Angela Purviance is known for her vibrant color intaglio prints, which generally feature children in narratives that could be described as magical realism. She explains, “Childhood is when we form our views of the world, relationships, and of ourselves. The impact of those beliefs carries over onto the next generation, influencing the relationships between one generation and the next. Most of the time this is a harmless effect, even beneficial. Words or events, both positive and negative, can shape our idea of who we are, of our strengths and weaknesses, impacting us for years. Exploring the relationship between events and beliefs formed in one childhood, and it’s trickling down through the generations, is an idea that has stuck, and though it takes many shapes (from climate change to emotional abuse), forms the core of my artistic content and influences the bulk of my work.”
Another recurring theme in Angela’s work is the environment. She worked for a while in wildlife rehabilitation, and much of her imagery references our impact on the natural world. Most of her narrative are set in landscapes with protagonists engaging with nature in some way.
Angela studied art at Maryland Institute, College of Art and Middle Tennessee State University and for over ten years was an elementary art instructor. Her observations of the children she taught, and recollections of her own childhood informed her later work. She established printmaking as her main medium after returning to college as a mature student.
In 2016 she attained a BFA in Fine Arts from Oregon State University, study printmaking. She studied with renowned printmaker Yuji Hiratsuka. While a student she was awarded the Norma Seibert Excellence in Printmaking Award and Weatherford Scholarship in 2015, and in 2016 the OSU Liberal Arts, Outstanding Senior Award and Excellence in Printmaking Award in the Nebraska National Undergraduate Juried Art Exhibition.
Working with Professor Yuji Hiratsuka at Oregon State University had a profound impact on her choice of medium. She found herself drawn to the technical and artistic challenges of color copperplate etching. She sees her continued experimentation in intaglio printmaking as an adventure, being both intellectually and artistically challenging. In addition to being a practicing artist Angela is the Assistant Director & MU Assistant Curator at Oregon State University Craft Center.
Ruth Hunter works in oils and cold wax to create multi layered paintings imbued with emotion and spiritual contemplation. She is an intuitive artist whose paintings transcend the physical world and portray a wider vision of awareness. She jokes that mark making was her first language. When talking to this quiet and introspective artist, you can tell it is also the one she is most comfortable using to express herself.
She works by applying marks, building up, and layering color fields until the imagery presents itself to her. Her subject matter is the figure, but her intent is also to evoke memory through color and light. Although she recognizes herself as a colorist, it is the gestural mark making that builds the work. The compulsive mark making is the construction of the painting, but it is then the color that is the conduit for the emotion. She explains, "I never work with an idea in mind, I just start to paint and let the color guide me. The stories develop as I work. It's very much a conversation between me and the painting."
Ruth spent her early years growing up in a trailer home in east Texas. She recounts the vision of the small child she remembers herself being. “No one ever took a photograph of it, at least not one that I have ever seen, but if you were to use your imagination; there in the wet place near our trailer home, she wore white cotton and was covered from knees to neck with the black clay of the prairie land under an East Texas sky…. That would be me, alright, a child in 1968 with the high cheeked face from distant native heritage, and I could not get enough of it, and deaf I was to anyone who might object… I tell this now with a smile, knowing as I do, how little has changed, knowing how deeply enthralled I become with the tactile pleasure that comes from pushing paint around, and still, at the end of a day, I am covered with it.”
Later her father built a home in the then rural Dallas suburb of Forney. The property had acreage and they kept cows and horses. Ruth and her older sibling were somewhat neglected with an alcoholic mother and a father who worked long hours running a heating and air conditioning business. Ruth found herself on her own a lot – time which she spent outdoors exploring the wild areas of their property. She feels a deep connection to nature and the elements, and her work is often an endeavor to express a memory of the light and atmosphere of times past.
In reference to her claim to a distant native heritage, she is acutely aware of the politics surrounding such an assertion and in no way wants to insert herself into a culture in which she was not raised. It is however a part of her family history and mythology. Ruth explains that, “I do not seek inclusion by mentioning my native heritage but, I know in my heart that it is a part of who I am as I came into this world. It is part of my nature. It is the identity of my soul.”
