01 April 2018

Nevertheless She Persisted

Cover image, Bold Women in California History by Kay Moore
History is a good teacher. It shapes my view of the world today and informs my work as an artist. I firmly believe the the story of our nation will not be complete -or truly instructive- until the many and diverse experiences of life on this continent are told. I applaud all the institutions, formal and informal historians who work to deepen and widen our perspectives.

It has been a great delight for me to work with authors and editors at Missoula's Mountain Press on two books in their Women's History series. First, there was Beth Judy's 
Bold Women in Montana History. More recently I created cover art and illustrations for Kay Moore's Bold Women in California History. This volume contains another 13 inspiring figures active in the region from 1799 to the present day. Persistence is only one of the virtues these outstanding girls and women possess. I encourage you to read these books and others in the series. Below are some of my own brief "character studies" to entice you.

A Foreign Shore, 2018. Graphite & oil on art board, 10x8".
Apolinaria Maria Guadalupe Lorenzana (c. 1793-1884)
An orphan from Mexico City, Apolinaria traveled 400 miles on foot with 20 other children (all under the age of ten) and two adults to the Pacific Coast where they boarded a ship to California. The sea voyage of another 1,670 miles took several months. These children were sent to populate Spanish pueblos in Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Diego. Apolinaria worked initially as a housekeeper for a Spanish soldier's family in Monterey. As she grew up she gained more skills in teaching and nursing and worked throughout the mission system. Both religious and secular governors in the region awarded her land grants, though all of this was lost when Mexico ceded the territory to the U.S. in 1848. By remaining single throughout her long life, Apolinaria was able to retain more liberty in a time when women's lives were typically circumscribed by domestic duties. Through her unflagging kindness and industry, Apolinaria acquired the title, La Beata, The Pious.

Homage to Biddy Mason, 2018. Graphite & oil on art board, 6x8".
Bridget "Biddy" Mason (1818 - 1891)
Biddy was born into slavery in Georgia. She walked thousands of miles in migration with the Robert M. Smith family she was enslaved to. The Smith's peregrinations led her and her three daughters, Ellen, Ann and infant, Harriet across much of the continent before going down the Mormon Trail to Salt Lake. Eventually they all moved on to California, but Smith decided to depart when slavery was abolished there in 1855. Biddy and her children escaped from him and gained freedom in 1856. In 1959 Biddy became a medical assistant to Dr. John Strother Griffin in Los Angeles. As she acquired skills and became established in the community, Biddy served as a nurse and midwife. She shared her  resources with a generous spirit and continues to be celebrated as great humanitarian to this day.

Sally Ride, 2017. Graphite on paper 5x7".

Sally Kristin Ride (1956 - 2012)
Sally applied to NASA to become an astronaut just before she completed her Phd in physics at Stanford University in 1978. She completed her training with NASA in 1979 and worked on the Space Shuttle Remote Manipulator System as a specialist. At last, on June 18th, 1983, Sally became the first woman to orbit the earth. At just thirty-two, she was also the youngest person in space at the time. Sally's second flight into space was aboard the Challenger Shuttle, before it's tragic accident in 1986. Sally was also an accomplished researcher, professor of physics and advocate for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math). She penned and co-authored with her partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy, a number of books about space travel and science for young readers. President Obama awarded Sally the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, shortly after her death in 2012. This is only one of the many awards and achievements honoring this stellar human being.

Dolores Huerta, Huelga: "Strike", 2017. Graphite & oil on art board,  c. 10x8".

Dolores Clara (nee Fernandez) Huerta (1930 - )
Dolores Huerta has been a tireless worker for social justice since she became involved in the the struggle of California's farm workers in the 1950s. Out of high school, Dolores studied to become a school teacher, but as she explained, "I couldn't stand seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes." She was inspired to address other fundamental problems in her community. With Cesar Chavez she helped found the National Farm Workers Association, which became United Farm Workers in 1966. Her advocacy for farm worker's rights has expanded to all of the working poor, women and children. President Bill Clinton gave Dolores the Eleanor D. Roosevelt Human Rights Award in 1998. President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Such honors keep mounting as Dolores continues her activism.  In her own words, "We must use our lives to make the world a better place to live, not just acquire things. That is what we are put on Earth for." 

