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Blogs from Hunter Kirkland Contemporary

Carlos Ramirez: Just Try To Contain Him or His Paintings

Carlos Ramirez’s paintings have all the energy and sophistication of Carlos Ramirez himself.

Bold, colorful, engaging, intuitive, his quasi-abstract canvasses have always alluded to or called to mind the works of Cezanne, Monet, Basquiat and Joan Mitchell. Ramirez’s new works, which confidently emphasize vivid colors and ample white space are on view at Hunter Kirkland Contemporary.

The white spaces in particular give Ramirez’s color-filled paintings unusual power. Whereas Cezanne never left any blank space in his meticulously structured still lifes, and the 17th-century Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán achieved an otherworldly, surreal ecstasy in his highly religious works (through the use of a negative space that was pitch black, ergo, planeless), Ramirez breathes possibility into his equally rigorous paintings by eschewing color in almost every corner and he, too, evokes the numinous, a feeling of release, salvation, freedom—by not using any color.

Oddly enough, color, and his unique use of color, is in his blood. “I’m Cuban. I’m from Miami. Color is part of your DNA,” says Ramirez, an only child who emigrated from Cuba with his parents when he was six (and originally settling in Hoboken, New Jersey before moving to Florida). “No way you can be from the tropics and not like color. Plus, nature is all about colors.”

Splitting his time between Miami and his new home in Santa Fe, this new body of work is inspired by the garden that surrounds his cottage studio. A lush, verdant garden that he himself planted and has tended for over 20 years.

After an unfulfilling few years in law school he gave up a full scholarship to pursue a more creative role by forming the fashion label Liancarlo almost 30 years ago.

Though he has always sketched and drawn and painted, Ramirez’s years in textiles, as a designer, as an arranger, as a creator always aware of color, shape and movement—complemented what he was doing in his home studio.

“My work in many ways is a blend of both of these worlds.  Fashion brings a modern attitude to color, a certain bravado.  From nature I borrow shapes, rhythm and scale.  Its beauty and sheer size absorb all of my senses, nature is all encompassing”

About 15 years ago, he took a workshop with Wolf Kahn, a master at color. “As I became more painterly, I ended up in a landscape world,” says Ramirez.  And from Kahn he took away plenty, one nugget in particular. “He gave me a moment: Don’t interpret the landscape as you see it but as you want to see it.”

As all-engulfing as the fashion business and Liancarlo was, Ramirez continued to carve out time for sketching, drawing, painting and composing watercolors on his dining room table. The watercolors, especially, opened up his canvases. They gave his paintings a translucence. The watercolors also opened up his reasons for wanting to capture what he saw out there in the world in a certain way.

A sketcher by nature, he’d dip a twig in ink and apply that to the canvas. The effect made the lines very irregular. He loves irregularity. He loves it because it’s a reflection of how he sees, how he wants to see nature: “When you look at nature, what you see is uncontrol,” says Ramirez. “There’s structure there, but it’s chaos. I wanted it to have structure but not be too neat and tidy.

And as one can see in this current show, the compositions are looser, with new colors (more of that purple, for instance). “Looser by far,” smiles Ramirez. “And there’s an organic sense to them. A more spiritually different dynamic in them. Almost a delicateness.”

“The mumbo jumbo of things makes me unique,” says Ramirez of his work, citing the various fashion-world elements that add to his paintings—from embroidery to colors. “Colors look great or terrible depending on what’s next to them. And I have 1000 favorite colors.”

“I’m not a calming relaxing chill-out kind of guy,” adds Ramirez—as if that weren’t abundantly clear. “What I strive for in my painting is freshness—because that’s nature. Nature is always crisp.”

As is Ramirez. Crisp, lively, colorful. Impossible to contain. Full of life. Just like his paintings.

Talking Painting and Process with Abstract Landscape Artist Peter Burega

Peter Burega is about as warm and congenial and personable and open and informative an artist as you’ll ever come across. Much like his richly inviting abstract landscapes: whether of land or water. Sky or something else entirely. They’re not nature but they’re obviously inspired by nature. Or an amalgamation of what he sees out there in the world. Not so much the manmade world but the world that’s bigger than anything any human might ever construct. Which, if there’s a purpose in his work, might be that: a subtle belief, almost spiritual, definitely sublime, about what’s out there. And how that’s also incorporated into our beingness so that it’s also what’s inside us. Or what should be inside us. Beauty. Awe. Wonderment. Appreciation. And light. Lots of light.

His studio, though, as drenched in light as it is, and one of many studios in the original Santa Fe Prep school compound on Upper Canyon Road, is a mess. Just the way it oughta be. Refreshingly messy. And there’s a constant stream of techno on his iPod-connected speaker (probably Pandora). And his dogs, especially his white lab, are the most affectionate and infectious and reassuring studio companions any artist could ask for. And often covered in paint. Just like their owner.
“I’ve been here in this studio for eight years,” says Burega. “I was in a different one next door for two years.”

There are dozens of photographs—taken by Burega—of beaches and surf and ocean water and shorelines on his walls. Along with a map of Anguilla. “These are photos of the Caribbean, where we went for July and August,” he says, referring to one of the trips he took with his family over the summer. “And of Mexico and Tokyo.”