Ruth’s childhood was formative in how she developed her visual language and approach to painting. She says, “I am grateful to have found my intimates among the sky, the clouds - how the shadows moved across the rolling prairie, the grasses, trees, brooks and ponds, the animals I encountered, birds especially. You might say, much of what I learned as a child I learned here. My grandmother would call me by a secret name, and I asked her what it meant. She said, “She Talks To Woodpeckers’” which made me laugh. As a family, we would visit her in the country outside Oklahoma City, where I got to spend time with her and she would put a pencil in my hand, showing me how to draw things.”
Drawing and painting became an outlet for a lonely child to express herself. She tells how this became a way to tell her secrets, when no one was listening and paying her no mind. In art she found a world in which she could escape. Although never taken to museums she pawed over art books and studied any painting she saw to explore how it was created. She studied art at community college and became a working artist.
There is no time she has not made her living as an artist. She began by sketching portraits on the street, and travelled the US plying her trade. She settled in Augustine, Florida when her daughter was born and moved to Savannah, Georgia when it was time for her daughter to begin school. Here she found a vibrant art scene and was able to make the transition from street artist to having gallery representation.
In 2017 hurricane Maria displaced Ruth and her husband Raymond, who is also an artist, from their home. With their income already hindered by the recession the couple packed up their old Chevy pickup and headed to the West Coast, and to Portland where Nina, their daughter now lives. Ruth and Raymond now share a studio in their apartment in Portland. Brumfield Gallery is grateful for their journey and the opportunity to represent Ruth Hunter’s work.
“I love Clay. It’s kind of a chameleon material, you can make it into anything you want and really convince the eye that what they are looking at is not a raw material that came from the earth. It’s now wood or fur or cloth.” Kelsey Bowen has a very tactile relationship with clay, through which she is able to process her thoughts, emotions and memories. “Working with my forms and creating these brief moments for myself are my last lingering stitches of childhood and a way to connect myself to what is no longer my tangible reality. For a moment, the fantastical objects in my world are alive and the storiesI am telling are curiously real.”
Kelsey Bowen’s main subject matter is the human body telling a story, especially the imagery of children. Her work is nostalgic, with an implied innocence that enables her to address mischievous or difficult narratives with empathy. She also works with a lot of rabbit imagery. She had rabbits as a child - so it is a direct link to her own childhood, and she employs their gentle appearance to evoke a more forgiving response to the behavior of her protagonists.
Kelsey Bowen grew up in the rural California foothills. Her love for figurative sculpture began in high school. She went on to gain her BFA degree in ceramics at the California College of the Arts, a school once attended by her great-grandfather in the 1920s. As a graduate she became a resident artist at the Red Lodge Clay Center in Montana.
She was fortunate to get a job that allowed her to be in the studio full-time, giving her opportunity to find herself as an artist and establish her career. The physical act of making is very important to her. She comments, “I love the hands-on learning, every time we make something we make it better”. Of her time at Red Lodge Clay Center she recalls, “I tapped into making what I wanted to make, not because I was learning in an academic setting, but because it was finally my time to just create work purely because I wanted to.”
Following her residency, Kelsey stayed in in Montana. Her studio is now a nook behind her kitchen. She tells how, “As a studio artist, there is no day off. I don’t clock out or go home mostly because my kitchen is full of half-sculpted rabbits and wolf heads, so the professional side of my life blends into the rest of it. I’m always sketching, thinking, emailing, planning, scheduling and building.”
This dedication has brought her to the attention of collectors and gallerists, and in 2020 Ceramics Monthly named her Emerging Artist of the year. This year she received a grant from Montana Arts Council to assist with the creation and transport of work for her exhibition at Brumfield Gallery.
Much of Kelsey Bowen’s sculpture serves as a conduit through which she is able to reflect and tell stories. She draws inspiration for her own memories of youth and the shared anecdotes of family and friends. She is aware of how interpretation moves recollections from fact to become legend, and embraces a fairytale sense of reality. The viewer is comforted by the playful characters, as they are led through a surreal landscape, and sometimes presented with an unsettling detail.
“When I’m working on a piece, I feel in fleeting moments that it’s come to life. I give them bright bows and dark memories, bringing them to reality with whispered stories. I work with my own personal narratives to develop a darkly whimsical illustration by building a new story that reinvents a past moment or a current truth. I see a beautiful darkness in childhood and nostalgia, in the way memories shift and shudder as we grow farther apart from them.”
