are no special brushes, no perfect paints, no easel at just the right height. It’s not even a huge space. But I am grateful to have a dedicated space in what was once an attic. Still, I work any place I can— table, bench, or floor. And my back testifies to that.

On the Table

Most of my paintings start on the same Home Depot table you probably use at Thanksgiving. You know the fold-up, fold-out variety with the handy carrying strap. My own tables have been used at Christmas—minus the paintings of course. I have added wheels to a couple of them so they can move around easily. An easel that would hold 3-inch deep wood panels would be great, but I haven’t figured that one out yet (How do we accommodate the sides?). In the past couple of years I have been working a bit more on paper, building up texture with paraphernalia and gesso. Because I am often pressing in found objects to create texture, I still need a firm, hard surface.

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Still not finished, but getting closer.

Beneath My Feet

My artwork is constantly moving— from table to either wall or floor for drying, viewing, and gaining perspective. So while I can hang a cradle to stare at it, I usually use the floor for my work on paper.

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The faithful companion—sometimes.

If I leave a piece overnight, I must be careful: to be certain to first turn the light on the next morning to avoid stepping on artwork, but most importantly, to pick up all extraneous art materials to avoid enticing the cat (She is easily motivated.).

She will play with and has played with every thing I leave on the floor from paint brushes and charcoal pencils to tubes of paint and bits of fabric. And of course, her personal favorite is string.  It has not escaped my notice that a few of my pieces may have cat DNA attached.

 

 

Lost-and-Found

Thomas Merton is quoted as saying “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Mill Shoals Falls,  Brevard, NC
The video “Connections to Nature” shows my paintings and their inspiration. Follow the link: https://www.patriciasteeleraible.com/videos.

Inspiration

Where do you get your inspiration? It’s a common question for artists. For me, inspiration comes from many sources. Sometimes ideas come from reading, listening to others, or writing in my journal. Other times it is both as simple and as complex as being overwhelmed by my feelings as I watch waves cut trenches into the sand at high tide or water cascading over rocks from 30 feet above me. And lately it seems, much of my inspiration comes from nature.

The Painting Process

Thomas Merton is quoted as saying “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” With my art based in nature, I find the opposite is true. I usually loose myself first and then find myself again in the painting process. And I do mean loose (set myself free). It is a back and forth, pull and push process that can be frustrating at times, rewarding at others.

My nature paintings are usually based on specific places, but they are not unlike other similar locations. In fact, it is this sameness that interests me most—the connections between what is visible and what is below the surface. It is this connection between the physical aspects of the place and the emotional reaction of the viewer that I hope to capture.

It is difficult to explain what happens during the painting process. I am creating my version of the waterfall, the trees, or the seashells at low tide. But as an abstract artist I am not replicating them. Rather, I am striving to duplicate or even elevate the “experience” of walking up that tight, rugged trail to the summit of Mt. Mitchell. I want the viewer to have the impression of being surrounded by fir trees on both sides and sweating from the effort of climbing over roots and rock. I want them to feel the connections, that oneness with what surround us.

Coming Together

Painting is my method of working out ideas and their relationships to one another. It is a mystery or a puzzle to be solved. Often there is resolution. Other times the search continues, and I paint the same ideas over and over. But ultimately it is all a part of the great energy that is within us and that surrounds us.

Can I Blame It On Gravity?

What is critical is whether my paintings resonate with the viewer.

Bulletin
What We Carry, ©Patricia Steele Raible, 24” x 17.75”, mixed media on deep wood panel

 

In his book Seeing Places artist Brian Rutenberg (http://www.brianrutenbergart.com) talks about the copy of Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware that hung over his childhood bed, saying it is still one of his favorite paintings. This painting is symbolic for him, and he remembers the first time he saw the original while visiting his grandparents in New York. While I didn’t grow up with art on the walls, by the time I was in my twenties I had begun collecting posters. I now have copies of the art of Georgia O’Keeffe, Alan Magee, Peter Blume and about a dozen originals by wonderful regional artists. They all give me joy and never fail to draw me in.

Rutenberg calls making art a “gravitational pull.” He is right. It is not something I could stop willingly. So if my artwork touches people and they want to buy it, I am truly gratified. But it is also okay if they are moved enough to put an image on their refrigerator. What is critical is whether my paintings resonate with the viewer.

I was particularly pleased to have been asked by a staff member of the St. Simons Island, Georgia, Presbyterian Church (https://www.sspres.org) if they could feature What We Carry on the front of their church bulletin. While my images have been used in my own church, this was the first request from another community. For those at the St. Simons church, I can only hope that the painting provided a path into worship.