Mary Alayne Thomas paints women adorned with flowers and birds, surrounded by animals. They are caught in a moment of contemplation and often are pensive. She is rendered as a part of the overall composition, no more important that the flowers and birds in her hair, the mink in her embrace, or bear at her side.
Mary Alayne is concerned with relaying a pure an innocent response to nature, drawing on childhood experiences. She explains she is, “constantly inspired by the wildlife, forests and dark beauty of my home in Portland Oregon, and childhood memories of wandering the mesas in Santa Fe continue to compel my work. I strive to capture those magical ephemeral moments we all experience, real or imagined.”
Raised by two full time artists, Mary Alayne began her career early, illustrating children's magazines at the age of eleven. After much experimentation with many mediums, she discovered the harmonious combination of encaustic with watercolor, refining the process to her current technique - a complex layering of encaustic and silkscreen over a watercolor painting. She says, “There is a sense of mystery, a softness that emanates from the floating art forms within the transparent, waxy surface. It creates an atmospheric work, a dreamy ethereal expression.”
Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley’s paintings are rooted in marine biology, ecology and the natural environment, but her approach is influenced by a myriad of diverse aesthetic concerns and storytelling formats. Art Nouveau, kitsch, Asian art, and psychadelia provide visual cues, while childhood nostalgia, fairy tales, histories and an “Alice in Wonderland” sensibility drive the content.
Through experimentation with combining watercolor, inks, acrylics, glitter, sequins and gold leaf, and with this plethora of stimuli, she has developed her own style to depict animals, plants, landscapes, water and a general feeling of lushness. She paints temperate rainforests and tropical plants with psychedelic properties. She explains that, “I’m often trying to create a primordial sense of magic, to regain the feeling of wonder I had as a child adventuring in the mossy Redwoods alone or with animals.”
Faith, family, self-improvement, hard work and above all… kindness – these are the ingredients that combine to create Emily McPhie's compelling paintings. The daughter of artist James C. Christensen, she is the product of a happy family that encouraged the development of imagination, self-reflection and the pursuit of knowledge. She explains, “In my childhood home, Imagination was touted as the most precious faculty one could foster. I was raised under the influence of my dad’s “Land a little left of reality.” It’s a wonderful place where imagination is king.”
The desire to become an artist was assured by childhood visits to art museums, watching her father work, and early recognition of her work in high school. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2001. She now has her own family and hurriedly interprets the emotions of motherhood and the ever changing relationships with her children. "Translating those thoughts and emotions into images gives me clarity, and I find I want to document them before my perception changes."
Her work uses symbolism and is of the magic realism tradition, but it is also rooted deeply in fundamental shared truths. It explores experience of family, relationships, and establishing ones own persona within the world. Who am I? How do I fit in? What is important to me? She often uses the direct gaze to connect the viewer with the work, which gives us mixed signals of familiarity and separateness. She describes the activity of painting as a necessity. “I need to create, to imagine, and to make intangible and ineffable ideas and experiences touchable, viewable, and beautiful.”
Cary Weigand is an intuitive sculptor working in clay. She works with a muted color pallet to create quietly powerful imagery that reflects a holistic philosophical view of the world. The human and animal protagonists in her work are depicted with a focus on the emotion and inner life of the subject rather than a literal depiction of physical form. She begins with a heartfelt concept of an experience or thought, which is developed through the manipulation of material. The process of layering clay is a contemplative act that takes time and moves the piece on through a changing narrative to a moment in time where the form and meaning is resolved.
Her work is imbued by symbolic detail, spiritual traditions and mythologies drawn from childhood experience of growing up an a religiously diverse island. She remembers, “Visions of shrines ~ Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic ~ all within a block of each other, surrounded by ocean. I want to express their relationship with one another, but it’s even more about the way the ocean moves than the stories themselves”. She uses symbolic elements to explore death, rebirth and transition. This quietly spiritual work can often be interpreted as melancholic. When asked about this the artist responds, “I hope that what may appear as sadness is instead understood as quiet reverence. I hope for my work to be about listening and trying to understand instead of displays of power.”
Her work is an expression of seeking balance through the appreciation of small things, the flick of a dog’s whisker, the sound of the wind through the trees, shadows across the landscape. She feels a deep sense of interconnectivity with nature and animals, believing, “that we are part of a greater whole and nothing is separate.” She has had pets all her life and has a strong emotional bond to her dog, with dogs featuring regularly in her work. She explains that, “I think of my dog as a guardian spirit in my own life. This is why most of my sculptures incorporate these types of spirit entities as they exist externally and internally.”
