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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.

Saturday, July 27, 2013
  behind the scenes

The last time I posted, my paintings for Beneath the Surface, my solo exhibit at the Pratt Museum in Homer, Alaska, were ready to be shipped off. Since then, they have arrived at the museum in good shape and a day early. This Tuesday, I'll follow them north. I will spend a few days in Homer to be on hand as the exhibit is installed, followed by the opening reception on Friday, 8/2 from 5-7pm (gallery talk at 5:15 pm.) I can't wait to see everything come together--including the display of artifacts from the museum's collection, and my nephew David Crowell's accompanying compositions to be played on a loop in the gallery.

A number of people have asked me about what it took to launch this exhibit--how far back was it planned? how did I deal with various logistical concerns? what were my thoughts as I developed the work? This is the first museum show I've undertaken, and I appreciate these questions, which acknowledge the complexity of a project like this one.

The exhibit has been two years in the planning--the initial exchange of emails with then-curator Holly Cusak-McVeigh go back to August of 2011. I had visited the Pratt Museum on a trip to Alaska with my family back in 1999 and hoped it would be an appropriate setting for my idea of a show with an archaeological theme. Once Holly expressed her enthusiasm and openness to the project, the first challenge for me was writing the exhibit proposal--a stack of paperwork that I shuffled around for several months before getting down to it. Because the Pratt Museum's mission is to present the "Art, Science and Culture of the Katchemak Bay" (the region where Homer is located)I needed to make my proposal specific enough to the area to fit with this mission but open-ended enough to encompass my own intuitive and abstract working process. I also needed to collaborate with David to include his compositions in the proposal. As he explains them now: The pieces in this collection are an auditory love letter to the uniquely beautiful town of Homer. Like an archaeologist meticulously digs through time, the music explores different layers of sound and texture beneath the surface, enhancing the visual element while also reminding us to listen (and look) for hidden detail. Our proposal was approved in May of 2012.

I began a few paintings for the show at about that time, but was not fully focused on it until my residency at AIR Serenbe in Georgia, in March of this year. Because I was in Ireland in October/November of 2012, and naturally painting in response to that experience, I was very grateful for the dedicated time at Serenbe to develop my ideas for Beneath the Surface. On the way to Georgia, I was able to meet with Holly, who had since taken a new position teaching in Indianapolis, and the intense brainstorming session we had was perfectly timed to launch my work time at Serenbe. I had also received a number of photos of artifacts and other information over the winter to use as references as I developed the work. I began most of the paintings for the show at Serenbe, and finished several pieces there, including the one above, Geo #2, 36"x48."

During the spring, I also exchanged numerous emails with the current curator of exhibitions at the Pratt Museum, Scott Bartlett, and our dialog about the show grew more specific. Once home again in April and May, I worked on the rest of the paintings, including some water-based mixed media pieces on paper.

In all, there are 19 paintings on panel of various sizes, and 12 small works on paper in the exhibit. When I got home from teaching in NC earlier this month, my most pressing job was to figure out how to get everything shipped in the safest and most economical way. My original idea was to use a big wood crate and ship by truck, but the freight companies I talked to would not ship original art. Numerous phone calls later, I determined that a shipment of several boxes by Fed Ex would be the best option, and approached a local packing/shipping business for a quote for packing. Their plan included at least 8 and maybe up to 11 separate boxes--which would put us way over the amount that the museum had allocated for shipping. This was distressing, but my husband saved the day by offering to take over the packing. In the end, he managed to consolidate everything into only four well-constructed boxes, and the shipping cost was well within budget. The photo below was taken in the process of nesting several smaller paintings inside a larger one. An inner box was constructed around each stack of paintings and then an outer box fitted with foam inserts.

Of course there have been other tasks involved to this point, such as photographing everything, providing input on the design of the announcements (only minor tweaks were needed) and working out the complexities of travel to Alaska (my time there also includes teaching two workshops and another reception at blue.hollomon gallery in Anchorage.) The installation, the culmination of all this effort, lies just ahead.

I first wrote about my thoughts on the work itself in this post, while I was working at Serenbe. In the meantime, I've gained additional perspective as I have finished the work and written my statement. It strikes me that this experience is quite different from that of showing in commercial galleries, which I have done many times over the years. I've always thought of solo gallery exhibits as being a "slice of life," an opportunity to show what is happening in my work at that particular juncture. This show, though, has been very focused from the beginning on the theme of archaeology and as such has been a very different approach for me, and one I have found to be challenging and intriguing. Another difference is that, although all of the work in the show is for sale (and I would be delighted by any purchases) working within the museum context has freed me from concern about the marketability of the work.

I expect I'll be writing more about all of this after the exhibit is launched next week and the experiences around it continue to unfold. I'll post photos of the opening in my next post...
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
  beneath the surface...pratt museum, homer alaska

Tomorrow, Fed Ex is picking up eighteen paintings and ten works on paper for Beneath the Surface, my upcoming exhibit at the Pratt Museum in Homer, Alaska. My husband did a genius job of carefully packaging them all into four boxes, but I'll be a little on edge until I know they have arrived safely.

