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Wild Things

These three pieces, Bare Minimum (Red), Override, and Set the Bar (in Blue, Teal, Red), are glimpses into artist Taylor Thomas’s new painting series entitled Wild Things. This body of work pits human gesture—the form that results from sporadic, uninhibited acts—against structured lines and bars. Each work presents a unique snapshot of this relationship between personal expression and inflicted systems of order. Sometimes, the explosion of intuitive marks wins, and linear forms are barely visible. Other times, the rigidity of taped-off lines conquers one’s focus, as if tempering the marks around them.

Bare Minimum (Red), the feature image, is an instance in which pastel traces of her movement became full enough, repeated enough, so as to leave no room for any additional forms. The image is dynamic and unrelenting—a moment that she hopes may give a breath of relief to any viewers who find it difficult to envision a free state of life, expression, or mind.

Override was one work that developed unexpectedly, as two unrelated layers came together to tell a truer story than they would have on their own. A field of bars provides the backdrop for a translucent network of gestures on vellum. There is a back-and-forth fight between the two elements: white beams insisting on order and curving forms disrupting it. Ultimately, the work became an image that could reflect the intricacies of my own mind, just as much as the widespread movements happening in the world around Thomas.

Taylor Thomas Override
Override (2017) | Acrylic paint, pastel, and vellum on paper | 42″ × 27″

Set the Bar is one of the more reduced works in this series, but certainly not one with a simple explanation. This notion of setting a bar—high, low, against—can be utilized in multiple situations. It can be a term for implementing success, measuring failure, ensuring protection, or maintaining control. By placing several off-kilter bars into one image, however, Taylor is attempting to jostle the validity of this phrase. In a world where setting boundaries, bars, and measures is an everyday occurrence, she wants to bring into question the arbitrariness of such systems—who, exactly, has the power to “set a bar” and how does he or she decide where to place it?

Taylor Thomas Set the Bar
Set The Bar (2017) | Acrylic, pastel, and watercolor crayon on paper | 42″ × 32″

See these pieces and more work by Taylor Thomas in the gallery.


Preference For A Son

Questions about what constitutes truth and fact are more pressing today than ever. In a post-reality world of fake news, accuracy and honesty are rare commodities. Getting to absolute truth has never been easy. Perception and reality are uncomfortable bedfellows. However, we are living in unprecedented times of unscrupulous misinformation, epitomized by those immortal words, alternative facts.

Ever since the Trump administration has taken office, we’ve been increasingly concerned about censorship, rights and freedoms. We’ve also been thinking about art’s place in the political arena and the impact art can and should have in society. At The Road Gallery, we strongly believe in the power of art to provoke reaction, ask important questions, create dialogue and inform the debate. With this is mind, we opened our Artnernative Facts Show on March 16th. It features over 60 works from 19 contemporary, diverse artists. The show portrays an alternative views of current realities and the political and social landscape.

In curating the show, I was particularly struck by the stories accompanying each piece or series of work. The artists wanted their say, even if that meant being vulnerable about the significance of their artwork. The deeply personal messages behind Ping Zheng’s paintings comes to mind.

Life 2 Ping Zheng, 2016, oil sticks on paper, 11 in x 14 in
Life 2 (2016) Ping Zheng | Oil Stick on Paper | 11″ x 14″

Zheng was born and raised in China, moved to London where she completed her BA at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL and currently lives and works in New York City, having graduated with her MFA from the prestigious Rhode Island School Of Design in 2016. The three pieces featured in the show are, on the one hand, inner landscapes from Zheng’s memories of the past and present that are virginally created. The places are pure and full of magic, where she could breath and feel comfortable. Feelings of unease come from her parents’ preference for a son. In Zheng’s words, “Growing up, I experienced so many rules being a girl. My parents disliked me very much and thought the female body was dirty. In contrast to my brother, the male body was superior. I dream of a world where male and female doesn’t matter. Therefore I want to blur them in my artwork.”

While Zheng’s paintings look like one thing they mean another. The viewer can’t identify exactly what is in her paintings, but they are alive and exist in the universe. They form a part of the sky, day and night, mountains or lands, but they also purify and appear from water. All in all, the artwork straddles the line between figuration and abstraction. They are about her story and take inspiration from relationships in her personal life.

Night 4 Ping Zheng
Night 4 (2016) Ping Zheng | Oil stick on paper |11″ x 14″

The work of Amy Tingle also reaches deep, particularly Fame Orange or How to Get Over the Like Button.  This is what she shared with us about this piece:

“Sally Field stood on stage in front of a world-wide audience and shouted, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.” Fast forward not so many years and here we sit in front of our screens waiting for the blip or the bleep that tells us someone has “liked” us or has commented or has otherwise given us their stamp of approval. Sometimes I wonder if anything could feel farther from reality or the truth. Sometimes I wonder how I ever derived my self-worth before social media tracked it for me. Sometimes I wish I could hit the backspace button and return to the days of the rotary phone and passing notes in school and writing about my day (and ALL my feelings) in a Holly Hobbie diary with a tiny lock and key, on pages no one ever saw but me.”

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Fame Orange, Or How To Get Over The Like Button (2016) Amy Tingle | Hand Cut Paper Collage | 14″ x 11″

Photographer Haylee Anne’s powerful, stirring image, There Is No Global Warming And The Earth Is Not In Pain defines an Arternative or alternative fact. Working out of Atlanta and New York City, with a BFA in Photography from Montclair State University, Haylee Anne was awarded the prestigious honor of the Excellence of Artistry Award in 2013. Her work has been seen at institutions such as the Smithsonian, the Gabarron Foundation, and around the world in New York, California, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington DC, Spain, and France. This photograph makes a compelling call for action:

“You can ignore the earth and her pleas, her heat in February, the oil in her life water. But she remembers, she holds the dry grass and dead fish. Though you may speak alternatively, she remembers. Eventually, her memory will forget mercy, and she will take her ground back. Even then, will you consider asking forgiveness?”