Cary Weigand was born and raised in Hawaii. She earned both her Master and Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Hawaii and in 2006 she received a grant award from The George Sugarman Foundation for sculpture. Her work has been featured on PBS’s Oregon Art Beat, published in Ceramics Technical, and she was awarded one of Ceramics Monthly’s Emerging Artists for 2011.
John Westmark’s paintings convey a sound sense of composition and an attention to detail that allows conceptual elements to be seamlessly woven through the narrative without diminishing the aesthetic of the work. By these means he is able to create a subtle intellectual dialogue that quietly speaks of sociopolitical issues and gender.
The context, imagery, narrative and media are all carefully considered. His work comments on the portrayal of women in art from the standpoint of a contemporary male artist and feminist. Aesthetically his work has common threads with diverse genres including: Western formal portraiture; Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints; early 20th Century Russian propaganda posters, and monumental Mexican muralism. These paintings are grounded in art histories, drawing on archetypes to both document and question the portrayal of women, gender status, and power relationships.
He presents his female figures as agents of revolt, stoic martyrs, or fantastical beings. In every instance the identity of the figure is obscured by wraps, bonnets and bound faces. It is hard to avoid parallels with the use of clothing such as the burqa to mask sexuality, especially as the unavoidable “male gaze” remains a disquieting discussion in regard to the depiction of women by male artists. The absence of religious or cultural cues suggests it is more likely a devise to create ambiguity; a void in which meaning is sought through dialogue rather than dictate. The anonymous nature of these veiled entities poses the question of where the privilege of choice, control and power lies.
Much of his current work incorporates store-bought paper sewing patterns applied directly to the canvas - his interest being, “the metaphorical potential of unorthodox materials”. This particular material provides a rich stream of associated themes creating an undercurrent to the main narrative. We can choose to draw on feminist discourse regarding the role of fashion in the repression and/or liberation of women; or make reference to sewing and homemaking skills; or we can admire the nature of the material within the construct of the work as a whole.
Westmark explains that, “By embellishing the garment patterns with custom text from contemporary feminist writing and criticism, a conceptual narrative is created alongside the existing material narrative of imprinted assembly instructions. This added textual narrative disrupts the nostalgic or stereotypical notion of “women’s work” and admits an aggressive feminist dialogue into the visual conversation. The viewer is asked to read both the text embedded surface and the image.”
Remembering John Westmark’s 2014 solo exhibition Narratives, Amanda Breen, Curatorial Assistant at Gibbes Museum of Art, comments that, “it took me longer than I’d like to admit for me to realize these subtle messages the artist weaved into each piece. This realization forced me to slow down and examine each work closely. No longer just figures on the canvas, these small lines of text added to my interpretation of the piece and I eagerly sought out new details I may have missed.”
The strength of John Westmark’s work lies in the nuanced way in which he combines conceptual threads with skilled manipulation of material to create visually engaging paintings. The work would fail if the paintings could not stand in their own right as powerful compositions, provoking an emotional and intellectual response.
John Westmark received an MFA from the University of Florida and a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute. His work is held in numerous private and public collections including the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington DC; Weisman Art Foundation and Museum, Malibu, CA; Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha, NE; Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC; and the Kansas City Art Institute. John’s work was also selected for the U.S. State Department’s Art in Embassies program. John is the recipient of two Individual Florida Artist Grants. In 2011, John was awarded a Pollock-Krasner grant and was selected as a finalist for the Arte Laguna Prize, Venice, Italy.
In 2012, John was awarded The Gibbes Museum Factor Prize for Southern Art (Charleston, SC). The Factor Prize acknowledges an artist whose work demonstrates the highest level of artistic achievement in any media while contributing to a new understanding of art in the American South. In 2014, John was a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant nominee. John’s work has been featured in New American Paintings, American Art Collector, Studio Visit Magazine, Surface Design Journal and Art in America.
Lisa Bryson is an established American contemporary figurative painter. In 2017, the same year as earning her Master of Fine Arts in Painting and a Teaching Fellowship from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Lisa’s work was exhibited in the highly competitive Manifest International Exhibition Master Pieces. In 2018 she was awarded the prestigious Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant in painting.