Above, several of the paintings in the show: Geo, 36"x48"; Beneath the Surface #1, 16"x16" and Chalkstone #2, 10"x10", all oil and mixed media on panel. Here is my artist statement for the exhibit, which will include artifacts from the Pratt Museum's collection and a soundtrack of music by my nephew, composer David Crowell, inspired by the area around Homer:

Years ago, I considered a career as an archaeological illustrator—an idea that grew out of a brief stint as a volunteer on a dig in Virginia, where I was fascinated by the artifacts we unearthed--their weathered appearance, their stories and mysteries.

Though my artwork took a very different path over the next forty years--from detailed realism into abstraction—I’m still intrigued by bits of ancient culture that have been buried in the earth. Now, abstraction gives me the visual language to go beyond the physical appearance of the artifacts, and to explore their more poetic meaning—the cycle of burial in geological layers, the survival of cultural objects over time, and their excavation in the present. I am interested in the beauty of ancient surfaces, the mystery of buried objects, the wonder inspired when vestiges of human lives are unearthed after many centuries, the science and knowledge involved in locating and excavating ancient sites, and the endurance of stone, shell, and bone.

My painting process itself has certain connections with the theme of archaeology, with its layering of paint, cold wax medium, and other additives such as powdered pigment and sand. (In a few paintings, I included some ground chalkstone collected in the Kachemak Bay area.) Part of my process is also to expose earlier layers of paint, by digging, scraping and dissolving with solvents.

(to the left, one of a series of charcoal drawings on paper that reference the ancient birch bark basket shown in the announcement photo.)

Some of the paintings and drawings in this exhibit refer to particular artifacts (such as the birch basket and the stone lamp.) In these pieces, I wanted to look closely and specifically at these artifacts, to appreciate both their form as beautiful objects, and their function as cultural objects. But most of the paintings express in a more abstract way the processes of archaeology, layers of earth, coastal geography, and the textures of long-buried surfaces. Both approaches were important to me in expressing the theme of the exhibit, and often intermingled as I developed each painting. Studying photos of particular artifacts would lead me into the initial phases of painting, and the initial depictions were then covered over with successive layers of paint, echoing the theme of what is buried beneath the surface. Bits of the earlier layers were then exposed throughout the painting process.

The lines etched or drawn into the surface of many of the paintings refer to the stratigraphic drawings that archaeologists make on site as they excavate, showing where artifacts are found in relation to one another and to the geological strata of the earth. The stratigraphic drawings that I had access to as I worked gave me a sense of direct connection with the archaeologists. Their renderings of rocks, strata and the outlines of objects-- especially the hand drawn versions—carry for me a controlled and scientific, yet very human, sense of excitement and intrigue. I mingled traces of their line drawings with the rough textures and earthy colors that I imagine surrounded them in their work.

A visit to the Pratt Museum ten years ago impressed me with the connections that are cultivated between the current members of ancient tribes and their ancestral objects. This timeless continuity is deeply moving in our present fast-paced and ever-changing world, and I’m honored to exhibit my work alongside artifacts that bridge this gap in time.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Today I received a kind handwritten note of appreciation from one of my level Two students at Cullowhee Mountain Arts, and her words led me to think about all of the expressions of gratitude I've had from artists in my classes since I started teaching workshops four years ago. Lots of emails, and cards, notes, letters, and photos; art supplies, wonderful and unusual art books, shells and rocks; deeply thoughtful small gifts, handmade objects and paintings. Many kind gestures and offers to help, and coffee, lunch, dinner or drinks on numerous occasions. I've been hosted graciously for days on end while teaching, and urged to visit various former students when I'm passing through. In my last class, two of the artists, completely unprompted, made cash donations toward the supplies I bring to class. People often express appreciation verbally on the last day of class; once, a woman with whom I had scheduled a one-on-one critique said that actually she had requested the time to simply say "thank you." I expect none of this, and I am moved by all of it.

The generous spirit of most of the artists in my workshops tends to be very clear not only in their kindness to me, but in their interactions with one another. At the end of class, people always remark on what a good group it was, how generous, how supportive. Working intensely for three days or more in close proximity, members of my classes have to at least be tolerant and respectful--but typically they operate at a much higher level, with open, encouraging attitudes toward people they have never met prior to the workshop. So often, I've seen class members offer one another just the right words, a blob of a certain color of paint, a pertinent suggestion or positive comment. This can make all the difference in the general atmosphere of the workshop, especially for those students who arrive with less experience; a bit nervous in the beginning that they will not be accepted by the "real" artists in the group, they tend to leave with a new sense of their own potential, and knowing that they have made valuable contributions to the class.

Good friendships sometimes form...groups plan to return for advanced levels of class together...relationships among the artists in class grow and flourish in unexpected ways. Above, my recent level two class at Cullowhee Mountain Arts.


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       Rebecca Crowell