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   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.

Thursday, April 12, 2012
  upcoming exhibit in milwaukee

Below is my artist statement for Vestiges, an upcoming exhibit at Elaine Erickson Gallery in Milwaukee, WI, with Allison B. Cooke, which opens April 20/21. This statement contains segments from earlier blog posts, reworked and expanded upon to address the title of the show.

Allison and I chose Vestiges for its range of meanings related to traces from the past, and also as a direct reference to a shared working process which involves the building up of layers of cold wax medium and oils, allowing bits of underlying paint to show through as a kind of visual history of the work.

In addition to the way we create our panels, we recognize another common theme for this show--that of travelling and working in another country, and how as abstract painters we have responded to that experience. For Allison, it was time this past summer in Italy and for me, five weeks in Ireland in the fall. We are both drawn to places with long histories made evident in ancient walls, monuments, archaeological sites and other evidence of the past.

Details about our exhibit may be found at the end of the post. If you are in the Milwaukee or Chicago areas, both Allison and I hope that you will have a chance to view the show, which is up through May 26th.

Artist Statement for Vestiges:

A few years ago, walking on a foggy, craggy moor in central England, I realized that there must be many places around the world (like that very moor) that --despite their geographic location--can feel like home, the true home of my senses and feelings.

For each of us, these places will be different--but in certain surroundings, particular to our own experience--we sense that we belong, and feel special creative energy. There are aspects of the color, the texture and the features of these places that resonate in our souls. The vestiges of these places that linger in our minds are far more than just mental pictures of a scene or beautiful landscape. They are sensual and emotional memories, mingled with other moments in our lives when we felt this special connection. On that moor in England, for example, I remembered wandering in nature as a child, and my love of rocks and wild places. I felt at home with a core aspect of myself, though I was physically far from my own country.

The way I express this kind of experience is through the creation of complex, layered surfaces. I build these up with many layers of color and texture—and also with parts selectively washed out, scraped and scratched away, so that traces of earlier layers are revealed. The resulting images symbolize the layered experience of memory, and express an essence of the rough, weathered landscapes and structures that I love.

The work in this exhibit is largely the result of five weeks spent in Ireland in the Fall of 2011—three of which I was an artist in residence at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, located in the gentle countryside of County Monaghan. I also spent time in Dublin and a week traveling in the West of Ireland with my husband. Certain experiences left strong emotional and sensual traces in my mind and continue to feed my work. I was very moved by a number of megalithic stone cairns and monuments, and by the visual riches of the moisture-saturated landscape. I have been working to bring increasingly complex color and texture into my paintings as a result.

An important aspect of the work in this exhibit is the idea of the “veil.” The word evokes both the misty damp that so often pervades the air in Ireland, and also a more metaphoric veil between the world of everyday reality and one more spiritual and mystical. A woman that I met at the Guthrie Centre remarked that “the veil is very thin here,” a phrase that I have recalled many times since in thinking of the beautiful mystique of the Irish landscape and what I know of the culture. In a number of recent paintings, the many layers of paint applied, along with sand and spattered solvents, create a complex visual veil.

Spending time in Ireland has led to a longing to return, and to feel again that exquisite blend of peace and focused energy that characterizes a true home for the soul. In addition to a possible trip this fall, I will be going back in the fall of 2013, as I have been awarded a Fellowship to the Ballinglen Art Foundation, located in the tiny village of Ballycastle in the northwestern part of the country. It is within walking distance of the rugged seacoast—a new and exciting aspect of Ireland to explore.

The painting at the top of the post is Solas , 30"x56," oil and mixed media on panel,and will be included in the exhibit. And here is the show announcement:

Going to twist Paul's arm to eat dinner somewhere in the 3rd ward before we go to the gallery. What time will you be there? Looking foward to seeing you!
Good! I am not actually sure about the timing on Friday night. I think it is around 6-9 that people are out and about and all the galleries are open. See you!
Beautiful writing Rebecca. I share your sense of the 'knowing' that sometimes I feel in particular landscapes, Ireland in particular.
Wishing you both all success with your show.
thanks Jan! I'm looking forward to the show.
Dear Rebecca,

I hope that your exhibition is going well, I think that your work is beautiful. I was very taken with your artist’s statement; it reminded me of a feeling I used to get in the Dublin Mountains in my youth and indeed, it was a feeling that I used to try and find in my paintings. ( I used to call them ‘bog landscapes’ even though in the end they were more about the mood/atmosphere that colours can create ). ‘Home’ would have been another name for them, like you say: there was something about the place that felt like home, “the true home of my senses and feelings”. Strangely enough, the title of my recent exhibition was “Home” but these days my work is quite different to those abstract works of a decade ago. ( you can see images from my show here: http://www.eoinmaclochlainn.com/index_files/page0029.htm ), and even though the work seems to be about the homeless, I would say that it’s actually more about a yearning for ‘home’. I would even suggest that the practice of art is often ‘a yearning for home’, so to speak. It is for me, anyway. But I have a question for you : When I left art college I was making abstract paintings but gradually various social issues began to creep into my life and it was reflected in my art so that at this stage I make figurative works. My question is: do you think that it’s possible to make abstract work but also to allude to more down to earth issues in Life today? Do you know of any artist who does this successfully? Yours sincerely, Eoin Mac Lochlainn
Eoin, thanks for the thoughtful comment and excellent question. I will try to answer it though I can only touch on the topic here.

First, there is no distinct line between figurative work and pure abstraction--rather it's a continuum with varying amounts of definable content. Let's say that at one end is highly realistic work addressing social issues and at the other end there is work without definite imagery that is inspired by the abstract concepts of social issues. In the case of homelessness, perhaps it expresses feelings of desperation, compassion, or something about what unites us as humans. Along that line are an infinite variety of possibilities that might include human figures, expressed in many ways.

To give more specific examples--at one end of a realistic-to-purely abstract continuum that deals with various social issues like war and poverty, you could put someone like Kathe Kollwitz or your own work--sensitive, realistic, symbolic depictions of humanity with an underlying theme of issues they face. Further along toward abstraction, there would be lots of the German Expressionist painters...and a great example, Picasso's Guernica...there are figures but distorted, broken up, abstracted. Also, more contemporary, the work of Sue Coe. Further along the line towards pure abstraction, Anselm Keiffer whose work often refers to the Holocaust and its after effects through the use of words, dark images and textures, and finally at the end of the line with pure abstraction, an example would be Motherwell's series, Elegy to the Spanish Republic. In this case the title or background info is what fills the viewer in on what inspired the artist. There are many many other examples, these are just what comes to mind.

Something to think about is the issue of form and content (I have a blog post about that somewhere.) Considering the content of in your case, homelessness, what would be the best expression of this idea for you? what forms (materials, style etc.) would best express your ideas and feelings about this? given your interest in abstraction, there could be some very interesting territory to explore. Some of the more expressionistic figurative artists like Francis Bacon have a great deal of power and psychological content in their figures.

Hope that answers the question or provides some food for thought--
Thanks Rebecca for your information. I’ve briefly googled both Sue Coe and Kathe Kollwitz and they both look very interesting. I‘ll certainly look into them more. I agree with you that there isn’t a definitive line between figuration and abstraction but I still haven’t found the path (somewhere in the middle) that I’ve been looking for. I have been experimenting with various materials, as you suggested - I’ve been making drawings in black marker on old bits of cardboard. It suited the theme of Homelessness better than oil on canvas… Anyway, thanks again for your advice. Best wishes, eoin
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       Rebecca Crowell