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There Is No Global Warming And The Earth Is Not In Pain (2016) Haylee Anne | Photograph on archival cotton rag paper | 10″ x 10″

In her series Dysutopia, artist Frances Segismundo explores issues of the movement of people, the refugee crisis and the ongoing dispute of the enforced travel ban. For over a year, Segismundo painted empty lots she encountered during her cycling commutes around gentrified areas in Brooklyn to narrate the inevitable movement of people. Focusing on gentrified areas, the notion of coming and going give rise to similar connotations to those immigrants who are forcefully driven away from their homes under corporate and/or political power. She illustrates empty lots amidst a structural backdrop to emphasize these bare sites that are still scattered with the small traces of human existence that once inhabited these spaces; that give a juxtaposition to the solidity of the buildings surrounding it.

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Dysutopia 11205 (2016) Frances Segismundo |Acrylic, oil pastel, pencil, pen on paper | 18″ x 24″
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Dysutopia 11220 (2016) Frances Segismundo |Acrylic, oil pastel, pencil, pen on paper | 18″ x 24″

Lesley Wamsley’s series, Likable, does what every great work of art should. It challenges us and raises important questions. Wamsley, who lives and works in New York City, earned her MFA from the State University of New York at New Paltz. Her work has been in national and international exhibitions and is held by the Museum of Modern Art Artists’ Book Collection, She is a professor in the Foundation Department at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Lesley Wamsley Hair Net
Hair Net (2016) Lesley Wamsley | Graphite and gouache on Yupo (Framed) | 30″ x 26″

The series of drawings is titled Likable. Created during the historic and volatile 2016 Presidential Election, the imagery speaks to a particular aspect of female worth: likability. The election demonstrated unequivocally our cultural demand that women be perceived as likable. More important than education, strength, and experience, the campaign proved that the socially acceptable woman is, above all, agreeable.

In Wamsley’s words, “What I find most interesting about this sexist belief is my internalized willingness to meet its expectations. I know the pressure I feel to look and behave a particular way is the result of a sexist paradigm; and, yet, I cannot break from it. I knowingly participate in a system designed to devalue and dehumanize women. The drawings reflect this conflicted desire. They articulate a cycle that involves attention, approval and objectification. It is an brutal experience that exists under the guise of beauty. Tropes like hair, ribbons and flowers describe a feminine archetype of purity, innocence and congeniality. This description is genuinely poetic and, yet, completely cliché. The drawings strive to be pretty, they want to be liked; but there is a disquieting overtone. The objects that I draw are associated with the body and it is their separation from it that suggests violence. More still-life than portrait, the disembodied objects are arranged and displayed like trophies.”

Lesley Wamsley Likable
Likable (2016) Lesley Wamsley | Graphite and gouache on Yupo (Framed) | 30″ x 26″

To read more of these emotive stories and see the full collection of over 60 pieces, visit the Arternative Facts show. 10% of all sales (and 100% on some pieces) will be split across the following organizations: ACLU, Planned Parenthood and The International Rescue Committee.


Art and the Election

Artist Matthew “Levee” Chavez has been offering Subway Therapy for the last six months. Essentially he sets up a little table and chairs in different subway stations throughout New York and welcomes people to share anything that’s on their minds. He’s not a licensed therapist. He listens to people and lets them get whatever they want off their chests. After the election result on Tuesday, he knew people would have a lot to say. So he bought a stack of brightly colored post-it notes, set up his table in the tunnel which connects the 14th St. Subway stations between Seventh Avenue and Avenue of the Americas and let people start writing. And they did. Over 2000 post-it notes. Here are some of the messages:

“I really want the US to be my safe space.”

“Immigrants make America great.”

“Never give up fighting for what is right.”

“The future still is female.”

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Courtesy of Subway Therapy

The post-it notes enabled people to express their feelings and emotions without anyone telling them otherwise. Collectively, the notes form an installation, giving us, the viewers, a point of view, a commentary and a context. That’s what art is. That’s what art can be. That’s what art should do.

Now, more so than ever, art has an important role to play in the social, environmental and political landscape. At The Road Gallery we strongly believe in the power of art and artistic expression to provoke important questions, create dialogue and inform the debate. Furthermore, we are big advocates of art’s capacity to heal, mend and soothe. Without saying a word, art can build empathy and understanding and break down walls between seemingly opposing forces.

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Courtesy of Subway Therapy

This election has exposed deep, complex divides in the US and the future looks very uncertain. To many it looks downright scary. This quote by Martin Luther King Jr. sums up our position and belief for what it will take to move forward and start to heal these divides:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

To achieve this, we need dialogue, understanding and empathy built on a non-negotiable foundation of equal rights for all. And all has to mean all, without exception. There is no picking and choosing who is more deserving of their rights. We cannot move backwards from the progress we have made. We have to move forward.

All the arts have an important role to play here. Big progress and innovation often come from working across different disciplines, rather than from beavering away within in a single discipline. For example, in my other world of business psychology, we are seeing some of the most exciting advances in the field of leadership emerging out of neuroscience. Similarly, the arts need to step up to make their contribution to advances in democracy, social justice and politics.

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Courtesy of Subway Therapy

We have been waiting for the right time to expand the gallery’s portfolio in this direction. Following the unprecedented Presidential election we have just witnessed in the United States, now is that time.

We are seeking US based artists whose work conveys a clear, fresh point of view on modern day social or global issues. We are looking for artists with a voice and a perspective. Artists who have something to say. Artists whose work can help inspire action, can bring communities together, can create a common vision and can make us confront issues we have been avoiding.  Art has the ability to do these things in ways that the written word and conversations alone cannot.

Currently, we have an open call for submissions  at NYFA, the New York Foundation for the Arts, which runs until December 9th, 2016. Artists whose work fits this profile are invited to submit up to 10 images of their work and/or a link to their work, in addition to their biography and artist statement. If not described in their artist statement, artists should submit additional commentary describing the specific social context of their work. Submissions should be sent to neil@theroadgallery.com. Due to the high volume of submissions we receive, we can only respond to those artists we are interested in representing.