For her exhibition at Brumfield Gallery there are a number of works that reflect on the recent passing of her grandfather. “I Think You Should Get Here” depicts a figure running with a larger bunch of sunflowers. The sunflowers range from vibrant full color, wilting into cooler earthen tones and browns. It shows the urgency and need to say goodbye to those we love, while observing the full spectrum of life. Another work depicts an empty chair – her grandfather’s favorite chair.
The artists reflections on childhood, have always been a commentary on grief – what is remembered, but lost to us. She explains, “Childhood is my metaphor for grief; a way of continuing to feel love and conjure memories of the past, a calm heaviness that holds me in a place of both sadness and nostalgia. Memories of times before the recent passing ofmy grandfather are sacred spaces, while others that uncoil can be unwelcome. My metaphor is a recurring theme in my work, drawing on childhood simultaneously as both the fairytale and the nightmare. My sculptures are often vessels that capture the echoes of small children playing; sometimes the echoes are of my own voice borrowed from the time and place they were created years ago.” While much of her work originates from a single strong emotion or a memory that weighs persistently on her thoughts, sometimes there is no initial meaning or intent. Having developed a visual vocabulary of symbols and characters, she is able to begin a work with a simple form or gesture in mind. Through the act of making, the work reveals itself to her. Sometimes she will recognize the narrative and other times she is happy to manifest a rabbit in a pretty dress. She is drawn to sculpture because she can create a physical entity that occupies our space. From an inanimate material she creates an object that conveys a feeling, and a personality with whom we interact.
Yuji Hiratsuka was born in Osaka, Japan. In 1985 he moved to the United States to pursue graduate degrees in printmaking at New Mexico State University (M.A.) and at Indiana University (M.F.A.). He has navigated a distinguished career as an artist, winning numerous awards for his work. He continues to exhibit internationally and has work in many museum collections including: The British Museum, London; Tokyo Central Museum, Japan; Panstwowe Museum, Poland; The House of Humor and Satire, Bulgaria; Cincinnati Art Museum, OH; Jundt Art Museum, WA; and Portland Art Museum, OR. His work communicates a personal narrative through a carefully crafted visual language of symbolism and metaphor. It expresses the accumulated experience of his cultural heritage, which itself is a synthesis of Japanese tradition and globalized western consumerism, and his everyday life in the US. While he acknowledges traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e prints in the construct of his craft, his imagery has a satirical sense of whimsy relating more closely to contemporary life and western sensibilities.
"In my work I draw from the ancient and the contemporary to express the mismatched combinations and hodgepodge which is Japanese daily life. The Zen aspect can be seen in my portraits. In this case, I always leave the face blank or flat and profile very simple. In my portraits I want to incorporate an element of wit through exaggeration and distortion. For emphasis, I fill in small areas with bright, whimsical colors. To express contemporary influences I use the figure dressed in Western style. My primary source of subject matter is photographs, frequently black and white, which I tear from books, magazines and newspapers. These materials are kept in my studio or in my bag, and whenever I am ready to begin a drawing for the print, I rummage through the wrinkled images."
Yuji Hiratsuka is an exceptional artist and respected teacher. Teaching has been a constant through his career. He has taught at several US universities, settling in 1992 at Oregon State University. As an Associate Professor he has supported and influenced many Northwest printmakers, instilling a great love for printmaking techniques. He explains how this process orientated medium intertwines through the creation of his own imagery and narrative, saying, ,"my interest is always based on unpredictable texture that is printed from the etched surface of the copper plate. My prints explore the complex relationship of paper, ink and etched plates to describe my thoughts, as well as the relationship which occurs between figures and space to express other human experiences. Always I try to investigate the maximum potential available to me as a printmaker." Yuji combines multi layered, color etching and chine collé techniques. He has developed a process of reworking the copper plate to create each color layer. "With continuous alterations to a copper plate I print a sequence of black, yellow, red and blue, passing the same plate through the press for each design and color change.” As with other reductive printmaking techniques this is a risky process - once the plate is altered, there is no going back. As the plate is continuously scraped, burnished and reworked, once the edition is complete, there is no way of repeating the process to increase or repeat the edition. This time-consuming printing process requires a lot of skill and experience.