As an artist she respects the nature of her chosen medium, subject matter and approach. However, she is acutely aware that in doing so she may be judged as being out of step with the contemporary art scene, a perception she will keenly refute. She cautions critics not to dismiss figurative work as traditional or purely representational, as contemporary concepts are often present and speak of current culture and experience. Now that experimental conceptual work is no longer new and shiny, and can be judged as a valid approach rather than beating a new path, there is a ground swell of opinion shifting perceptions about contemporary figurative work. Traditional studio practice and conceptual treatise have never been mutually exclusive, and Lisa Bryson’s work is a case in point.
She explains, “The mastery of the past is continually recalibrated into our current visual culture vernacular. Re-interpreting, appropriation are common contemporary art practices, such as, Marko Velk’s The Retriever re-interprets Francis Bacon’s assimilation of Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. These actions are mirrored in my work. Rembrandt, Goya, Freud, Bacon, Schiele, Kollwitz, historical mentors resonate in how I present the psychology of human experience. The work, however, does not reside in the past; content alongside inspiration derived from such artists as Alex Kanevsky, Sophie Jodoin, and Anne Gale ensure relevancy. We can, as artists, utilize the past, while questioning the present to perpetuate a relevant, dynamic visual vocabulary that informs and possibly forms our future.”
Lisa Bryson’s work articulates human experience in a moment of time, pregnancy, birth, aging, and isolation. This is set within the pervasive context of how social media is changing the way we communicate and experience the world. She says, “In an era of high speed, real-time global communication (texting, instant messaging, social media), the art of interpersonal (face-to-face) communication has greatly changed. Public is the new private, and conversation is technology driven. The practice of social networking on portable devices, in common public settings, is the norm in contemporary society. Ease of access informs popular culture; appropriation and reinterpretation are postmodern practices that permeate all facets of society. Lines are blurred. Connectivity in tandem with appropriation is presumed ubiquitous, however, the flipside, if acknowledged, disassociation and lack of true identity also exist. The intent for the work, through direct observation and documentation, is to redefine and challenge societal norms and social interactions.”
Lisa Bryson’s paintings express the search for a transient moment of clarity in the milieu of noise. In an interview for the National Association of Women Artists, she explains her intent. “My work fractures the human form, reaches below the surface into the psychological, addressing issues of physical abuse, victimization, isolation and fear. I remain enthralled by the human figure, but am driven to find ways to expand on figurative representation as it pertains to our current trends and contemporary visual culture.
For Carla O’Connor composition is key. She often talks about making shapes, creating and shifting balance, as a way to take the viewer on a journey of engagement with the painting. Much of what she discusses would strike a chord with abstract painters. Although she uses abstraction, she is at heart a figurative painter. Her preference to discuss her work in terms of structure and technique, before narrative and symbolism, is bore from her classical training and long career teaching, rather than a lack of connection to her subject.
The figure is what she has always drawn and what she knows best, and her use of compositional devices and technical skill are employed to connect us to the subject. Her work expresses the passing of time, and lives lived through a series of experiences - mundane to remarkable.
She is always aware that her imagery is constructed through mark making and the physical act of painting, and that the act of creating is never completely divorced from the resulting artwork. What’s more she enjoys the process and unexpected turns a work takes as it moves through concept to resolution.
The human form has been the touchstone of my art from my earliest training. I strive to combine the three-dimensional figurative form with the two-dimensional abstract surround. By using the basic gesture of a traditional pose, I hope to integrate semi-representational figures onto the pictorial space using hand, mind and heart without mechanical aids.
There is usually a seed of an idea or a bit of a plan when I begin, but I am mostly directed by the work as it progresses. It is a dialogue, a give and take, of sorting puzzles, discovering solutions and trying to stay in the process as long as possible. I resist the tendency to visualize the final image. I work with gouache and watercolor in layers of thick and thin color, lifting and layering the surface with lines - curved and straight, unique shapes, varied textures, and strong contrasts within a thoughtful composition.
My work addresses the passage of time - the human response to the internal and external events that change and shape our lives. The work has evolved like a continuous spiral, always circling around to a new beginning and provides me with a visual narrative to express all those moments and experiences—both minuscule and monumental. It is my means to communicate a personal vision into the strengths and fragility of life.