And there are paintings on the floor, too. They look like his, but they’re not. “Those are my daughter Sofia’s paintings,” says Burega. She’s in school four days a week, but paints with her dad on Mondays. “She’s 11. She frames her paintings. I don’t frame mine. I like the sense of people being able to see the score marks on the sides and bottom and top. I think of that as a framing mechanism.

“Also,’ he adds, “I like people being able to see how many layers there are on the painting—they can see that on the sides. They wouldn’t be able to see that if they were framed. But they get to see that and see how I developed. How the painting developed.”

Sofia’s works, too, are abstract. And layered, just like her father’s. He encourages the layering. He likes the layering. It’s one of the things he’s known for. And perhaps collected for.

“I start very loosely,” he explains. “I’m like one of the Dutch Masters. I start with reds and oranges and bright colors as my underpainting. All the intense colors and lighting and sense of depth. The lighting comes from the underpainting—and from the scraping. I make 20-30 layers, in various colors, and I initially start out in solid colors. But they end up being many colors after several layers.

“At some point, many layers in, I sort of build up a very loose landscape. Then I go solid again. Then I go loose again. Back and forth. When I feel comfortable I build in the final layers and at some point I start to build something. That’s when I start scraping—it lets me layer multiple images on top of each other.

“So it’s a subconscious layering—not an intentional layering. Sometimes it’s massing—an architectural term. Although, that’s not really it, either. It’s a structure. But it’s so loose and abstract. So there’s always that tension back and forth. I do a lot of glazing too.

“I work with Liquin. It’s a glaze developed as a drying agent. If you add it to your oils, it dries in a high-gloss sheen. It’s everywhere, constant. It has an amber quality to it colorwise. I probably use more Liquin than pigment. And I use one house scraper. I’ve had it for 14 years. Sometimes I use a brush. But rarely, at the end, for varnishing.

“This,” he says, taking out a scraper you might find in any hardware store, “is my lucky scraper. There’s something about the way it has a perfect edge on one side. And a chink on the other. If someone took it, it’d be many many months before I could paint again.”

He pauses to answer the phone. A delivery on its way.

“I respond to people who look nothing like me,” he says, when asked about other artists. “Like Cy Twombly. Or, there’s a Spanish artist in Mexico City—Victor Hugo Zayas. Or Reginald Pollack, he was an American who lived and worked in France. He did these bizarre political satires about puppet shows from the 1950s. What I like doesn’t translate into my work. I don’t like figurative work. There’s something weird and spooky about it.

“But my other favorite artist, or artists, would be the Group of Seven,” he adds. “Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley. They were Canadian landscape painters. They were the beginning of modern landscapes. They were representational but they weren’t representational. It wasn’t conceptual what they did, either. Or impressionist. It was about the process for them. I guess they’ve always been in the back of my mind when I paint. Maybe partly because I grew up in Montreal, but also because of what they did and how.”
The dogs start barking. Loudly.
“Everyone wants to make something out of the tension they see in my paintings—between chaos and control.”
Maybe, shrugs Burega.

So right now, I feel like I’m painting because I’m just painting. And maybe the travel is subconsciously there and it gets into my work. But I’m just painting and having fun and maybe that’s why they’re selling so well. Because people can feel that energy coming through.”
The fun. The carefree spirit of doing something just because he loves doing it.

“I try not to put a specific spin on my paintings. I want people to see what they want. I only give a place and time as titles to my paintings—that speaks to me. My photography isn’t an inspiration but there are bits and pieces I take from them. When you spend time on some of these islands there are a lot of—they’re these fingers in the water, these peninsulas. So maybe they’re shapes that show up in my work.”
Burega then talks some about his kids, about possibly getting a studio up in Toronto next summer (where he just got a gallery this past summer), about his daughter’s fascination with Minecraft (or, not so much with Minecraft as watching YouTube videos of other kids who commentate on other Minecraft players—kids who are recording themselves playing the video game), about the art business, about music. Then he’s back to his paintings.

“Oil takes so long to dry,” he says. “So my paintings change and evolve after they leave my studio. In this painting, for instance,” he motions, pointing to a large one that he’d just finished, “there’s a very light pink coming through. That’s from 30 layers back! And that’s gonna keep peeking through as the paint dries, as the painting evolves.
“I think that’s why people like my work. Because it changes while it’s there. While it’s in their home. People see new things as they live with it.

There are six different landscape paintings under this top landscape. I don’t think when you first look at it that you go, Oh, now I realize there’s something else there. That realization takes while. Because it’s probably not even there—that red background at the bottom.
“But my process allows for things to change over time,” adds Burega. “Sometimes, I’ll come back in and a painting will have morphed on its own one or two days later. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to let things happen on their own. I’ve stopped trying to make them into something they’re not meant to be. Or something I thought I wanted them to be. I’ve learned to just let them be.”

Read more about Peter Burega’s work in the Oct/Nov 2016 issue of Western Art & Architecture Magazine.

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Touchable Moments with T Barny’s Tactile Sculptures

“I like taking something considered hard and cold and making it soft and warm and inviting,” says T Barny of his uniquely approachable, alluring, sensuous sculptures. “They’re meant to be touched. You don’t get the full experience if you’re not touching them.”