The artists chosen paper is Toyama Kozo (Japanese Mulberry), which lends itself to repeated printing, but is very thin. It is also slightly translucent, allowing the artist to sometimes apply final color from the back with a relief process, such as woodcut or linocut. This is a way to intensify shapes and/or colors. With the exception of his largest prints, he uses a chine collé process to adhere the final work to a heavier rag paper. This allows the saturated and subtle tones that come through the Toyama Kozo paper appear set deep into the texture of the cotton rag paper.
Morgan Brig essentially sees herself as a 3D collage artist. In her figures she brings disparate materials to create a unified being, imbued with emotive human expression. She is drawn to sculpture because she finds it provides the best conduit to explore how the manipulation of an eye, mouth, ear or brow can change the expression and implied meaning of a work. Into this she introduces symbolic imagery and found objects.
Although she does not set out to illustrate or directly express a defined narrative, she finds that the figures often reveal to her undercurrents of personal experience. The making of the work becomes a kind of therapy through which she can recognize indicators of her own emotional wellbeing. In her most current body of work many of the pieces have teeth. She felt compelled to make these pieces, saying, “they just had to come out. There was no other thing I wanted to create. I just needed to have these pieces that had a little edge to them that way, and I came to understand that it was a delayed reaction to all the political craziness that had been going on. It just needed a place for that to vent and come out.”
Having worked through the creation of these works, she found a sense of peace, and the final work created for her show at Brumfield Gallery articulates a calmness following the storm. The “Float Some” piece is a figure that has close eyes and gently rocks on tiny toes. In this piece she began to acknowledge that life had slowed down during the pandemic, and that this had created space for her to take her time in the creation of the pieces. She says, “I have to respect that there is this place that allows me now to really enjoy the making of all these pieces, and to add more detail to them if I think it’s necessary to really thoroughly communicate what I need to communicate.”
Morgan uses a range of materials and techniques. The main base of the figure might be anything from an old plastic pot to stuffed fabric, with an applied surface. Her preferred material for this surface is an epoxy clay, which provides a hard finish that will accept paint well. It is also a strong adhesive for attaching additional elements to pieces. These may be found objects, or enameled copper plates carrying photo-transferred images. Arms, legs, ears or horns are fashioned from copper and screwed in or attached with the epoxy resin. Her skill is in bringing these materials together in a unified way to create a character that appears to have a real spirit, and that mirrors our shared human experience.
Michael Kelly is a Northwest, mixed media artist. The figure is Michael Kelly's main source of inspiration, representing all that we are familiar with in terms of form, function and emotional narrative. In his work he aims to reflect energy and motion - to reveal the living aspects and true nature of his subject’s existence. He uses Matisse’s quote, "Inherent truth is disengaged from the outward appearance of an object", as a key to the intent of his work.
His drawings are a spontaneous response to observed reality. Although he talks in terms of reality, it is not his intention to faithfully render the physical form saying, “It is a search for an internal reality that validates an object’s reason for being.” He explains that his work “is a process of discovery through deconstruction. This process allows me to dignify the presence of the subject that I am working from, rather than to characterize it. I maintain the aspect of the gesture in the approach to my work. This approach allows the drawing to live and to invoke a response.”
His mixed media includes graphite, crayon, pastels, oil sticks, china marker, oil paint, and printer’s ink on a high rag content paper or a clay coated paper which accepts oil-based media more readily. This choice of media enables dynamic mark making. He says, “Although I do paint, my work is more in the nature of drawing.” He describes his technique as a dance which is, “gestural in nature in order to retain the life of the composition. I work intuitively. I don't plan out a finished product. I don't begin in any certain way. The work is completed when it is resolved. Layering of media occurs only when it is called on in order to make a more complete and concise statement.” He considers a work to have achieved resolution, “when the communication has stated the objective in a coherent manner. When balance is achieved, the composition can go no further. A mutual understanding between artist and composition arrives, slowly, but surely.”