Trapping Ghosts

The process of experimentation and creation resonates loudly with me. It’s something that’s always given me a lot of energy throughout my life and career.  I’m a believer that the forces of intent, accident and necessity all play a part in the creative process, whatever the discipline. As such, I was so intrigued to read Joseph O’Neal‘s take about making his new body of work in this short essay, Trapping Ghosts.  The poetic and evocative symbolism of catching, attracting and trapping ghosts helps us gain such clear insights into O’Neal’s approach to his work and his mindset.

It is my job to simply catch ghosts. The problem is ghosts never let you see them straight on and they never give you a signal of when they plan to appear. Most of my studio days are spent moving paint and material around structures as a rain dance in order to tempt the ghosts out of hiding. I do this by putting myself in positions that encourage accidents in hopes that some of these mishaps will attract a ghost. When a ghost shows up I acknowledge the preceding accident and can then create an environment that will foster more of the same. In this particular body of work the accident was spilled coffee. For weeks my gambit in the ghost game became pouring coffee over everything in the studio in hopes that the ghosts would follow.

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Cabin (2016) | Industrial paint, acrylic, found paper, coffee, oil stick, gel medium on canvas | 12″ x 9″

The words on the paintings arrive the same way the other elements do; by showing up in the ether at the right time. The words are not meant to mean anything. This is not to say that they don’t mean something, just that they were not meant to mean anything. I realize that by putting words on the surface of my work that this will naturally cause viewers to look for symbols within the elements of the pieces for association. It is my intention that this back and forth will cause viewers to fall past the surface and experience the trapped ghosts.

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Archer (2016) | Industrial paint, acrylic, found paper, coffee, oil stick, gel medium on canvas | 12″ x 9″

See more sublime pieces by O’Neal in the gallery.


Queering The Male Gaze

From beginning to end, I was completely absorbed by every word artist Matthew Conway uttered during our interview. Honest, insightful, perceptive and creative are just some of the attributes that jumped out at me as Conway shared his stories about growing up gay in Texas, the role drawing has played in his life, the concepts behind his work, his evolution and some exciting future projects.

Can we start by going back in time to your early days, to six, seven, eight years old? What was life like for you back then?

I was a solitary child. I remember being alone, drawing. I’ve been drawing for forever, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. Coloring books and graphic comics influenced what and how I drew. They were the visual language of my childhood and even sneak into my work now. The material choice of colored pencils, which I’ve been using for a while, really speaks to that juvenile adolescence. I was working with them when I was 14 or 15, a young time to use them. That was a time of sexual awakening. My work is influenced by the fact that sexuality can be funny and it can be awkward. That time is ripe with emotion as we are trying to figure things out. I was trying to figure things out.

What role did drawing serve for you as a child?

Being a solitary child, it made me feel special. I had this talent that people recognized. I got positive feedback for it. Neither of my parents are very artistic but they are liberal in their politics, for which I am thankful. My family is made up of farmers and immigrants, so there wasn’t much encouragement to develop an artistic sensibility from them. Both my brother and I are artistic, and they supported us because they didn’t have the opportunity to do it for themselves.

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justin (2014)

Our teenage years can be a great time, they can be a horrible time or they can be anywhere in between. How were they for you?

Being a gay teenager in Texas was not the best situation. I lived in the center of Dallas-Fort Worth, in this white enclave of McMansions, where kids got their first BMW when they turned 16. My parents weren’t like that but I was surrounded by it and a classist divide. Being gay there was difficult despite having great friends and supportive parents. I just wanted to get out. After high school I bummed around and moved to Austin, the most liberal and accepting place in Texas.

What was the subject matter of your art at that time?

I can’t event think about it! It was juvenilia. I was teaching myself and so it was about foundational skill craft.

So what were some of the early notions of what you wanted to be in life and what iterations did you go through?

I always knew I wanted to be an artist. There hasn’t been a time I didn’t want to make art but in my early 20s I walked away from it. People were telling me it was a good hobby but I wouldn’t make money from it. Everyone told me this, counselors, other adults. I took it to heart in my youth. I worked bullshit jobs, which weren’t fulfilling. But as you know you have to follow your passion and sometimes that means following a difficult route.

Was there a catalyst that brought you back to art?

I was working a dead-end job and I was really unhappy with my life. I had these friends in college. I was 27 so I decided to go back to school myself. First, community college and then the University of Texas, Austin. It was a life-changing moment. It helped me so much. I made connections with the faculty and grad students. I saw a career as an artist as a viable option. I wouldn’t have my studio without it. It’s part of a collective. One of the members of the collective was the shop tech at UT Austin. He liked my work and offered me one of the studios once I got out of school.

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bob (2015)

So we’ve come to the present day. How much of your work now is about your own self-exploration?

I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a non-political portrait. It shows what someone thinks is attractive; it shows what I am attracted to. It’s not a conscious choice. I work with the model. I have a photo shoot and take 500 to 1000 photos and pick the ones I want to work with. It’s not random. I trust my instincts and leave it to my id and subconscious to pick. It’s very interesting for me to reflect on the image that I picked and what that says about me after I’ve made the work.

I was fascinated with the male form, even at a young age. I remember practicing drawing the male figure from CK1 ads. I use that in my work. I’m conscious that desire was so strong. “Why is the male form so strong for me to represent in my work?” It’s partially politically minded, the idea of queering the male gaze. The idea of objectifying and sexualizing heterosexual men in a way they are not used to. Now I’m including queer people in my drawings. My work has extended into an exploration of contemporary masculinity. Even more recently, I’ve had Instagram followers and people who follow my website submit images. This makes my work more collaborative and about how people see themselves.

What are the people who submit images saying or asking?

They have a desire to be seen or to be translated into the work I am making. It’s indicative of the current moment. There is more visibility of queer people but not nearly enough. People are yearning for their own representation in the media.

Have you had any trans-men reach out to you?