One of the few sculptors out there who actually encourages people to embrace his work—literally—T Barny creates his uniquely kinetic curvilinear shapes out of stone. Sometimes bronze, sometimes wood, sometimes steel (and even ice and water), but mostly stone. And usually with a diamond-tipped chainsaw. He’s been doing so professionally for over 35 years; ever since his first commissioned piece in 1979, while still a student at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Born and in raised in San Francisco, to a stockbroker father and a musician mother, T Barny cycled his way through several different universities—The Ohio State University, Denison University, Stanford University, Brown University, and RISD (from which he received his BFA in 1980), studying everything from architecture and landscape architecture to sculpture and semiotics.

Along the way, he learned from Marilyn Poeppelmeyer “Hook” at Denison, Arnold Prince at RISD, Dale Chihuly (who called him “a frustrated glassblower carving stone”), and California artist Royce Meyer. At RISD, where he ran the foundry and worked as a teacher’s assistant, he could only use hand tools, which didn’t move fast enough. So he moved on to power tools.

The stone, though, always seemed to beckon.

“I have a stone addiction,” says Barny, who is well-known for his stone Mobius strips and trefoils (or Celtic knots, which he tries to make at least one of every year). From third grade science class onwards, T Barny hasn’t been able to escape the single face and edge of the Mobius. “It’s been with me ever since,” he says. “It’s the continuity of life and death. What goes around comes around.”

He fashions these archetypal abstract designs as he cuts into the stone—without a plan, without sketching anything out ahead of time. “I study the block, I feel the stone, and I remove what doesn’t look or feel right,” he explains. “The stone whispers to me—How about a hole here? Or here. And then I must start drilling out a hole where it tells me to.”

It’s a method that led to plenty of broken pieces early on, but by now is almost intuitive. And not at all repetitive—partly because of his recently completed goal of carving on 200 kinds of stone from 42 different countries. “You’re taking away as opposed to adding, and you can’t put it back—but every stone works differently,” he says. And every piece has its unique features and appeal—even if they all brandish the same distinctively Mobius band. “I’ve pushed the material farther than most of my peers. To the point where the stone is translucent. I tend to like translucent stone.”

And when there’s no more material to remove—the piece is done. “God made the rock,” he says. “I make it accessible. They are beautiful.”

He’s been showing with Hunter Kirkland for the last 12 years. “Nancy’s gallery is a great find,” he says. “She’s a great gallerist. When she does shows, it’s uncluttered. She presents more like a home than just a gallery.”

An environment where T Barny’s sculpture is both art and Art.

When he showed his pieces at San Francisco’s Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired some years ago, most of the non-impaired didn’t dare touch the sculptures. “But the blind people,” he recalls, “would touch them. And they got this big smile on their faces when they realized there was one continuous edge to follow, which touched me the most.”

He went with the T early on so he could put his name on the bottom of the sculpture. “Sort of like Christo—a name that’s just one name,” he says. And he’s both coy and playful about what the T actually means. “It could be for trouble. Or tender. Or,” he says, becoming just a bit more serious, “it could be for touchable.”

Making Her Marks and Leaving Them: The Abstract Works of Charlotte Foust

As Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still once said, “The best works are often those with the fewest and simplest elements . . . until you look at them a little more, and things start to happen.”

He was referring, of course, to his fellow AbExes—William DeKooning, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock. Were he still around today, though, Still might’ve said as much about Charlotte Foust, whose works also have plenty going on inside them, especially the ones the incorporate elements of collage into them—as seen in several of the pieces in her current Hunter Kirkland show, “Counterbalance.”

Despite Foust claiming that her paintings are really more about mark-making and line drawing. Anyone who’s seen her work, even people normally averse to abstract art, sense pretty much immediately a sophistication and an allure. Foust, a longtime fan of the Abstract Expressionists, may say, “I don’t have anything in mind when I start. It’s very stream-of-consciousness,” but in the end her sense of balance and composition, both in terms of colors and images, show her to be an artist very much in tune with, well, whatever the opposite of mindless stream-of-consciousness might be. Mindfulness? Order? Beauty?

Depending on the painting, her work recalls aspects of Georges Braque (particularly the brownish-gray pre-Cubist works he did that used bits of newspapers and focused on guitars, wine bottles, and violins), Marc Chagall (in the muted washiness of her colors), Wassily Kandinsky (whose loud, jagged color juxtapositions seem so at odds with the first two artists mentioned here but with whom Foust shares in energy and boldness), deKooning (one of her favorites), Joan Mitchell (a more recent favorite), and even someone as contemporary as Jean-Michel Basquiat (for that occasional Art Brut quality).

Born and raised in North Carolina, Foust still lives there. An only child, her father worked as a locksmith (and painted realistic oils) and her mother worked in a beauty salon (and sewed). Most telling, though, Foust spent many hours in her room just drawing. “It’s always been a place,” she says, “I go to.” A place she went to often enough that she probably hit that Malcolm Gladwell 10,000-hour mark, the number he claims (in Outliers: The Story of Success) is the key to achieving world-class expertise, by the time she left home for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, from which she received her bachelor’s in fine arts.

After college, she segued into art crawls and local shows, showing regional for about 15 years. “In Charlotte, I got to know my clients really well,” says Foust. When she transitioned to galleries, her work took off, leading to shows in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Santa Fe, but the notoriety came with a price. “I lost that connection with the person buying the work.”

It’s a telling remark. And not just an idiosyncratic aside or a show of false humility. Because what really comes across in Foust’s work—what all that compositional sophistication and sense of color and movement add up to—is something deeper, more personal: a connection. An energy. A kind of language. It’s Foust communicating, or trying to communicate, the ineffable.