In this exhibition we show three distinct bodies of work. The central series depicts figure groupings. Of this series the artist says, “Being primarily an artist using the human form as subject matter, I began to reveal the dynamic of individuals gathered in a group who become united by something that they share. One series is titled “People In Suits”. This series shows a group as one entity. Although this entity is composed of individuals, their identity fades and has evolved into a singular object. This new entity now contains a different form of energy. The suits that each member of this entity is wearing is, basically, the unifying agent. I am not trying to make a statement about political or social order. I am making a compositional analysis based on something that is held in common, and in this particular series, it is the suits that are being worn. In another series, "The Third Person", the individuals retain more of their own identity, but are grouped in a forum atmosphere. This particular series was inspired by the recent impeachment hearings. Energy and motion are key elements in my work.”
Michael Kelly’s subject matter is primarily focused on the figure - the human form contextualized within the realities of the world. Other subjects have taken precedence because of man’s interaction with the object, animal or activity. He became interested in wolves and birds for their unique presence across cultures for thousands of years, and their appropriation into myths and folklore, to provide symbolic meaning.
It is that symbolic meaning that attracted the artist to the wolf. He explains that in many cultures the wolf use as a way of attributing the characteristics of strength, endurance, creativity, leadership, freedom, awareness, honor, strong will, and the roles of teacher or pathfinder. “Early mankind studied wolves and learned to live in groups in order to survive. One of the most misunderstood of all wild animals and near extinction, it is now, finally, being allowed back into the fold of nature. After being reintroduced to Yellowstone, wolves were solely responsible for transforming the entire ecosystem and bringing nature back into balance.” As for birds, he says “they are the bearers of prophetic messages and are signs of eternal life. They symbolize freedom and transcendence. More specifically, they represent the transition between life and death. They are, also, a bridge between the worlds: earth, sky, and water.”
Our relationship to horses has been more tangible, and is a subject the artist returns to regularly. “Horses have long been part of the human experience in work and play. Horse racing is a sporting event unlike any other. A 110 pound jockey aboard a 1500 pound horse traveling at 40+ mph takes uncommon strength for both horse and rider. It is an exciting display of energy and motion as well as the thundering sound of hoof beats as they travel past. The dynamic is of horse and rider united in purpose. The communication that takes place is unique. The relationship is symbiotic. An easy choice of subject. And a $2.00 bet adds to the excitement.”
After completing his associate degree in fine art, Michael Kelly followed an informal art education, concurrent with establishing his career as a practicing artist. Although he did not enroll in a degree program, his early standing in the local arts community afforded him access to University of Oregon’s arts department. He also attended master classes in painting, accredited through the University of Washington, taught by Nathan Olivera, Elaine DeKooning, and Jack Tworkov.
He established himself as a respected regional artist, was selected into many juried exhibitions and competitions, and in 1983 he was invited to exhibit in the Portland Biennial at Portland Art Museum. Despite this early success, a poor economy, the responsibilities of supporting a young family, and no alternative source of income forced a career break, and a move to LA to take alternative paid work.
Kelly was able to devote more time to his art when he returned to Eugene, Oregon in 1989. However, it was not until he moved to Portland at the turn of the Millennium that his circumstances allowed him to work in his studio on a daily basis. Throughout, he has maintained a profile through juried exhibitions and competitions. His work has been represented in national and international competitions throughout the United States and he has won numerous awards.
Shanna Fliegel is drawn to the physicality of clay and the way in which it documents the artist’s every touch through form and surface. She explains that nature of the material dictates a dance of creation: her movement around the work; the manipulation of the form; even the lifting of bags of clay and then the works into and from the kiln. “I find that my spirit connects with movement, and I find that this very versatile substance is something I have to really engage with.” On clay as the medium through which the artist’s intent is documented she explains how, “Essentially any fingerprint, or movement, or reaction, or intentful shaping, is something that remains within the form. Whether I am drawing into a surface or I am moving a coil around the rim of a pot, it’s this record of time, my thoughts and my ideas.”
Shanna has also found a community in the world of ceramics, where ideas and techniques are freely shared. The connections she has made with those whom she has learned from, been inspired by, or with whom she has shared her knowledge, are strong and lasting. She considers many of her cohort as family.
She uses a number of techniques. Her wall-based pieces are generally red clay slabs, while most of her vessels are coil-built. For her surfaces she combines a screen-printing technique called Thremofax, sgraffito scratched through white underglazes, hand-drawn and painted imagery, and washes of glazes and mason stains.
