Looking Backward and Forward at Waverly Heights
It is always flattering to be asked to exhibit your work—especially when you can imagine it as being beneficial for a community. So when Hal and Linda Robinson telephoned to invite me to put together a show of my artwork at Waverly Heights Gallery, a senior complex in Gladwynne, PA, I was enthused. Hal had seen my paintings at Cerulean Arts in Philadelphia. I was slightly familiar with Waverly Heights in that I knew several other artists who have shown there, although I had never been to the community myself. A date was presented and with detailed instructions from Linda and Hal and the assistance of my crack hanging crew, it is now installed until August 16th. An opening reception was on June 23rd. This gave an opportunity to meet many of the Waverly residents and to speak with them about art—my own, some of their favorites, and some of their own art-making.
Although I had almost a year to prepare for this exhibition, deciding what it should be was a little complicated. I had received a floor plan of the running feet and taken a visit to the gallery to check the hanging system and physical space. The large and well-proportioned room has numerous uses aside from being a gallery. These include as a meeting room, a theater for movies, and a performance space. There is a stage with a beautiful grand piano. Chairs, and even tables, could or could not be present. None of this was problematic, but there were two features that I had to consider: One was the hanging system which limited the height of the pieces to about 36-inches; the other was that Waverly Heights would not insure the artwork against damage. As I am an artist who paints on glass, I decided to include more works on canvas-- which meant older artworks. Inspiration hit on the idea of a “kind of retrospective”.
Throughout my time as a professional artist and even before, I drew and painted people. I would even go further to say that “children” are an important subject matter to me. Why? Well, children are the future adults who will work in our world – they are our potential. Moreover, childhood is a time that we all have in common: every adult was a child once, and every child has a past of being a younger child. There is an immediate connection of stories between the painting and the viewer, and this is important to me.
As I was gathering my works, I found that I had many more paintings than I remembered. The final selections covered, basically, my exhibition history and my various influences. Children digging on the beach and three boys painting pumpkins were from a time where I was using a limited palette and looking at the Fauves/Post-Impressionists for the exploration of saturate color and heavy brushwork (as in Beach Diggers and
Painting Pumpkins). Modeling and creating the look of three-dimensional space through the play of warm vs. cool color, saturated vs. desaturated color came next (as in Bathers and Fire II). Painting this way also encouraged me to use complements in the underpainting which led to shadows being cool darks and light glowing from the warm areas. I became interested in the different components – objects and their shapes – not only as the means of telling the “story”, but as ways of directing the eye through the composition. It is not always easy to have so much information spread around and have it settle into its own space/place in the painting. I was also using the shape of the canvas as an indicator and to direct the viewer as to where to stand. Vertical compositions confront the viewer in a way that is like meeting someone in a hallway or on a narrow street. Viewers acknowledge the presence of the figure while also looking for a comfortable place to observe. (As in All the World’s a Stage, The Stories We Tell and Out of the Woods, which are all from this time.)
When I undertook painting on found windows, I went back to the techniques found in the earliest alla prima painting I had done. Painting on glass, which is how I handled the glass portion, is interesting as it requires me to think in an opposite way. Where I could build paint one color on
another and even mix right on the canvas, I had to think what was in front and add layers moving back. Also, glass surfaces are slick and aged glass does not give up paint easily, so, what I put down was something I had to accept as part of the painting. This can be a very fast way of working— and I think that the best of my “window paintings” were painted quickly. But it also means that there was much more planning involved— photographing, preliminary plans and drawings, and a chosen palette all contribute to a successful finished product. And glass painting allows for even greater exploration of imagination and symbols. Why? Well not only is there the painting under the glass (and the glass works as a varnish that unifies the composition), but more can be attached to the front of the glass – collage of paper, objects, more paint – can bring additional information and meanings to the artwork. (Look at the difference between Three Little Monkeys (seen above), one of my earliest windows, and Whisper of Renewal, a later piece.) Several people have asked me about my use of screening (as in Framed World). Screening is interesting because it creates a suggested object – be it a shadow or a shape – while still allowing the viewer to “see” what is beneath. I think of it compositionally as a “yield” sign rather than a “stop” sign.
The rest of the works in this exhibition come from my American Prayer Flags series. In
American Prayer Flags I coupled the American flag with Tibetan prayer flags. The American flag is a symbol of our
national identity – of a diverse nation built on a Constitution of freedom and opportunity. Prayer flags are also symbolic with each of the five colors of the flags representing an element of nature: Blue is sky and space, white is air, red is fire, green is water, and yellow is earth. Prayer flags carry messages that spread through the disintegration of the flag. These messages are not requests for beneficence but good wishes for the world. Rather than write out these messages
canvases incorporating the prayer flag color and its meaning. For the larger 18-inch by 18-inch pieces, I incorporated materials that represent the matter of which the flag is representative. Hence, the yellow (earth) piece has a silhouetted figure made from different kinds of dirt and rust, while the white piece (air) has a drawing incorporating bubble-wrap. In another 18-inch by 18-inch sized group called "Circles in the Square", I laid out the pattern of the American flag as a grid of
circles then drew (using various materials) a figure interacting with the natural element of that prayer flag color as in Circles in the Square-White and Circles in the Square-Yellow. For the smaller 8-inch by 8-inch pieces, I painted portraits of children interacting with the elements. Each has a single word name. In Illumination, two children are reading by flashlight in the dark – becoming illuminated from the light and by their reading. In Rain, three children in slickers catch raindrops in their mouths. In these paintings, we can see how the world and our experiences of the world provide for us.
As artists, exhibitions are a time to stand back and discern meaning from a particular theme or “body of work”. Opportunities to reflect on the evolution of our bodies of work are available through retrospectives, that is selections from these different groupings created over time, are few and far between. So I am grateful for this mini-retrospective in such a beautiful space. My hope is that others can enjoy this, too. These paintings will be on display at Waverly Heights through August 16th. For purchasing information, please contact Cerulean Arts at (267) 514-8647, www.ceruleanarts.com (web site), or firstname.lastname@example.org.