“I don’t have an agenda,” she says. “I don’t even want people to come away from my work with a certain feeling of happiness or I love the color red there.”

It’s an effect that’s borne out of her process, too. The one that starts without any agenda, without some preconceived notion either of where she wants to go or where she wants to take the viewer.

Once she makes that first line or mark, “I add more acrylic layers and draw,” she explains. “It’s a back-and-forth between the drawings and the markmaking, and the painting and the collage.”

The collage tends to be more blocky. And the blockiness tends to give more shape to her work. And depth. “But the more you work on it, the more minimal it becomes. It’s sort of like your mark or your signature gets woven back into the work. With each piece I let it all just happen. It’s a mix between markmaking and blocky collage. So it’s not all one or the other. It’s a balance of two things.”

Again, though, the results, and likely even her process, is not as freewheeling or extemporaneous as she makes it sound. Even videos of her in action reveal someone with too much knowledge, too much art-life experience (that 10,000-hours deal) to ever get the impression that it’s so simplistic as to believe that she’s really just scribbling unthought-out lines and curves onto a surface.

And it’s important, and conscious, that the viewer feel her in the painting. “I prefer work with thick paint, where you can see the mark,” says Foust. “Every painting, you can see the work in my painting. You can see a gesture in a paint mark. You can feel that person’s energy.”

You can connect to Foust.

“When I’m painting, I just let the energy flow through me,” says Foust. “It’s very freeing, and it’s unknown, and that freedom and that unknown comes through. You don’t get that in everyday life. It’s something to do with expression and creativity and the process of painting.”

Or her process.
“When you’re working in the abstract, it’s a soul language, it’s very hard to describe,” says Foust. “It’s not explainable or knowable. It just is. But I’m really comfortable there.”

An Inside Job: The Phantasmagorical Inner Worlds of Ted Gall

The Visit to Oz

When Ted Gall is just not feeling it, or he’s stymied, or blocked, or in need of opening up the channels to the muse, he slides into his hot tub and lets the hot jets and the gurgly bubbles wash over him and—voila!—inspiration retrieved. He’s recharged, refueled, reinvigorated and back to the studio, where his Freudian-Jungian-Boschian busts and sculptures await.

Yes, even an imagination as fecund as Gall’s can get a little stuck now and then. Which is when he needs to get out of his head in order to get back into his other heads. And faces. And mental lands of Oz—and Ozymandias, Shangri-La, the Wild West, Atlantis, Middle Earth, Pellucidar, and other imaginary realms.

“I do take great hot tubs,” says Gall. It’s like a womb. I sit in my hot tub and it comes.”

His pieces have been coming to him for many many years now. Especially since officially retiring from the various day jobs he’d held since he was a teenager.

Born and raised in Chicago (in the inner city, the West Side ghetto, which he didn’t realize till he hit his teens), he drew constantly. And well. Well enough that his parents (his dad drove a truck and his mom was a housewife) sent him to the Art Institute of Chicago when he was 11.

Influenced as much by comic books (“That’s where I learned anatomy,” he says) as what he was exposed to at the Institute and other bastions of fine art, Gall is the first to acknowledge the many mentors and supporters he’s had along the way. “My education and outlook on art were formed by people who mentored me,” he says. “You’re young and you absorb things.”

After graduating from high school, for instance, his uncle, who’d returned from World War II to live with Gall and his sister and parents and who got a job as the head prop man at Wilding Picture Productions, got his nephew a job at Wilding as an animation apprentice. At the time one of the world’s largest producers of industrial films, Wilding also had plenty of talent in its studios. “One guy did Woody Woodpecker and Felix the Cat,” says Gall. He became an animator, and during his five years there got to meet John Carradine and go to lunch with Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz).

The Vietnam War, though, intervened. Gall joined the Reserves and by the time he’d returned to Chicago, his beloved animation job was gone. So he switched specialties, having found work as a graphic designer at RR Donnelley, the massive Fortune 500 printing company famous for putting out the Sears & Roebuck Catalog.

Gall learned plenty (Donnelley had a huge library, where he pored over studies for ergonomic chairs and books about the human figure) but missed the variety of animation. “I had all these other things I could play with there—like sound and movement,” recalls Gall. “So I took up sculpting at the Art Institute, and then, on a lark, I got a one-car garage and a welding tank and started doing art fairs.”

He’d also gotten married by then, and had begun teaching at a private school. When sculptor Abbott Pattison needed a sub one day, Gall stepped in. He seemed to have made quite an impression. Enough so that Pattison recommended Gall to Lewis Weinberg, the co-president of Fel-Pro, a gasket manufacturer based in Skokie (15 minutes from Chicago). Weinberg was more than just an arts enthusiast, or even an arts patron; during his time at Fel-Pro, he turned the company’s factory into a veritable museum. And gave Gall carte blanche to do what he wanted.

“I called it the Weinberg Medici,” says Gall, who worked at Fel-Pro for 20 years. Gall would go through the factory, find punchings and other castoffs, and make art from them. “I had the opportunity to get involved in lots of huge pieces. It was a real Renaissance thing.”

