When is a Workshop…Well Not a Workshop? Part 2 Surrealists


My mentoring week with Katherine Chang Liu also included “programs” that she developed for the group. For an hour each morning we viewed and discussed contemporary art. I found myself really enjoying the work of the surrealists, which was definitely not the case before. Perhaps what made me appreciate this art even more was the work another artist in the mentoring sessions—Judith Visker.

According to her bio, Judith had a career as a nurse before studying art. She painted in stylized representational style for a long time, but is now “more concerned with where the materials take me, with color relationships, formal design and surface quality.” She has exhibited in museum shows, galleries and exhibitions and has won awards. She is the Gallery Director at The Wham Art Center in Surprise, AZ where she has her studio, shows her work, and teaches classes. She graciously allowed me to share a few images. You can find more at her website: http://www.judithviskerart.com/




Setting Boundaries

“Setting Boundaries I,” 12″ x 12″ x 3″, mixed media on deep wood panel

Who doesn’t love a beautiful stonewall or a wrought iron fence? It makes everything seem contained, more civilized, safer. But do boundaries always keep us safe, or does they simply separate us?

Robert Frost in his poem “Mending Wall” questions this notion with his neighbor as they do a spring mend on a stonewall, each on his own side. The narrator considers this repairing an “out-door game,” since there is no livestock to contain. But his neighbor seems serious about the boundaries and quotes the proverb: “fences make good neighbors.”

As houses get closer and the noise louder, I too want to set boundaries—to live within a walled garden. I get up early not to hear the sounds of construction. But will a wall, garden or not, make me more tolerant? Will I sleep better at night with a 6-foot privacy fence? Possibly. Or perhaps it is more about what a fence symbolizes, because boundaries can be so many different things.

If boundaries alienate us from each other, can we name the boundaries? Are they simply differences in looks or opinions so that we draw lines of exclusion to feel more comfortable? Are they differences in values or religion? Or are they what we imagine of our “neighbors”? Frost says, “my apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines.”

So I ask myself and you, does setting boundaries benefit us or keep us from crossing lines that might make a difference?

What Painting and Listening Teaches

I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, and the time I’ve spent lately has included more listening. That means I’ve heard the difference in the sounds of water—depending on whether it is a small stream, a river, or a waterfall.

The connection between timpani or kettledrums came when viewing a PBS film on crafts that talked about how different drumsticks change the sound of the drum. Some sticks are made with harder tip, others have more, and softer felt. This last trip to the woods I’ve tried to notice why the sound of the water might be different. Is it the force of the water, the height of the waterfall, the number and type of rocks below the water, or even how those rocks or logs lay in the stream or river?

So the start of the 4-sided painting has become the first in a series about the sound of water. I love what painting and listening teaches me. Even a small waterfall can rumble.


Looking Ahead

“Looking Ahead,” 8″ x 6″ x 2″, Mixed Media on deep wood panel

This small piece started with a demo of a photo transfer. I can never bear just to throw something away, so my boy with the hat began to tell his story. He’s not looking at the camera. Like most children he is looking ahead—to tomorrow, to next week, to when he is big.

Sometimes I think I put too much in a painting. Wanting to keep the focus on the image, I only put in some texture and a horizon line.



What’s Next

This photo illustrates the beginnings of one of my four-sided paintings— just a bit of paint, some texture with wood and cloth. We’ll see where it goes.

Ann Patchett in her essay on writing, “The Getaway Car,” admits she does not always know what is going to happen when she begins writing a novel. She carries the story around in her head for a long time before putting words to paper. She is not a novelist who works from an outline or who knows what every character will do.

I work in much the same way. I start with an idea, and I carry those shapes, colors, and emotions around in my head. Until I begin to put paint and textures to board, I am not sure where the painting will lead. I know if I put in the work, something will eventually happen. If it doesn’t work the first time, then it will by the second or third (though I may use a few naughty words).

Luckily, I enjoy the journey (or the making) as well as the promise of a satisfying and lovely destination.

Let Your Paintings Lead Another Life

On the left, a detail of my 4-sided painting “Seeing In A Different Light III,” in early 2016. On the right the same painting with a bit of “collage” paper created by an archival copy of another small painting.

What I’m doing today: using materials I already have to make an earlier painting better. I was cleaning up today, getting ready to work on another large piece when I spotted a color copy (archival) of a painting I had just completed. Looking at the colors, I realized I could use it to make another painting or when I looked across the room, another painting better. You know the feeling, that painting was one that was “finished,” but I wasn’t quite happy with it. Well, now I am because it has the perfect detail.

By using pieces of this “collage” paper, an image I had already created, I changed a painting. Of course, I added a couple other bits and pieces when I got going, but I’m finally happy with the painting months after “completing it.” The other alternative would have been to use that color copy as the “jumping off point” for a new piece.

So if you have paintings you love or portions of paintings you love, let them “dress up” and lead another life!


illumination72 copy
“Illumination,” 7.5″ x 14″, mixed media on deep wood panel

I spent the morning with my grandson. After almost two weeks, it’s almost like seeing another child. While much of what he does remains the same, so much changes. He still doesn’t have a long attention span at four, but he will spend about 30 minutes painting, and he loves to see what marks can be made with my different “tools.”

Watching him making marks with a wide brush, a soft brush, an old membership card, a small roller, and a yogurt container he had saved for art was illuminating. It is difficult to remember if I had this same observation and clarity with my own children, but the process made me remember a small painting I did a few years back. It was a period of breakthrough—a big step toward abstraction, a journey I enjoy every day.