She hopes that the viewer is drawn in by the restful and calming color pallet, and by the forms that have their roots in the familiarity of historical storage jars, pitchers, and Greek and Roman urns. She hopes that the viewer feels promoted to move around the work and discover the imagery contained on the surface – imagery that has a surreal feel and is, at times, intentionally disconcerting. Her intent is to draw you in and then shift your perception to provoke and emotional response or curiosity. Her narrative is oblique and implicit, leaving the interpretation to the viewer.
Shanna attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA where she earned her BFA in Studio Art with a concentration in Ceramics. Shortly after graduating in 2001 she accepted a year-long residency at the Cub Creek Foundation in Appomattox, VA. Here she connected with potters and sculptors from Shigaraki, Japan and Seoul, Korea. These relationships strengthened her background in wood-firing, native clays, and surface.
She received her MFA in Studio Art/Ceramics at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, IL in 2008. She has had residences at Greenwich House Pottery in the West Village, the Clay Art Center in Port Chester, NY; the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, MT, and Guldagergaard International Ceramics Research Center in Denmark. She has held teaching positions at Montana State University in Billings, Montana and Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC, before relocating to teach ceramics and sculpture at Governor's Academy in Byfield, MA.
Andrea Benson is a Portland-based artist working with encaustics and mixed media. She has a number of themes she likes to visit including: where the land meets the water in a series she calls “Obscure Coast”; the forested landscape of the Northwest in her series “Homeland”; and the figure in landscape in her series “Figure and Ground”. We are currently showing her series “Implied Containers”. She explains that her "Implied Containers" series developed through experimenting with the medium. The subject matter draws on how “Many of us have an almost primal desire to collect and arrange objects. I spend a lot of time - maybe too much - moving shapes around to find groupings that create a kind of poetry of adjacencies. In the first works of this series I thought of the pieces as shelves. As it continued, I began to think of them as implied containers - as boundaries holding a moment of sensation, memory, or landscape. They became stand-ins for the body and the ebb and flow of impressions and thoughts; images of something elusive momentarily constrained.” Andrea moved to the Pacific Northwest when she was in her twenties after growing up in a small town on the edge of a forest in Pennsylvania. Like any good Northwesterners, she loves the trees, mountains, rivers and the ocean. Even the grey drizzle that punctuates half of the year has created a rhythm that supports her creativity. She says the combination of these natural elements in her life, “makes it easy to work in the studio or get lost in a book. I've always loved to walk, and feel that moving, looking and listening has a sizable influence on making.” Andrea’s art background is varied, working in drawing, printmaking, photography, ceramics, paper making and sewing. She also worked as a cook for several years, and later as an interior designer and space planner doing corporate interiors. She tells of how “Putting my hands onto material and working with it has always been compelling, as has trying to combine multiple media in some resonant way.” In 1999 she took a class on using encaustic wax-based paint, which set the path for future studio practice. It was a material that could bring together the many elements she had enjoyed when using other art media. Encaustics has been her main medium since 2003. She has been working with it intensively, using a wide variety of techniques, most often combining it with paper, drawing and collage. She appreciates, “There's an appealing range of qualities to explore with encaustic: the ability to layer, obscure and excavate, to engrave and inlay line, and variations in transparency, opacity, saturation and subtlety of color. There is the transitory liquidity of heated wax paint; I get to melt things.” This material has given voice to her visual language, which is based strongly in compositional harmony. “One of my favorite parts of making images is the act of composition: the language of visual energetics, of relationship and proportion, in which each element affects the others. It’s a conversation taking place on a surface, where line, shape, color and pattern convey weight, direction and energy. Sometimes it's a puzzle to work out and sometimes a revelation, where a small thing can change everything. I often start with a simple drawing or layout, acting as a compositional scaffold to hang things from, and knowing that there will be a continual back and forth between structure and improvisation.” In Andrea’s work we are offered provocative beauty. About her current art practice she comments, “In strange times, when the news presents a comic dystopia and so much is in peril, I've felt more clearly that I don't want to add ugly to the world, but to make things that bend toward beauty, that offer a gesture of appreciation and respect for this place. Sometimes, I think of these pieces as a prayer, or a poem, being sent up by one who is amused, sad, perplexed and amazed - all at the same time.”