Gall made sculptures for Ford, for the president of Fel-Pro, and for many other companies. And for the people of Skokie—giving away pieces to the local park, which eventually grew into the Skokie North Shore Sculpture Park. “Their benevolence got them into places,” says Gall of Fel-Pro, which consistently placed in the top five best places to work. By age 55, though, and wanting to scale down (from the monumental works he’d been doing for Fel-Pro—many of which took a physical toll on Gall, who’s sustained two rotator cuffs, a torn biceps over the years), he decided to “retire” and focus entirely on his own works.

Which he’d essentially been doing for a number of years anyway. This year marked his 43rd year at the Chicago’s Old Town Art Fair. And it’s a route he chose consciously. Most artists opted for galleries. Gall chose both. Never snubbing his nose at the fairs. (Which is his way of keeping his eyes open.) Or the fairgoers. “I’ve gotten a nice notoriety from the fairs,” he says proudly.

Not that there’s anything wrong with galleries. Especially Hunter Kirkland. “Nancy is the best to deal with,” says Gall. “She loves my heads. Which I started doing about 25 years ago. And they’ve been able to support me.”

Probably as well-known for his heads as his monumental pieces (he has a 13-foot-tall, 18-foot-long three-figure piece in Birmingham, Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Museum and did a 15-foot-tall, 8,000-pound piece for Fel-Pro), Gall started the heads—in bronze, aluminum, stainless steel, and welded Corten steel—as hats back in the early 90s. They evolved into heads with masks, that then became elaborately constructed, articulated heads-within-heads, and scenes within the heads—often opening not just once but twice.

“I try to do psychological things that are off the wall,” says Gall, who gravitated early on to the work of Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt and who also studied at the American Academy of Art. “It’s a thing I learned from a Don Seiden sculpture. If the viewer doesn’t stop, you gotta get them to stop. So I don’t give them everything. I leave questions. I don’t give answers. And I try to be philosophical about it. Though my wife,” adds Gall with a laugh, “says my work is much deeper than I am.”

Dreamlike and tableaux-rich, they all tell stories. And they’re chockfull of anything imaginable—from creatures and characters from The Wizard of Oz to fish to cowboys to birds to animals real and imaginary, plus flowers (orchids from his own nursery), computer parts, carabiners, hooks, screws, nuts, bolts—everything is art. And Gall leaves out the titles when he can. So as to encourage the viewer to make up their own—titles, situations, narratives. The whole shebang.

Gall has gone from the Corten steel and welder’s torch of his younger days to a lost-wax casting process and patination. “It has opened up a lot of avenues,” says Gall, who has since taught at Clay People in Chicago, The Northshore Art League, and the Ojai Art Center. “I can use different materials, and a lot of my forms and shapes are very eclectic. And they became arrangements.”

He’s a sculptor who mixes acids as if they were watercolors, and whose patinas are as big a part of his pieces as their shape. “I’m a sculptor,” declares Gall, “who’s able to use color.”

He also loves to wrap his hands around things. Which is why people love his work so much, and relate to it. A lover of the tactile, he almost demands that people touch his work. “People have been so browbeaten into not touching art,” says Gall, galled by the distance that so much art puts between itself and the viewer. “But by not naming my works, and encouraging people to interact with it, open it up—literally—people become closer to the piece. They go deeper with it. And yes, you should be able to touch things—it opens peoples’ eyes. They become part of it more.”

And part of Gall’s uniquely phantasmagorical worlds.

Rick Stevens and the Art of Effortless Painting

Rick Stevens does by not doing. He’s a non-doer. An effortless doer. Or more clearly: he’s a believer in the “action of non-action.” In WuWei, the Taoist concept of natural action, or in other words, action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort.  All that being said, he still has to paint. Not by not painting but by actually painting. Beautifully.

He’ll often cite Odilon Redon, Pierre Bonnard, George Inness, and Gustav Klimt among his influences, but because his work moves so fluidly from the representational to the abstract and back, and because he’s coming from such a spiritual place (thus infusing his work with the extramundane, the sacred, the metaphysical), it’s just as tempting to cite Miro, Monet, Chagall, or even Giacometti as tangible presences as well.

“The Taoist philosophy, and my Tai Chi practice, help me to see painting as a practice—like Tai Chi itself—more than as a career,” says Stevens from his south Santa Fe studio. “It’s of a piece of what I do, of how I live my life.”

Born in Sparta, Michigan in 1958, Stevens took to painting via his father, an outdoorsman, and mostly self-taught plein air enthusiast. After a few years at Grand Rapids’ Kendall College of Art + Design, then a final year at nearby Aquinas College, Stevens tasted success early on, snagging himself a gallery and selling his work. Not that it spoiled him (there were lean times to come), but it did give him the chutzpah to paint and only paint—only occasionally doing remodeling work or sign painting when the painting wasn’t paying the bills.

Not long after graduating from Aquinas, he did a kind of Thoreauvian year in the Michigan woods, living in a family cabin without a TV, radio, or phone. Just painting, reading Eastern philosophy, doing yoga, meditating (sometimes his meditation would be with headphones listening to music), and being in nature. This was his self-described “monk period.”

He came out of the woods wiser, more focused, and not so much concerned with results or sales or production and more into the process and growth and the work itself. Slowly, he reestablished himself with galleries, sales picked up, and in 2004 he relocated to Santa Fe.

He showed up at Hunter Kirkland Contemporary out of the blue with three pastel paintings in his truck. Which Nancy Hunter hung in the gallery and almost immediately sold to a woman who bought all three.