Yes, I have had a model contact me and we are trying to set up a time to explore that.

I noticed on one of your recent Instagram posts you commented, “I like a guy in socks.” Are you describing what you like sexually in your drawings?

I can’t say why I like it, so much of sexual kinks are a mystery. You have something you can’t pinpoint in your background that becomes part of your sexual narrative. Fetishes have so much power to them but we can’t understand why.

My work has a bit of cachet in certain communities. It’s important for my work to be queer focused. Now that AIDS is no longer a death sentence, art in the community can be focused on things beyond the crisis of AIDS. We can make work about desire and beauty. In the context of my work, I have been thankful there has been such a nice response. People seem to really enjoy and react to that.

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marko (2015)

Given the subject matter of your work, what are the biggest misconceptions about it?

“You’re really lucky that you get to look at boys all day.” I explore this theme in my work but it is work! A lot of work goes into it. People say my work is effortless which suggests it’s easy but it’s not.

Your career has really been taking off with a growing number of followers and collectors. Has there been an event or a tipping point to your success?

Without sounding ungrateful for the exposure I have had, I don’t really feel it has happened yet. I consider myself ambitious so I’ll keep making work and see what opportunities come next. I want full-time gallery representation, ideally in New York or LA, and a solo show. I was in a group show in Marin County and flew out for the opening. It was a great feeling.

To that point, what does that moment feel like when you walk into a show and you see your work hanging on the walls?

It’s complicated. First there’s the excitement of it but that’s followed by the post-show depression. Once it’s done you feel a bit of a loss and start to wonder, “Well, what’s the next thing?” It’s difficult to unpack all the emotions from that. But I feel very comfortable shedding skin. Life changes, you change with it. Life happens.

It leads me to wonder when are you at your most and least confident as an artist?

I’m at my most confident when I am in the studio making the work. When I’m in the middle of making work, I feel like a well-oiled machine. I love Michelangelo’s view that the sculpture is already inside the stone and he just had to let it come out. When I’m in the moment I’m the hand that lets the drawing come into the world. I’m less confident when I am showing my work to other people. Not because I feel they are judging it harshly. It goes back to being the solitary child. I was never one for the spotlight. I like to be on my own and don’t want to be the center of attention. It makes me nervous. I feel like I do that with the work. I’m not the work. I want the work to be separate from me.

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cory (2015)

That’s a really fascinating differentiation and it makes me wonder about your process for producing your pieces. Can you talk to me about that?

I start with a sketch of the figure first. I go with a heavy line to articulate the full form. It’s very Art Nouveau and also reminiscent of coloring books, the heavy outline to emphasize the figure. I then color in the outline and add tones to the whole body. After that I add shadows and the colors to make the flesh look real, the browns, greens, blues and purples. I like it when colors surprise me, which they continually do. They never come out like I expect. Sometimes it doesn’t come together like you want. Sometimes it gets better. Other times I step away. I’ll leave it for weeks, even months but then I’ll come back to it and a couple of changes and it’s back to where I want it to be. You can’t force it.

Talking about changes, what’s next for you?

Currently I’m writing a proposal for a collaborative residency project. I would make 10 to 15 life-sized drawings with a hard, black outline and invite the same number of queer artists to activate the drawings, to color them in. This plays on the theme of adult coloring, which has become popular recently. I want to invite the public in and have tables for them to color too, breaking down barriers between the institution and the public. High art concepts can be manipulated in ways that can be really interesting and fruitful.

I love the sound of that. We should look for opportunities to bring that project to New York. I think it would be perfect here. As you continue to grow and develop in your career, what advice do you have for artists who are just starting out?

Hone your craft, know what you want to say with your work and your audience will receive you work. Don’t be dissuaded by failure. You’ll fuck up but pick yourself up and keep doing it. The best advice I received was from one of my professors, “Keep doing it until someone pays you to do it.” White-knuckle it until payday. Eventually you’ll be successful.

That’s very insightful advice. How much do you think about your legacy as an artist?

It’s difficult to think about. I’d like to make work that lives beyond me. I only use archival materials that won’t disintegrate in as little as 50 years. Some artists consciously use materials that will break down after a couple of years, which has its own motivations and political statements. We’re in an interesting moment right now where figuration is coming back into vogue after abstraction and conceptual art. It’s coming back and I’m glad I could be a part of that.

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scott (2015)

Long after you and I are both gone, what do you hope people will say about your work?

In a way my work and the guys in it, these bearded, tattooed, hip, cool guys, might be super dated 30 years from now. I like the idea that my work is a documentation of the times but things always come back. Maybe my work will get a huge retrospective in 80 or 90 years!

See more of Conway‘s work in the gallery.

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doug (2014)

Art for Everyone

When British, contemporary artist Tracey Emin, famous for that unmade bed, was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 2013, she proclaimed that art should be for everyone and not just the elite.  Upon receiving her award at Buckingham Palace she added,

“I think that art’s for everybody and everybody’s entitled to the best culture, the best literature, the best education, the best that everyone can have.”

On a similar note, just this week, London-based sculptor Antony Gormley opened up his studio for an event to raise awareness about the chronic shortage of affordable studio space for artists. In his impassioned speech he declared,

“What an artist needs, more than talent and determination, is space. For many in the artistic community, developers are the enemy”.

We couldn’t agree more. With my own memories of anxiety and trepidation entering commercial galleries in London and New York front of mind, I intentionally landed upon the following mission when I launched The Road Gallery in 2014:

To showcase the work of talented emerging and established artists and to make their work accessible to people who love art and who want a positive experience buying art.

From the outset, I have tried to create an online gallery that dispenses with the snobbery, arrogance, haughtiness and over-intellectualism that can be found in the art world yet keep the intimacy and curated feel of some of the best bricks and mortar galleries I have visited around the world.