The Medium & Techniques Encaustic is a painting medium using a wax and resin-based paint. It is valued for its rich luminous surface and its versatility for use with other artists' mediums. Encaustic paint is typically applied to a rigid absorbent surface, often in multiple layers. The wax-based paint must be melted to become fused to the rigid base, and each subsequent layer of paint must be fused to the previous layer. This process of melting and fusing is what the word encaustic refers to - it comes from Greek and means “to burn in”. Andrea Benson uses filtered beeswax to make most of her own paints. The encaustic paint is kept liquid in containers sitting on a hot plate set to about 200 degrees. For color, she adds dry pigments to the wax. Different types of pigments allow for varying levels of transparency and opacity. She begins by coating a Baltic birch plywood panel with several layers of encaustic. The paint is applied with brushes that are kept warm on the hot plate. Each new layer of wax is carefully melted with a propane torch, electric iron or heat gun to fuse it to the layer below. The wax hardens immediately and can be carved, shaped or incised and engraved with tools. Multiple layers are built up and can be selectively scraped away to reveal what's below. Areas can be remelted and reworked. Collage elements can be added and embedded.
Andrea draws and makes marks on paper, usually Japanese Kozo (mulberry paper) - The paper needs to be an absorbent natural fiber paper. She employs ink, markers, watercolor paint or pencils in this mark making. She then saturates the paper with clear unpigmented encaustic, basically making it into wax paper. Paper that may have looked white before, now becomes translucent.
She tears or cuts the waxed paper into shapes and seals it to the encaustic coated wood panel using more encaustic paint. The waxed paper bits and pieces are layered over each other and as they build up, the lower layers show through, depending on the transparency of the paper. She may also engrave into the work in places and then inlayed a different color of encaustic into the engraved lines. On the "Implied Container" series of works this engraving is typically found in the outlines of the containers.
On an encaustic painting, for several months after the wax was last melted, it subtly and slowly cures and hardens. During this period the surface may become slightly cloudy. This is called bloom, and it's more visible on darker colors. It's not a defect. The surface may be gently polished with a soft, clean cloth to dispel the bloom and restore a lustrous shine without harming the artwork. Because wax is impervious to moisture and air, it doesn't easily deteriorate and doesn't need to be protected with a varnish or glass. It will not yellow or darken with age. Although, like most fine art, colors are still susceptible to fading from UV radiation and it should be kept out of direct sunlight. Temperatures need to get much hotter than your home to damage the wax - typically above 170 degrees. References: https://www.andreabenson.com/about-encaustic
James Tisdale’s ceramic sculpture is a construct of personal iconography, referencing the cultural, social, political and religious experiences of growing up in Mississippi. Although his work often employs humor, it is often poignant, and sometimes unapologetically confrontational. The artworks challenge what is considered socially acceptable or beautiful, and the condemnation of what is perceived to be ugly and undesirable. For him, the intrigue lies not only within the borders of these interpretations but also in how these labels can influence a lifelong attitude. The work explores how social conscripts and learned behavior shapes our lives sometime for the good, and sometimes malignantly; how it is sometime difficult to recognize which side of the line you are on; and that beauty and ugliness can coexist in us all.
Mostly James uses his work as a conduit through which he communicates his own narrative. “This my language.” He explains. “It is built for me, made for me, created for me. It’s about expressing emotions and thoughts that are hard to put into words - I guess that’s why I am a visual artist. It’s a protective way of me putting myself out there without being totally understood – and that’s okay. It is a protective way of me being able to speak.” He purposely leaves the interpretation of the work to the viewer saying, “People get what they get, they see what they see. They can approach it with a want of understanding, but I’m not going to reign it in with a description - because I don’t want to put blinders on them. We have different points in our lives that we are going to come to experience artwork and I want people to see what they want to see.”
James first began to sculpt figures in Grad school at the University of Georgia. He arrived as a potter but transitioned to sculpture as a process of dealing with his father’s death. His father died shortly after his arrival at the art school and he stopped making pots and began making drawings. His professor told him he didn’t have to make pots anymore and that he should start building figures from his drawings. He hadn’t trained in hand building sculpture, his past studies being based around the potters’ wheel; and the hands-off nature of Grad school necessitated that he learn through his own trial and error.
James’ pieces are constructed using various methods with a heavy grog white clay body. Most are coil built, but recently he has created a series of slip-cast works. Once the form is established, the surface is then finished with several layers of underglazes, stains, and glazes. With each added layer, the work is subjected to another firing. His historical art influences range widely from the figurative art works of the Renaissance, to the personally powerful folk art of the south.