Although he’s back to doing plein air painting lately, he still does most of his work in the studio—which tends toward the abstract. “My work doesn’t go in a linear direction, it bounces around,” he says. He pauses and looks around at the 20 or so paintings, some huge, some quite small, that will be part of his upcoming show at Hunter Kirkland.

He’s trying to express what for him is the inexpressible. “I see painting as a whole other language,” he says. “So it’s hard to express what I do in a language that people understand. You feel elusive when trying to explain what you do and what it is. Sometimes I think I am elaborating as much about what it isn’t. I try to leave my work open-ended.

“One of the reasons I love to work abstractly is that it allows me to stay open to what the painting is rather than what I think it should be,” says Stevens. “And I love the spatial ambiguity. Either way, though, whether it’s abstract or representational, there’s an integrity that I want to maintain.”

Most of Stevens’ paintings are an abstraction of Nature—Nature with a capital N. And no matter which realm they fall into more—abstract, representational—is almost beside the point. Because really, his works are both and neither. They’re not amalgams but amalgam-ish. His oils and pastels, his landscapes, his abstracted landscapes, his purely abstract works—they all have elements, energies, that weave in and out of the real and the non-real. You may read it as one thing, but you may also read it as something other, something more than. Something subjective and intuitive—a feeling. A feeling that you’ve been there before—to that spot in the woods where the leaves tremble in the light, at that stream that winds its way through the overgrown grasslands, in that bit of valley sunlight where it’s as much a dream as it is a memory.

He brings that out through a process of layers. “When I put down a color it rarely stays that way,” he says. His applications include various glazing techniques, adding textures with cold wax and gel medium and adding gold-leaf. Oftentimes, he’ll begin a painting with no plans, just making marks on the canvas, eventually finding his way into the painting by doing. (The art of doing by not doing.) “When trees show up I say, OK,” explains Stevens, alluding to that Wu-Wei philosophy of letting go. “Maybe you can recognize things like leaves, trees, water. If all that disappears, fine. If it stays, it’s also fine.”

What often stays are the trees. And forests. Forests reminiscent of Michigan, but also of the Southwest, and most often aspens. Aspens always seem to inspire him. “I love the markings on them, their bark, the way the leaves intersperse,” says Stevens. “Visually, they’re interesting, and the symbolic meanings contained in a grove of aspens is very rich. Aspens grow as a community. They are interconnected by their roots and share nutrients and resources to support each other.”

Ultimately, it’s all about relationships. And energies. And that whole letting-go process. In which the body, for Stevens, is as involved as any other part of him. It’s the dantian. The “sea of qi,” the “energy center” that’s a focal point for Tai chi. “I try to center myself there,” he says, “in determining what a painting needs, instead of intellectualizing my approach.”

Having gotten married last August to a fellow painter, and now living in Tesuque, Stevens and his wife travel plenty. Sometimes just to get away, but just as much to come back recharged with more imagery to draw upon. “I like the combination of Santa Fe being a big art market and a small town,” says Stevens. “And I like jumping off into unplanned places.”

Spoken like a true effortless doer.

Jennifer JL Jones’ Paintings of Nature and Belonging

Jennifer JL Jones’ paintings depict nature, to be sure, but not so much nature per se—its flora and fauna, its landscapes and seascapes—as what it is nature inspires in her. Awe. Gratitude. Connectedness. Grace. Beauty. “Much of my work has been about healing and lessons from nature,” says Jones, who was raised in rural Virginia and the central east coast of Florida. “For a long time it was about soothing and finding peace. My work tends to be emotionally driven so I’m communicating my lessons, energy, and growth through the work.  As the work has evolved it’s become increasingly energetic, gestural and yet still holds a peaceful nature. I’ve recently realized my biggest quest has been about belonging and finding a place where I feel at home.”

Jones, La Mer, 60 x 60 , mixed media on Wood Panel_website

Jones’ search has been our reward. It’s easy to get lost in her paintings, or to find one’s place in them, feel at home, feel at peace. And those feelings aren’t at odds with each other or the least bit contradictory. And they’re often a swirl of simultaneous emotions. Which is what great art tends to do to people.

Jones knew since junior high school that she wanted to be an artist. Originally, she thought of going into graphic design or photography. “However,” says Jones, who was born in 1971, “once I picked up a paint brush my first year of college, I was hooked and decided I was meant to paint.” Even so, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she took every art class imaginable: film, collage, performance, printmaking, sculpture, art therapy. All of which has since informed her paintings. “I used to incorporate many different elements in to my paintings, but over the years it has become a much more refined process.”

It helped that her parents encouraged all five of their kids to pursue their passions. They themselves did so, so it would’ve been hard to discourage their children from doing the same: they’re both retired now, but are living full-time aboard a sailboat. During Jones’ childhood, her father worked as an airline pilot and her mother worked for a college getting grants for women who were trying to get back into the workplace, before eventually getting a pilot’s license of her own.

Clearly, the Joneses are a clan to keep up with.

Which may explain Jones’ drive for that sense of place and what infuses her work with such energy and elan. That, and her technique and the array of artists that inspire her. Her favorites range from Titian and Hieronymous Bosch to Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys, Robert Rauschenberg, Frida Kahlo, Mark Rothko, and Robert Motherwell. And her process is unique—impressionistically abstract, as if through a scrim of encaustic. It’s a layered glazing technique that she learned in Chicago, while studying the Old Masters’ techniques.