(In addition to reading Kay Moore's brief biography of Dolores Huerta in Bold Women in California History, I highly recommend Peter Bratt's recent documentary Dolores, broadcast on PBS.)

14 March 2018

Sometimes You Win

Glide, 2017. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 12x24".

I was honored to be counted among the eight creative workers awarded a Montana Arts Council Innovation Award in December 2017. Like many artists, I apply for more grants and opportunities than I receive. I am always curious what makes a successful portfolio. Sometimes it's clear what the juror was looking for, but not always. I thought I would share my Artist's Statement, Innovation Essay and a selection of images. And with this sharing I want to express my deep gratitude to the Montana Arts Council and everyone working for cultural vitality in our state.

Taking Flight, 2015. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 16x20".
Solitaire, 2015. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 16x20".
Artist's Statement

Endlessly inspired by both nature and culture, my art ranges from observations of flora and fauna to intricate compositions depicting human endeavor. I work enthusiastically with both fact and fiction, delighting in myth and metaphor as much as the vital world around me.
Overseen, 2017. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 20x16".
In narrative painting my objective is to present the essential elements of a story: a character or two, a sense of time and place, a moment of connection, tension or reflection. I seek figures and scenarios that are both personally compelling and socially relevant. I frequently work in cycles, series and sequential images. Repeating characters, settings and other elements gives greater cohesion to my visual inquiry. With careful measures of clarity and ambiguity, I hope to create imaginative space for viewers to bring their own perspectives into the tale. In this way I do not so much tell stories, but evoke them.
Follower, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 12x24".
Representation is both an authentic and challenging aesthetic language for me. I have embraced a naturalistic style with populist ardor, trusting in it’s far-reaching communicative potential. A degree of anachronism signals my interest in enduring traditions and conventions, while also indicating the fictional nature of my images. Recent developments in my methods and materials make evident the contemporary concerns and creation of my art.
Rest on the Flight, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 20x30".
Rural life is among my long-standing artistic interests. Such scenarios reflect my own heritage, while also providing opportunities to examine the broader relevance of agrarian life. All of our lives unfold within the cycle of the seasons, but perhaps nowhere is this more deeply felt than in the rural landscape. There humans enter an ancient and essential collaboration with nature. Wilderness and civilization meet and intermingle. In such places human beings strive with other creatures, both wild and domestic. They live in exquisite intimacy with the blessings and vagaries of each season. In rural places people are literally at work with the elements: earth, air, fire, water. In these natural circumstances I find fertile ground for allegories about the unnatural circumstances affecting our lives, wherever we live, whatever our labors. 
Plank, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 16x20".
Another perennial source of inspiration for my art is water. Wading, crossing over, plunging through.. the mythic allusions and allegorical possibilities abound, while the visual effects of transparency, reflection and motion in and through water fascinate me. Riparian settings are rich with the splendors and dangers of this fluid element, essential to all life.
Shoving Off, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 18x12" (18x24" overall).
I am perpetually intrigued by the beauty and drama of the natural world and human life as a part of it. My artistic endeavor is an expression of wonder, exploration of personal questions and effort to create meaning with others through the connective power of image.
Poise, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 30x20".
Innovation Essay