In an attempt to move even closer to achieving the gallery’s mission, this week we launched The 500 Project, the newest section of the gallery.  The 500 Project is  a curated collection of original, contemporary artwork, all priced under $500. The 500 Project moves the gallery one step closer to accessibility for two reasons: (1) the price point and (2) buyers and collectors can purchase artwork directly online without having to make an inquiry. We are living at a time when people are used to one-click buying and can be put by having to inquire for a host of different reasons. The 500 Project gives people the opportunity to browse the artwork, select the pieces they love, add them to their collection and checkout.

At a time when the art market has seen scandalous manipulation and escalation of prices, making contemporary art increasingly inaccessible, we wanted to buck the trend and provide easy access to quality, original, affordable art to people who love art.

The notion of affordability is interesting when it comes to art. For example, the hugely successful Affordable Art Fair, which is now a world-wide phenomenon, carries pieces from $100-$10,000 at their New York event, a huge range. The occasions I have visited the fair, I’ve seen very few pieces at the lower ends of the spectrum. We intentionally came up with the $500 threshold based on research we conducted, exploring different price points people were comfortable paying for artwork they loved.

We know this is just one very small dent in an otherwise aggressive, ruthless art world but we feel good about taking a stand and sticking to our principles. Here’s to Art for Everyone!


The Day I Ride A Giraffe

I have a bit of an obsession. It’s with the subtitles of artist Melissa Monroe’s paintings. I know, it’s a very specific obsession but I can’t get enough of them. They speak volumes about her artwork, her life, her journey as a painter and her observations of the world around her. Themes of forward momentum, striving for more, personal improvement and pushing ahead are often referenced in her subtitles, which at a deeper level, speak to Monroe’s courage and desire for self-determination and stability. You can see these themes in the likes of 3 Months Later and Soft Sky:

“3 months later and you can barely see the past. Never go back. You will only forget if you let yourself.”

“Soft Sky. Here maps can be found. Forward not behind. Stop. Listen. Keep going.”

I was overjoyed when Monroe shared her new collection with me and I got to feed my obsession for her subtitles. Having selected five new pieces for the gallery, I wanted to find out from Monroe how her work has been developing and what she hopes to achieve over the next year and beyond.

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Soft Sky (2015)

Evolution

Recently Monroe has had some time, after an insanely busy period, to reflect on her work. She shared with me that she has been looking at her paintings and noticing how they have evolved and deducing extra meaning from them. When Monroe first started painting she would work on her pieces for months, building layer upon layer but without a clear picture in her mind of the direction. Now she has more clarity and is using a more limited color palette in each piece. This is evident in the five new paintings we’ve just added to the gallery. Monroe has been paying more attention to her paint and colors, which she mixes from primaries.

Her paintings also have fewer words in them. She was concerned that people found the words distracting, focused too much on a particular word or were preoccupied with the spelling. Minimizing the number of words in her work wasn’t a conscious decision by Monroe but looking back on her work it’s something she has noticed. It also points to a downside of showing her work. She remains sensitive to the comments people make about her work, good and bad. She heard a curator of one show say she really liked a particular piece and wanted her to make more work in a similar vein, which in Monroe’s words, “really messed with my head.”

Themes

The concept of maps has been a recurrent theme in Monroe’s paintings. This is evident in Soft Sky. They are a reference to her journey, the path she is taking and the direction in which she is traveling. A symbol seen more recently in her work is the cross. Monroe grew up in a Christian house but then left the religion, shunning it in its entirety. Recently she was watching a show about the Vikings. In the show, one of the Vikings met a priest who was wearing a cross. This got her thinking about how she could take the good parts of Christianity back into her life and create her own spirituality.

I asked Monroe about the beast-like figures in her work. Rather than them being literal representations, they are symbols, some of human behaviors that we associate with particular animals. For example, the painting Sheep (2016) represents people or personality types that blindly follow each other or the crowd without knowing where they are going or thinking for themselves.

The Day I Ride A Giraffe (2015) is a reference to Monroe’s aspirations and the time in her life when she achieves her goals and accomplishes everything she wants. Monroe has a love for giraffes and used to collect them as a child. While she may have some way to go to riding her giraffe, she did get to feed a giraffe at a zoo during her recent trip to Mexico.

sheep
Sheep (2016)

Influences

A trip to Mexico, where Monroe met artist and sculpture Brewster Brockmann, and visits to the natural history museums in Chicago and Vancouver, have played an influence in some of her recent work. Her interest in Native American art is also evident in her paintings. Less evident is the fact that Monroe took up pottery last year. In conversations with her partner, artist Jesse Reno, about how clay work had influenced her paintings, she discovered that paying attention to the shape of the pot helped her shape her figures in her 2-D pieces.

Goals

Monroe has been thinking a lot about her goals recently. She has had a number of shows in Portland, which she really enjoys but the amount of time it takes to prepare for shows has taken time away from painting. As such, she has decided that pursuing shows isn’t a priority for currently. Rather, supporting herself and her family by making and selling her work is the priority. She wants to develop her style in an unencumbered way, free from the influence and direction of others.

Monroe has moved a lot in the last two years. She has moved houses and moved studios but she is feeling very settled right now. Spanning her professional and personal life, the present and near future is all about her paintings and her kids.

She is now accepting that her work is good and she has grown in confidence as an artist. More comfortable with the label ‘artist’, when people ask her what she does, she’ll now say, “I’m a painter” or, “I paint pictures and sell them.” Monroe has received an abundance of positive feedback about her work, through her shows and through her social media channels. People have told her that she’s going to be the next Basquiat but with her own distinctive style. A sign of the recognition Monroe’s work is receiving is a conversation her sister was having with someone she had just met. Her sister was telling the individual about Monroe and her success. The individual knew of Monroe’s work, had been following her and going to her shows.

Monroe is at the stage where she has collectors that have been to all of her shows and her work is selling internationally. To date she has artwork in private collections in the United States, Canada, the UK, France, Greece, Mexico, Israel and Qatar.