We are sad to report that Molly Cliff Hilts passed away peacefully on January 21, 2021. She had been diagnosed with cancer in late summer 2019. She lived her life purposefully and was a positive spirit who will not be forgotten.
As soon as we decided to open a new space in Astoria, I began planning my program, and talking to Molly Cliff Hilts about a show. Molly’s work fuses painting, photography, and printing using wax, lithographic ink, oil, and charcoal to create vast atmospheric landscapes and enigmatic portraits of people she admired, and birds she felt embodied the sense of the people she knew. We have shown Molly’s work for a number of years now, and love both the work and the artist. Once we had secured the venue and came to fix dates things had changed for Molly. Molly had been presented by the devastating diagnosis of cancer and was about to begin her first course of treatments. Molly was in a fighting mood, confident that she would be back in the studio in no time, and we set a date, on the understanding that it could be moved, delayed or cancelled.
When I write about an artist I generally focus on the work – I am a curator, not a biographer. But, in this case it’s hard for me to separate what Molly was going through this past year and her work. And in truth, she was an artist whose work should be seen in context of her family, friends and community. After art school she became an interior designer shifting to studio practice in order to stay home with her children. She began to exhibit these works as a contribution to her community, by way of offerings to fund raising auctions supporting causes she cared about. Her works became sought after by collectors and the organic shift to becoming a professional artist was inevitable. She is also known for hosting artist gatherings in her home and was delighted to discover that these salons are a family tradition dating back to her great-grandmother, Mary Porter Sesnon.
How does the details of a life being lived relate to the work? We are always influenced by our own circumstances, history, loves and preoccupations. There is a design element in Molly’s work that might be attributed to her first occupation. The landscapes she chose to paint were those in which she has shared experience with her family. The titles often relate directly to the narrative of her family life. Her large bird portraits are called by the names of her family and friends. She painted a series of portraits of fellow artists, writers and musicians she had become acquainted with through this extraordinary life experience.
Molly’s journey with her illness and her relationship to her work has been a complicated narrative - a year navigating feelings about her own mortality. She had complications resulting from her radiation treatment and in July was told that her cancer has metastasized. I am guessing that her commitment to this show was a welcome point of focus, but also, at times an unnecessary burden. She has shared process images of work from the studio and thoughts about her spiritual connection to the work. She has updated me on the developments of her illness and treatment. We have had difficult discussions about how the show would need to be delayed. All of our communication were by phone and email, as covid has prevented me from making a studio visit.
Although Molly was not able to finish all the work she had planned, we decided that 2021 should be set in the right direction by moving ahead with the show. We collected a group of six new works, which are now in the gallery with the collection of four works we already held from 2019. The exhibition runs through March 7.
We were able to send Molly images of the installation, as she was going into hospice care. She described this phase to me as a means to managing her pain while she researched alternative treatments. She even asked me to be be patient with her as she had every intention of completing the works that were unresolved in her studio.
There is one painting that Molly made that is not included in the show - a large landscape, a body of water, the light hitting the horizon and an atmospheric sky. As soon as Molly had posted pictures of this, she was getting offers to buy it. But there was something about this painting that had become essential to Molly and her wellbeing. She felt a spiritual connection to this painting like no other. In the band of light she recognized a place of calmness and of love, and it gave her solace and comfort. Molly now resides in that light.
If you want to send your condolences to Molly's family, there is a page set up by her sister, Shanti Cliff, at https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/mollyhilts. Here you will also find journal entries dictated by Molly through her journey. The following is taken from Molly's last journal entry.
"I found out a few hours ago that my painting, titled Eagle Creek, is now in the Portland Museum of Art’s permanent collection of Northwest Art. The painting is a premonition of the fire that started in Eagle Creek and spread to the gorge—as the hills are depicted in a smoky orange. I painted it in 2016 and the fire happened in 2018. This is a huge honor for me."
I want people to know that what I have learned through all of this is that I am loved and that I have made a difference in peoples’ lives. And I want each and every person to know that they are loved and they may not know it, but they have an impact and touch so many lives in so many ways that they are not aware of—sometimes big and some times small, but always meaningful."