I have destroyed over half my work of the past two years. I have not destroyed these paintings in fits of temper, but in an effort to rid myself of old patterns and strategies for image-making that have grown tedious or stale. Yet nothing is forsaken. Indeed as I mature artistically, my skills and resources increase with my empathy and understanding. Season by season, I have more to place in the service of art.
Dreaming a Kindred Spirit, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 8x10".
The scope of my imagery expands too with a desire to more vividly address both the lights and shadows of life today. I strive to give these visions substance, revealing the energy of inspiration throughout manifestation. Recent innovations in my process demonstrate this search for more vigor and immediacy in a process that still includes subtlety and refinement. A dedication to strong compositions and reverent naturalism remain in a new form of layering and inscribing that synthesizes drawing and painting.
Dreaming a Full Pantry, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 8x10".
In order to open my process and vision of resolution, I have experimented with various dry and wet media, sometimes making a single image multiple times to discover the treatments and materials that best suit it. I have also changed supports, replacing the spring of canvas for the rigidity of wood and art board panels. Whatever materials I combine, I ensure the artwork is stable and archivally sound. Through this mix of media I am devising ways to present more images without framing under glass -another way the work appears more present, accessible.
Dreaming Safe Passage, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, 7x11 & 14x11"
In recent efforts, the directness and delicacy of graphite blends with the opulence of oil paint. Simplified palettes have been essential to bringing these media together in a coherent fusion of line and form. Still interested in local color as an element of naturalism, I have often limited hues to earthy warms and cools through most of an image’s development, and sometimes coming to nearly monochromatic conclusions. In the way of traditional drawing, value most powerfully illuminates form and space. Color enriches the illusion and serves symbolic purposes too. Different textures result from the flow and massing of lines integrated with the substance of paint, beckoning further exploration.
Dreaming a Nest, 2016. Graphite & oil on  wood panels, each 14x11".
I have always employed both additive and subtractive techniques in image-making. Formerly, sanding was used to eliminate textures, especially with major revisions in a painting. Now I am using abrasion to create textures, curious about the aleatory effects of such a step. Inviting the unexpected into my process positively alters my creative decision-making, helping to clarify priorities within the imagery.

Sickle I, 2017. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 14x11".
Studies of flora and fauna with simpler figure/ground relationships have been instrumental to the development of new techniques. Four recent mural projects have also enhanced my sensibilities and fostered innovation in my personal work. The Montana Natural History Center Radiant mural brings the qualities of fresh observation in a field journal to monumental composition. In the collaborative mural projects (Flourishing 200 square feet, Seasons 310 square feet, Twilight 280 square feet)with students of Willard Alternative High School, I was prompted to combine line and color in new ways and on a grand scale.
Sickle II, 2017. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 14x11".
No longer seamless and smooth, my paintings now contain more traces of the process of building and integrating imagery with less predictable resolutions. I am excited to discover not just a new synthesis of drawing and painting, but a continuum of image-making that spans from the simplest line drawing to the most elaborate layering of colors and textures. In this new range, the potentials for both spontaneous and meditative image-making expand to hold what I have mastered and all I hope to learn.

08 March 2017

Past & Future

"History pertains to the living man in three respects: it pertains to him as a being who acts and strives, as a being who preserves and reveres, as a being who suffers and seeks deliverance."

Friedrich Neitzsche 
On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life 1874

Racing the Storm, 2016. Graphite & oil on art board, 11x14"

I had hoped to complete the 2016 year in review (beginning with "Shaped by Circumstance", 20 August 2016) before 2017 was so far along. However, it felt right to delay this final post until Beth Judy's new book, Bold Women in Montana History, was published. It has been an honor to work on cover art for this collection of biographies. I enjoyed what I learned, and trust you will too.

Let me introduce you to some of the eleven characters Beth has so beautifully rendered in the book. She was even willing to write up some short descriptions to share here.

Pretty Shield (1856-1944)

"Pretty Shield was born when the Crow people still lived the life they had led for generations, following their food sources (bison, plants) over a vast territory of present day Wyoming and Montana. By the time she was married, the Crow had been restricted to a reservation, which, over time, shrank further in size. Life changed radically, and the tribe knew hunger and poverty. Through it all, Pretty Shield fought to preserve the culture and people she loved. She "co-authored" a book with author and Indian advocate Frank Linderman by recounting the details of her life to him. She also raised one of her grandchildren, Alma Hogan Snell, in the old ways, carefully transmitting precious ancient knowledge to her."

Annie (Agnes) Morgan (1830s/1840s-1914)

"Born in Baltimore, African-American Agnes "Annie" Morgan headed west after the Civil War and became a cook with the US frontier army. Somewhere along the line she "cooked for Custer" though the exact details of that, along with other aspects of her life, remain mysterious. The homestead she claimed in the Rock Creek valley, near Philipsburg, is now a Forest Service cabin the public can rent. In its walls, the first and so far only "bag charm" in the Pacific Northwest, associated with the magic/spiritual practice know as Hoodoo, was found."

Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973)

"The Rankin Family, one of Missoula's first white families, was a talented and passionate bunch. After college, Jeannette, the eldest, wasn't sure what to do. After encountering urban poverty out east, she trained in social work, then dedicated herself to the women's suffrage movement, working in states around the country. After Montana women won the vote, but before women did nationwide, Jeannette campaigned throughout her home state to become the first female in Congress --and won, just in time to vote "No" against World War I, because she was a pacifist. Concern about peace inspired her to run again for Congress, only to win and once more vote "No" against World War II. She never stopped working for peace, inspiring and participating in an anti-Vietnam march in 1968 when she was close to 90 that was named after her --the 'Jeannette Rankin Brigade'."

Myrna Loy (1905-1993)

"Born and raised until her teens near and in Helena, Myrna Williams, later Loy, always had strong ambition. First she wanted to be a dancer, but when her mother moved the family to Los Angeles, Myrna discovered the world of film. Once she made it into movies, she worked non-stop for years until her big breakthrough, "The Thin Man" and its sequels, made her America's leading darling. Her exposure to politics while growing up in Montana, accounted for her second love: changing the world through political and civic action, especially the UN. Into old age, she continued working in movies, television, and the stage. When she died, she was still beloved, respected, and honored as a favorite actress and personality throughout America."

Elouise Cobell (1945-2011)

"Elouise, born Yellow Bird Woman, was born in the Browning hospital on the Blackfeet Reservation. In their part of the reservation, her father and mother were tribal leaders to whom people came for help. So Elouise grew up hearing about people's trouble accessing their own money --proceeds from the land their families had acquired when, in the 1880s, the reservation, like many across the nation, was divided into parcels owned by individual tribal members rather than the tribe as a whole. Elouise went on to become an accountant, and then tribal treasurer. Finally the puzzle of access became clearer: there was a long history of corruption, stealing, and no accounting at many levels of government. After trying to remedy the situation in multiple other ways, in 1996 Elouise became the lead plaintiff in a landmark case against the US government that took 16 years, and her life (she died before receiving any money herself), but resulted in the largest class-action win against the government ever. Though approximately 500,000 landowners across the nation each got only about $1,000 in the end, the win was still a huge victory for Indian people."

As I said, it was an honor to work on this project. It was also a novel experience since I have never worked so directly with historical figures. But I am a lover history for all the reasons cited by Nietzsche in the quote above. It is well worth our close study here and now. With all the change and turmoil in our country today, these true stories of valor, perseverance, creativity, intelligence and compassion have raised my spirits and my hopes. Written for Young Adults, I recommend the book to all.

I welcome everyone to a book launch party to be held at Montana Art & Framing (709 Ronan Street) on April First, 4-7:00 pm.  At Five o'clock Beth Judy will be reading from Bold Women of Montana. I will be sharing the original artwork and discussing the illustration process.

Bold Women of Montana (as well as others in the Bold Women series) is published by Mountain Press in Missoula. www.mountain-press.com

The book is available locally at Fact & Fiction and The Book Exchange.

My THANKS to Beth Judy, Gwen McKenna (Editor) and Jeannie Nucholls (Designer).

21 December 2016

Written on Water

Dark Reflection, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 11x14"

Though I have been working with riverine imagery for several years, last Summer I participated in my first show on the theme- "Montana Water" at Collage Gallery in Bigfork. Paintings in this show revealed my varied interests in these settings.

In a statement for the exhibition I wrote:

In its falling, flowing and flooding, water crosses borders. Essential to all life, it both resource and refuge. We seek it with physical need and sensual pleasure. Water flows in cultural imagination too, as metaphor and site of myth. So water also crosses time. Through these various qualities, as well as the wonders of reflection, water intrigues me as an artist.

Plank, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 16x20"
Freshet I, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 8x10"
Freshet II, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 8x10"
As examples of the mythic allusions I've made through the water, "Leda's Escape" is a revision of the Classical myth in which Zeus takes the form of a swan to accost Leda. "Attendants" (below) relates to the biblical tale to Moses with his sister Miriam and the pharaoh's daughter's handmaiden in attendance to his woven ark. 
Leda's Escape, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 16x20"
Attendants, 2015. Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 16x10"
A small study: Seeker, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 7x11"

At the riverside one is bound to find water birds. Among the most majestic here in the Rocky Mountain West is the Great Blue Heron. For me these birds embody a sort of fierce patience. I marvel at how still they hold, how closely they watch, even on this most frigid days.