Michelle Gregor is a contemporary figurative artist. When describing her work, it is easy to fall into a list of dichotomic elements. Her work exists in the borderland between representation and abstraction, with the figure as her main subject. Her sculpture has weight and scale that feels monumental, but it is also an expression of fragility and beauty. There is evident reverence for the work of artists that influence her, but she clearly beats her own path. She is grounded by her connection to the Bay Area and the relevance of the Bay Area Figurative Movement in her work, but her sculpture reverberates with international, particularly European, influences. It is her ability to weave these different narratives through her aesthetic that makes her one of the most highly regarded second-generation sculptors of the Bay Area Figurative Movement working today, and one of the most important women ceramic artists working in the US.
In examining Michelle Gregor’s work and career there are two strong narratives. It is important to recognize that they are not separate, but interwoven aspects of the artist’s life. Her connection to a chosen location and associated art community form the roots of the tree. This has fed into everything she has achieved but is not the whole story. Her love of museums, need to travel, experience, and learn has enhanced her perspective, and forms the architecture that supports the branches of the tree.
Michelle Gregor identifies strongly as a Bay Area artist. A third -generation San Franciscan, she received a liberal arts education from the University of California System during a time she describes as “golden age” for education in California. She began studying ceramics at the UC Santa Barbara, and transferred to complete her undergraduate studies UC Santa Cruz. Here she studied ceramics, printmaking, Eastern religion and French symbolist poetry. At the time she arrived at UC Santa Cruz, the ceramic department was in the process of closing, and she and small group of other students used two remaining old salt kilns, next to which they had to build a makeshift studio with the aid of a Chancellor’s Grant. This was a period that allowed a lot of self-direction and experimentation.
After graduating she moved back to San Francisco and found a place to continue working in Ruby O’Burke’s studio in Castro. This was a large Victorian house split into a labyrinth of 10 x 10 ft artist studios. It was here she first met working artists, such as potter, Tammy Burwell. At the time Gregor was still having to work another job to support her studio practice. The Castro in 1983 was vibrant and inspiring, and she claimed this colony of artists as her chosen family.
Feeling the need for better resources to develop her work she attended San Francisco State, where she earned her MFA. Here she was able to better focus her aesthetic approach under the mentoring of Stephen DeStaebler, and discipline of David Kuraoka. DeSaebler had a profound influence on the direction of Gregor’s work, as did other artists of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, such as Richard Diebenkorn, Manuel Neri and David Park.
When she arrived at SF State, she was mostly creating her sculpture from large wheel-thrown forms. She was also working to support herself as a production potter in the East Bay. She used these skills to throw large cylindrical pots, which she would manipulate, with the addition of human or animal figures, into non-functional forms. By the time she completed her MFA she had moved away from the thrown vessel in favor of solid-built sculptural work. This is also when the human form became the focus of her creative dialogue. She now reflects that, “The figure has served as the best method of transportation throughout my many years of practice…. As a source, it seems infinite”
Following graduation Gregor remained in San Francisco and began teaching, first at Touchstone Art Center, then as an artist in residence for the San Francisco Unified School District. She became head of the Ceramics Department at San Jose City College in 2002. Here she continues to influence future Bay Area artists, just as she was mentored by the generation before her.
Gregor acknowledges the legacy of the Bay Area Funk artists such as Robert Arneson, who pioneered the use of ceramics in fine art, and established California as an epicenter of that activity. However, she is different from other Bay Area ceramic artists in her painterly approach to form and surface. It is when we begin to explore the artist’s other influences that the narrative moves away from California.
A passion for art history and museums has led Michelle Gregor to travel widely in pursuit of experiential learning. She has travelled through Southeast Asia and takes an annual trip to Europe to visit museums of art. Armed with her sketch book she spends hours sketching the exhibits. Drawing is an important part of Gregor’s process, but there is a clear distinction between her activity of drawing from life and the gestural mark making she uses in her work. This sketching is an aide-mémoire and a mark of respect, rather than a collection of source material for replication. The experience of the artwork is what gives her energy. To return to the earlier tree analogy… the experience is absorbed much like a plant draws energy through photosynthesis of light.
This absorption of knowledge and experience is demonstrated through every aspect of her work. She uses large block shapes and tears and pulls the clay, preserving the cut of the wire and tool marks in the tradition of truth to materials, a belief that form should be inseparably related to the material in which it is made. This concept came to the forefront of aesthetic discussions in the 1930s and is particularly associated with Henry Moore. Her surface is then built up in soft washes of color with pops of color evocative of the impressionists’ pallet. The boldness of her application is influenced by abstract expressionism of the 1950s. There is a sensibility in her work that is reminiscent of classical sculpture. Her work is the synthesis of everything she has been taught, has learned and has experienced, and it has gravitas.