3-months
3 Months Later (2015)

Success

So what does success look like for Monroe over the next 12 months? Continuing to grow and evolve her work, selling a lot more work, gaining more attention for her work and having more stability in her life for her and her kids. Monroe is at a point in her career and her life where she feels this is more possible. Mentally and emotionally she feels strong and has regained a lot of her energy. She has lived in the same home for the last year and is feeling more settled. Her kids are really proud of her and she is excited for their futures.

See our full collection of Monroe’s work in The Road Gallery.

 

 


A Toolbox In My Mind

Given we’re at the beginning of the year, I wanted to start by asking you if you made any New Year’s resolutions?

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. The best things happen when I just let them. However, when it comes to my work, I plan to continue spending more time in the studio. I am rededicating myself to making work including making a lot of work that won’t go anywhere but that’s the way to create the successful pieces.

Reflecting back on last year, what were some of the highlights for you?

Getting involved with The Road Gallery was definitely one of my highlights. Also, there were a couple of motifs that I came across that I enjoyed, visual motifs that I can develop and use in my work. In my personal life, I put a lot of time into my running. In the fall I ran the Milwaukee marathon and I am running Boston in the spring.

Prior to joining The Road Gallery, what other galleries had you been in?

I haven’t been showing in other galleries so this is a new step for me. In the past it’s been more of co-operative situations and pop-up shows. Moving ahead with The Road Gallery was a major step for me.

Was the absence of gallery representation by choice?

Kind of and kind of not. To some extent, necessity has dictated this. After college, I moved around quite a lot and I had my fingers in a lot of different creative pots: music, poetry, art. I think that’s true of a lot of creative people. They don’t just find themselves in one creative medium. Creative minds express themselves across a lot of different mediums. It’s a way to recharge. I had become fixated on the production of work more so than the business aspects and getting exposure. I have shown my work at galleries in Milwaukee, and in a couple galleries in Riverwest, which is an arts neighborhood here. I’ve also been in shows in Michigan and Chicago.

Two Navy Forms with Split Log and Coffee Pot (2015) by Jesse M Bell

What is the feeling like just before a show opens?

It’s exciting. Getting prepared for the show in the way you hang your work and present it is an integral part of the communication between the artist and the viewer.

How much is your confidence about your work tied up in how the audience reacts to it?

Part of the process and part of the content of the work is derived from that viewing situation. It’s difficult to know how work will be received and what the impression will be. Everyone brings something to a piece when they view it, be it a quick emotional response or a deeper meaning. A lot of what I do is applying images that feel right. The audience does the same thing. They are presented with something, they project onto that and take something away from that based on their life and their experiences.

What’s the most meaningful feedback you have received about your work?

Generally, it has been that people enjoy it and that it says something to them. Often times, it’s a feeling they get from the work. That means the most to me. Different people have different interpretations of the content. Any time you get feedback it means something to the artist.

Is there a single piece of work that you are most proud of?

Gray Mono Form with Bisected Cloud. I felt a breakthrough when I was working on it. I am very proud of it and have drawn a lot of inspiration from it for other pieces.

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Gray Mono Form with Bisected Cloud (2015) by Jesse M Bell

What were the circumstances around you producing that piece?

It was an inspirational breakthrough. You approach a piece with a general sense of where it will go, but you let things happen when you are working on it. Sometimes you struggle and sometimes it takes off. For this piece, I approached the panel and laid it down in one session. It has a looseness I had been looking for in the paint application that I think came through in the piece. I have learned over the last couple of years that to make a successful painting I have to deconstruct a previous painting and take parts of it to inform the new work. That’s the way I have worked over the last few years. The old painting forms the under-painting for a new piece. But in this case, it happened very quickly.

What are the origins of your style?

In college I was in a traditional visual arts program – still life, oil painting, printmaking with presses from the mid 1800s. You had to earn your stripes and work through a process of formal training. You had to learn how to paint before you moved into an abstract realm. That was a 20th century concept. I worked through that formal education. I had great instructors. From there, I attempted to distill my influences into the work. It takes me time as an artist to develop these motifs. I like to work quickly and there is a certain anxiety about what will happen with a painting. There is a lot of work that is started and not finished but that contributes to later pieces. I was becoming aware of art history during high school and college, the likes of Paul Klee and the abstract painters of the early 20th century, and later, abstract expressionism. In the last 10 years I discovered the British artist, William Scott. He has been a strong influence, his ability to move between still life and abstraction. He could move between those two worlds without any disagreement, which has been an inspiration to me.

What does the way you paint say about you and your personality?

I favor simplicity in my themes, which speaks to the way I feel about my life and my living conditions. As I have gotten older, I feel the need to keep things small. This is a current trend amongst people in general. It doesn’t have to be a small footprint, but I try to avoid excess. I keep the materials I need, I keep a small studio and tend to work on smaller pieces.

The strong visual elements in my work that I keep coming back to, those forms are circular or oval but with an organic quality. That may speak to me spending time outside. I live near Lake Michigan; the big wide expanses. That may have been an influence.

In the last couple of years I have read a lot about philosophy of mind, and the classical philosophers. I haven’t pinned it down but there is something that speaks to the mental, something automatic. Taking what I experience and making it into a visual form.

Bell at work in his studio

Tell me about some of the repeated symbols in your work.

They have evolved over time. The arrows symbolize movement and direction and are a part of an automatic process, directing the viewer and me towards something else in the piece. The kites and stars are a connection with nature or contemplation of universal ideas and something larger than the work within the world. Then there are the shapes that I don’t know how to describe that continue to show up in my work. The lines that cross in a certain way, the half domes – I keep them in a toolbox in my mind. They are like hieroglyphics or visual poems.

From the first moment I saw your work I was compelled by and drawn to the modernist and mid-century modern notes. Can we talk about that?

Yes, it’s what I am drawn to aesthetically and what excites me. I have an appreciation for the whole of art history but maybe I am a product of my time too. The modern aesthetic really appeals to me, from Miró and others of that era, up through abstract expressionism. That movement had a strong influence on me. I tend to take away some of the compositional elements of early 20th century work, as well.

I was also struck by the geometric and structural elements in your work.