“I knew then that my work would involve layers of time and transition and growth,” explains Jones. “I like to add and subtract the paint. It’s important for me to find balance in materials and composition. The encaustic look may be because of this layering but also the final glaze that put on to seal the paintings which adds to the rich depth as well as protects them from elements.”

It’s also a bit of a cross between ukio-e, the Japanese “pictures of the floating world” genre that flourished between the 17th and 19th centuries, and Erté, the Russian-born French designer whose elegant illustrations epitomized the Art Deco era of the 1920s. Each of these, only florid and bursting with color and energy and whatever emotions the place she’s painting evokes in her. Places that excite her, pique her curiosity, bring her peace. “I travel as much as I can because it opens my heart and mind and grows me in ways I never dreamed,” says Jones, whose inspirations run from Tuscan hillsides to Caribbean islands. “It has healed me and matured me as a woman and an artist.”

Mostly, her work is about beauty—finding beauty, living beautifully, inspiring and honoring beauty. “The most important thing I’m trying to convey is finding peace within/of/between life and death,” says Jones. “My work is about transformation and finding a connection in this world. I want to transport viewers and embrace them through my work. Ultimately it is about energy and feeling a universal connection.”

Gregory Frank Harris’ Abstract-Representational Rhythms

Few painters have rendered the Southwest and its dramatic landscapes as fluidly as Gregory Frank Harris. Deftly harmonizing movements as diverse as Impressionism, Fauvism, and 17th-century Dutch landscape painting with American Tonalists like George Innes, color-field painters like Wolf Kahn, and the squeegee-sculpted paintings of German abstract expressionist Gerhard Richter, Harris creates pictures in motion as opposed to static-y portraits. His canvases move, not excitedly but steadily. They not only advance and recede, toying with our perceptions of foreground and background, they seem to move laterally as well.

“I like to create these paintings as a form of abstraction,” says Harris. “But if you step back, the landscape comes into sharper focus. I also like to emphasize the sky, making it as important as the land itself—maybe more.”

 

A bit of a peripatetic soul, Harris was born, alongside his twin brother, in 1953 in southern California to a painter mother and a geologist-miner father. He took to art and music simultaneously as a child—singing, playing the piano, drawing, and sculpting, and later studying ceramics and raku firing. At Long Beach State University, he got into theater and art, and then songwriting, which led to gigs in bands, which led to a decade playing music on the road. It was while traveling through Spokane, Washington in 1977 that he got back into painting.

Still, even after a stint back at school, at New York’s Art Students League in 1985, two years later Harris put together a band and performed original music at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles. Then, in 1996, not long after completing a workshop at the Fechin Institute in Taos, he settled down, more or less, in Santa Fe.

“I’ve enjoyed every place I’ve lived, but Santa Fe and the Southwest landscape just kept pulling me back,” says the artist, who’s been showing at Hunter Kirkland Contemporary for 12 years. “It inspires me to paint in a bigger, less-busy format, with sky becoming as important as the land.”

A fan of plein air painting, for the immediacy it imposes and the fact that it gets him out there in nature where it’s all happening, Harris nevertheless imposes a kind of in-the-studio rigor onto his work. The squeegee being the most overt imposition of style over both what he sees (Realism) and what he perceives (Impressionism).

“I will go directly to nature and paint the scene from life,” explains Harris. “I develop the paintings with several techniques in which I begin an underpainting using large brushes and heavy impasto to render the colors and pictorial design. Then, with different sized squeegees, I go over the wet paint to ‘blur’ the forms.”

This “blur” gives his paintings their unique sense of fluidity and motion. As do his vibrant colors—many of which are inspired by the Southwest’s singular combinations of light and color. “I like to create these paintings as a form of abstraction,” says Harris, “but if you step back, the landscape comes into sharper focus.”

Sharp enough as to be representational, yet not so sharp that they can’t also be abstract. Moving in and out of both genres equally well. Fluidly. Enticingly. And in a way that’s entirely his own. Read more about Harris’ work in the September 2016 issue of American Art Collector Magazine.