Vigilant, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 20x16"
Poise, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 30x20"
I take great pleasure in subordinating the human drama to the presence of other creatures, like a heron or swan in the foreground. However, there is something evocative about a character engaged with water alone that calls me back to the wading scenarios again and again. What must we wade into? What do we find ourselves wallowing in, intentionally or not? The slough as a backwater, or at least a slow moving water way suggests a calm state, but perhaps some stagnancy too.

Slough I, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 20x10"

Slough II, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 20x10"

08 December 2016

Storied Places

Gleaner, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 30x20".
Fellow artists, take heart! For many years I applied to the annual Art About Agriculture show hosted by Oregon State University. It seemed a perfect fit given my region and the perennial subjects of my work. But for one reason or another, I never got in. So, you can imagine my delight when I was actually invited to participate in the 34th annual show this year: Agriculture of the American Landscape.

Prodigal, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 30x40".
The realities of agriculture are of vital interest to me -like everyone concerned with putting wholesome food on the table. As an artist I am intrigued by the ancient and essential collaboration with nature too. In rural places wilderness and civilization meet and intermingle. Human beings strive and thrive with other animals, both wild and domestic. They all live intimately with the Elements, the blessings and vagaries of each season. What's more, agrarian landscapes are storied places. Myths and parable, proverbs and legends continue to unfold in farmland.

Aftermath, 2016. Diptych, graphite & oil on wood panels, each 30x10".
 I take up these allegorical possibilities along with inspiration from the beauty and drama of the vital world. In agricultural settings I find fertile ground to explore both the natural and unnatural forces affecting our lives. Thought fictional, my work is an expression of true wonder in seasonal change, the diversity of living things and the dynamic relationships among us all.

Sow, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 30x40".

10 September 2016

Dream Work

To continue my 2016 review....

Dreaming a Kindred Spirit, 2015. Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 8x10".
For a contemporary surrealism show, The Last Best Dream, mounted by Radius Gallery in Missoula last February, I had a chance to explore some ideas that have interested me for quite awhile. My concern was with aspiration, our common hopes, rather than my own nighttime dreams, as one might expect in the context of surrealism, past or present.
One creative challenge for me was in employing a diptych format with two distinct perspectives on imagery that remained unified in other formal terms. I portrayed both the dreamer and the dream, one panel symbolically reflecting the sleeper's desire. The longing for close companionship -a sort of mirror image in a friend- was suggested in "Dreaming a Kindred Spirit" above.
The (nearly) universal yearning for a secure and comfortable home  in "Dreaming a Nest".
Dreaming a Nest, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 14x11".
With the plight of refugees and migrants weighing on my mind and heart, "Dreaming Safe Passage", evoked a long ocean journey. But this imagery might also relate to all the ways we travel and seek to reach other sorts of destinations.
Dreaming Safe Passage, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, 7x11 & 17x11".

Dreaming a Full Pantry, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 8x10".
The longing for sustenance -if not abundance- was suggested by homegrown, well-preserved food inspired "Dreaming a Full Pantry". 
Dreaming a Green Horizon, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, 5x7 & 11x7".

In "Dreaming a Green Horizon" I considered the fertile prospects we hope to provide our youth, the open field that holds promise for all.
I had the pleasure of bringing this imagery into an intaglio printmaking class with Bev Beck Glueckert at Missoula Art Museum. I printed versions of the sleeper and embellished them with visions of "Safe Passage", as well as "Ample Time". Who does not wish for more time day to day or over the course of life to accomplish all that calls?
Dream: Safe Passage, 2015. Monotype with graphite, 11x14".
Dream: Ample Time, 2016. Monotype with graphite, 11x14"
A galloping draft horse reflects the desire for all the strength and energy, the exuberance even, to meet our challenges.
Dreaming Power, 2016. Monotype with graphite, 11x14".
The quest for transcendence took shape as a pair of wings in "Dreaming Flight". 
Dreaming Flight, 2016. Monotype with graphite, 11x14".
I took wing myself, with the invitation to exhibit with surrealists, though I don't count myself among them. This body of work took me to new places in pictorial space, palettes and processes. I am grateful for the opportunity, and the fruits it has born in my ongoing endeavors.


About Me

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A artist living and working in Missoula, Montana.