William Scott was a big influence here. He bridged the gap between two schools of painting, between still life and abstraction. The way he was able to use organic shapes so well. In my title creation, sometimes it’s just that straight monograph description of what’s in the work. At other times, there are things that the painting gives, that suggests the title.

Navy Mono Form with Drops (2015) by Jesse m Bell

What does this mean for where you like to operate on the continuum between freedom and structure?

I like to operate where they meet, although those lines shift back and forth. When I go down the path of complete abandon, which a lot of painters like, I am not happy with what I produce. For me, it’s down to the way the paint is applied, how the underpainting is exposed. I can’t qualify and quantify those aspects. They evolve as I paint. I do use a sketchbook before I paint and build on motifs I’ve developed, but I try to give myself the freedom to let the piece go where it goes. The line pushes back and forth. I enjoy that feeling of applying paint in a complete freeform manner but there can be a heaviness and responsibility with that, and with the blank canvas. It’s a big investment and challenge to start with the blank canvas. The piece can end up being discarded.

I’m really interested and curious, what are the parallels between your work and you as a human being when it comes to where you fall on the freedom-structure paradigm?

I like things to be fairly structured in my life but not so much. It runs closely in parallel to the process I was describing when I produce work. I need my workspace. Home is important to me. It’s where my life is and where my work happens but at times I like to go on the fly, especially with travel. I pick a destination and just go. In my day-to-day life too, I work on a piece, break off and work on another piece, so in that way I like a certain amount of freedom, but structure brings some comfort.

Turning to your early years, what were some of the most significant influences that shaped the artist that you are today?

I have drawn for as long as I can remember. I can picture myself at four years old with a pen and paper. From seven or eight years old when people asked me what I wanted to be, I’d say I wanted to be an artist. I was lucky because my parents were always supportive of the arts. My dad was a maker, he was very creative. I learned from him how materials can be reused or used for something else. My mom has a strong sense of design and I have an uncle who drew. My brother was very musical and I was influenced by his creativity. My aunt worked in insurance and she would bring over these reams of perforated paper. My brother and I would create board games and drawings with that paper. I took a lot of drawing classes and went to art camps when I was young. Everyone you encounter in the arts influences you in some way. There was a lot of passion and support for the arts around me.

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From sketchbook to canvas

How have you evolved the most as an artist?

I have been honing in on what’s important to me in terms of what I create. I think a lot about the legacy I’ll leave after I’ve gone and what gets preserved. Building a cohesive body of work is what I have been striving for as I have gotten more intellectual about my work. That has been important to me. How does it exist after it has been put out into the world?

Why is having a cohesive body of work important to you?

Each piece fits into a larger narrative. I am continually formulating general ideas about the world and learning about new ideas and new things. I want to produce a body of work that is a collection of those things, my experiences and how I think about the world and the universe.

Definitions of success vary between artists. What does success mean to you personally as an artist?

Success for me is the creation of a strong body of work and a creative output that I am proud of fundamentally and that makes me and others happy. That’s meaningful. Having that body of work viewed and appreciated is also important.

What’s your view of the current state of the art world?

I’m appreciative of the new media. There are no rules for what artists can or cannot do. For many years we pigeonholed people but I appreciate the freedom that artists have now; whatever works for them creatively, goes. The Internet has been a big part of that. Sometimes I am a traditionalist even though I work in a contemporary style. I do like the craft still, a well-formed painting, especially when anything can be art. I’m almost overwhelmed because there is so much exposure to so much good work. There is access to so much beautiful work from all over the world. You see all across the spectrum and where you fit in that continuum.

Deep Viridian Mono Form with Yellow Buds in Pink (2014) by Jesse M Bell

What haven’t we talked about that you want people to know or that you want to say to people?

I’m glad we touched on process. The act of “making” is really important to my work and so is process. It is the painting to a certain extent. Without it, it wouldn’t do anything for me. The act of creation, the working-process, the physical application of paint is very enjoyable and important to me. The craft itself really excites me. I work very closely to my pieces and brushwork is critical. But I also apply the pigment and then stand back and take in the piece. I am one of those museum-goers that has to be reminded not to stick my nose so close to the work. The consideration of hue, the application of the paint to the substrate, and seeing the painting come to life is what excites me.

I’m extremely glad to be able to do what I do, to make these things. I’ve always been a creative person. I’m glad that I get to create this work. Art is universal and it’s one of the nicer parts of life to view and be around works of art. It’s both a human endeavor and experience.

I agree wholeheartedly. The power of art astounds me. You can walk past a painting and it stirs deep emotions in seconds whereas it could take watching a whole film or listening to a four minute song to move people in the same way. What is it about art that does that?

We are so visually responsive. It allows us to transfer our experience quickly and it allows us to feel or think what an artist was experiencing; it’s universal. It also allows you to have experiences that you’ve never had. It’s the universality of human nature. It’s something unique to the visual realm that can have that impact. You feel it first and then find out what is it that causes that type of deep emotional reaction.

To see more work by Jesse M Bell, visit his collection in The Road Gallery.

 


When Art Moves Me

In Donna Tartt’s award winning novel, The Goldfinch, the lead character Theo Decker gets drawn into the art underworld by a small, mysteriously captivating painting that had belonged to his mother.  As Decker becomes more and more entwined in this unfamiliar world, experiencing love and loss and alienation and obsession, he grows to understand the unique power that a single painting can have on an individual. This excerpt from the book beautifully captures the sentiment:

“Great paintings—people flock to see them, they draw crowds, they’re reproduced endlessly on coffee mugs and mouse pads and anything-you-like. And, I count myself in the following, you can have a lifetime of perfectly sincere museum-going where you traipse around enjoying everything and then go out and have some lunch. But if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you. An individual heart-shock…..You see one painting, I see another…..the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entirely, and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time—four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we’re gone—it’ll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it’ll never strike in any deep way at all but a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular.”

Tartt describes that heart-stopping moment when a painting moves you so magnificently; when it makes you halt in your tracks, leaving you with no choice but to take note and emote.