Laura Wait’s Artistic Vocabulary

Laura Wait has never really gotten away from books. Or words. Or symbols. As she says in her artist’s statement, “Word forms as image are the primary focus of my art. Words and symbols, used as marks, are layered on paintings to form a wall of history with meaning at each depth.  Aesthetics of words and symbols is of more importance than reading the text.”
Collage-y, palimpsest-y, intriguing, beguiling, and abstract—though always aesthetically beautiful—her paintings, both the acrylics and the encaustics, have been word-based, or mark-based, or symbol-based (depending on how decipherable her lettering is—and she admits that her words are often purposefully illegible) since 2008.
That was when she first began incorporating words directly into her paintings. In that series of works, ostensibly revolving around chess, she assimilated words from Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War into each piece. As she recalls today, from her airy south Santa Fe studio, “I remember thinking, This is where I’m going from now on.”
Wait came from a background steeped equally in art, books, and art books. After earning her BA in art history from Barnard College in New York, she studied lithography and drawing for a year at Los Angeles’ Otis College of Art & Design—where she heard about a printmaking course at England’s Croydon College of Art. So she skipped across the pond to get her certificate in printmaking while also specializing in intaglio and bookbinding. After all that studying, she figured, upon graduation, that “the bookbinding would support the painting,” she says. “But it took over my life for the next ten years.”
Over the years, as a professional bookbinder and book conservationist, she worked primarily for libraries, especially the Denver Public Library. She also did work for the Denver Botanic Gardens, where she immersed herself in a lot of 18th-century books about gardens and parterres, all of which were bursting with religious symbolism—a creative font for Wait, who’s not at all religious. “I worked on books that were all about the exploration of the West—books on maps, books of maps, books on travel and botany and topography.” All of which, the botany references, the religious symbolism, the cartographic look and feel, you can see in her paintings.
But there’s plenty more at work in her work. Asian writing, kanji (the adopted logographic Chinese characters used in modern Japanese writing), Greek (which was all about symbols), graffiti (“I’m really inspired by graffiti”) and, though not the letters or words themselves—free writing, where you just sit and write without lifting pen from paper. “I studied that with a woman from the Naropa Univerisity,” says Wait of the Boulder-based college founded in 1974 by a Tibetan Buddhist). “You just let your hand and eye be there. You get rid of all the extraneous stuff.”
It all fits with her intuitive methodology, and the overlap of books and painting. And the back and forth between acrylics and encaustic. For the acrylic paintings, she’ll write out words and other forms on Mylar plastic and then transfer that to a print, and then layer that onto the panel or canvas. And then another and another. Sometimes swooshing a big brush mark or a swirl here and there. “I like the effect of all these layers because it’s a history.” Whatever she has left over from the Mylar, she uses for her smaller books. “I keep thinking I’ve given up on the bookbinding, but then I keep making books. Books made out of stuff I use in my paintings.”


For the encaustic works, she’ll first put something down on paper with sumi ink and gouache. And then layer that onto the panel. The encaustics tend to have more layers than the acrylics. And Wait loves the transparency.
She often works off of lists of words. She’ll change them around, misspell them, alter them. And have fun with their etymologically artistic possibilities. And if she misspells anything—no worries. Proper grammar and spelling are beside the point, really. “It’s not words anymore that I’m after, it’s the feelings behind them. And the layers and layers of meanings that build up with them—but the meanings are very subconscious.”
In a way, her books are like enclosed paintings, whereas her paintings are open-ended books—books open to interpretation, open for all to see. Open to the world.

Eric Boyer’s Figures of Male and Female

Eric Boyer’s figures of male and female torsos, often intertwined, have the sensuous movement of Rodin and the muscular physicality of Michelangelo. And while his perfectly proportioned sculptures, which he coaxes out of sheets of stiff steel-wire mesh, most immediately call to mind the classical Greco-Roman sculptures of 2,000 years ago, they also have the grid-like appearance of a computer drawing come to three-dimensional life. That’s because Boyer gets his creative impetus from the material itself. The fabric-like drape of the steel-wire mesh is an endless source of fascination for him, and his intimate awareness of its quirks and qualities allows him to manipulate it into forms and figures that are astonishing in their sheer beauty.

Eric Boyer Ascension XVIIIn 1985, after having worked for five years in a metalworking shop, where he’d learned to forge, weld, and fabricate decorative iron railings and furniture, he began to experiment, artistically, with the leftover scraps of the Number 8 mesh from fireplace screens that had been discarded during the assembly process. “This material moves quite readily in the hand, although possessing its own idiosyncrasies,” explains Boyer. “It’s a malleable metal and it molds like clay, but it’s actually a form of cloth, with a finite amount of give and take.”

And an infinite amount of possibilities. “Having always been attracted to the human form,” recalls Boyer, “and for other reasons both ethereal and practical, I began to sculpt figures.” Gorgeous figures. But however gorgeous they are, they are also rooted in Boyer’s scientific interest in human anatomy and physiology. So as perfect as his bodies are, they are not unattainably perfect. “I create to share the beauty of the figure and the emotional vocabulary it speaks,” says Boyer. “Even without the face, the ‘window to the soul,’ the body speaks volumes.”

Indeed, these “neoclassical” truncated figures convey their story without the facial expression we are most accustomed to reading. Part of what we read into them comes from our familiarity with the sculptures of Hellenistic Rome and Ancient Greece, and later on through Renaissance masters like Michelangelo and Da Vinci, and later still, through Rodin and Camille Claudel. Boyer takes this classicism and beauty one step further: Boyer’s figures are transparent, and this ability to look through them brings out entirely different reactions and emotions. Unlike the contemplation of stone figures or bronze statues, these see-through studies of the human body allow the viewer to not only move through them but move with them.

That Boyer achieves all this from memory is even more impressive. “My art most commonly comes from an inner vision,” says Boyer. “I don’t work from models, although I have done extensive life drawing and portraits. Rather, I create from an ever-changing visual and tactile memory bank that leaves me room for exaggeration and expression, as the piece requires.”

And not all his works are figures. His abstract pieces, too, which conjure up jellyfish, plumes of fire and smoke, and flowers, are equally beautiful. “Both the figures and the free-form pieces live in the same fantasy landscape,” says Boyer. “The abstracts inform the figurative work by giving me an opportunity to see the material in a new way.

“My hope,” adds Boyer, “is that the beauty of the physical body will strike the viewer of my work and moved by its expressive power, while appreciating the innovative and unique visual characteristics of my chosen material of wire mesh.”