As we are preparing to launch our new gallery, The 500 Project, we wanted to understand more about the decision-process behind buying art. Do people need to be moved in the way Tartt explains or are there other, more important factors? How much does something as pragmatic as wall space matter? What about the investment potential of a painting? How price sensitive are people when it comes to buying art?

Here are some of the headlines from our recent survey on art buying behavior.

Sample

Using a variety of social media channels to publicize the survey including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, we gathered 118 responses, primarily from the United States and Europe. In terms of age range, respondents were distributed as follows:

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Figure 1: Age bracket

 

The largest single group of respondents, 41.5%, were aged between 42 and 49. Next were the 34 to 41 year olds, making up 22.9% of the sample.

Spend

A number of factors come into play when someone is deciding how much they can and will spend on a painting. We asked our respondents, “How much are you comfortable spending on a piece of original artwork you love?”  The starting point of our scales was ‘$249 and below’ and the top point of the scale was ‘$10,000 and above.’ Amongst our sample, the results were spread fairly evenly across three categories: $1,000 t0 $2,999 (23.3%), $500 t0 $999 (25.0%) and $250-$499 (27.6%).  Looking at the data as a whole, almost two-thirds of the sample, 63.8%, were comfortable spending $500 or more on single painting they love.

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Figure 2: Spend on a single piece of art

Considerations

We were really curious about the factors that influence people’s decision making when they are considering buying a piece of artwork.  We asked respondents to rate a list of criteria as well as giving them the opportunity to write about other reasons for buying art.  By a landslide, the number one factor influencing art buying is that the work speaks to the person or moves them in some way. Amongst our respondents, 95.6% rated this as ‘extremely’ or ‘very important’ and only 1.7% said this was ‘of little importance’ or ‘unimportant.’ The next highest rated factor was price at 55.7%.  A surprise to us was the third highest rated factor: individuals have the wall space for it (54.4%).

At the other end of the spectrum, the least important factor for this group when considering buying a piece of art was that the artist is well know. For 87.5% of respondents, this was considered ‘unimportant’ or ‘of little importance.’ That said, most respondents were not looking for the artist to be undiscovered or new to scene either. This was of little significance for 71.9% of respondents. Also, the investment potential of the artwork did not matter to 65.8% of people.

Over half of respondents (55.8%) were not reliant on a gallery curator’s recommendation although having access to information about the artist and the specific piece of artwork was considered a more important factor when deciding on buying a piece of art.

When analyzing the open-response comments provided by respondents about other reasons for buying art, the majority related to being moved by or having a connection to the artwork. Here are some examples of the comments:

“Tied to an emotional experience – travel somewhere, a relationship, etc.”

“How the art resonated with me”

“The emotion or memory it evokes for sure”

“If it touches me”

“Reminds me of something significant, e.g. visiting somewhere”

“Because I love it”

“Mainly if it moves me on an emotional level”

” It’s hard to quantify. For me it’s about the feelings the piece engenders”

“Personal relationship with the artist, a story behind the creation of the piece or overall meaning, the situation in which I first viewed the piece. Essentially, any emotional connection.”

The second most cited reasons were about decor, including size, color and aesthetics:

“Being able to visualise it with existing pieces and in my flat”

“If it coordinates with exisitng pieces of art and the overall design scheme of our home”

“Right size of picture and colours in the picture for the space intended”

“Overall design scheme of house, or colour palette”

“Colors match my interior”

“Compatibility with other decor (i.e. colors, patterns, etc.)”

The third most cited group of comments related to an interest or connection to the artist:

“I already own work by the same artist”

“A limited edition from an up and coming artist”

“Interest in the artist’s statement”

“I know the artist personally – want to support friends/colleagues”

“If I had been to an exhibition or seen their work displayed elsewhere”

Buying art online

The online art market has exploded in the last five years and is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Collectors are buying artwork priced at $50,000, $100,000 and more from online galleries based solely on seeing a couple of jpegs. There is a new generation of buyers whose collections have been sourced purely from online galleries. But how confident were our respondents buying artwork online? The vast majority, 71.3%, are at least somewhat comfortable doing so.  Only 3.5% of the sample stated that they would be uncomfortable making an online art purchase.

So what did we learn?

Well, it would appear that Donna Tartt was right. Our survey results indicate that, by a country mile, the biggest reason for buying a piece of original artwork is because of a personal or emotional connection to it – a relationship recalled, a feeling evoked, a place remembered, a pulse raised, a heartbeat quickened. For some people, this may be the only criteria. “I love it, I have to have it. I can’t live without it.” For others it would appear that their intuitive, emotional side is balanced by pragmatism, specifically price and wall space. This feels like reality and matches my own experiences of buying art. That said, I’ve never had buyer’s remorse when I’ve let my heart rule my head.

We also learned that people are pretty comfortable buying art online, want access to some information about the artist or artwork and don’t seem too concerned whether the artist is well-known, undiscovered or the next big thing.

To conclude, there is a really good news story for everyone in these survey findings. If we were to draw a venn diagram comprising three circles: Moved By The Art, Price and Wall Space, a piece of original art exists for everyone right at the point where those three circles meet.

 

Feature Image: The Goldfinch (1654) by Carel Fabritius


The Gift of Choice

With Thanksgiving almost upon us, I had intended this blog post to be about gratitude but as I started researching and writing, I decided enough had already been said about the psychological and social benefits of gratitude and that I didn’t have a whole lot to add. After some procrastination, including filing some papers and folding laundry, I shifted focus to choice and, in particular, the gift of choice.

Just over a month ago on October 21st, my father-in-law, David Ganz, passed away. He was a remarkable man in countless ways: a marine who saved his flying instructor from the burning wreckage of a helicopter that had crashed during a training exercise, a hugely successful business man who traveled the world negotiating tough deals while treating his employees like family members, a philanthropist who advocated passionately and tirelessly for the causes he supported and, most of all, a loving, proud and devoted husband, father, and grandfather. I learned so much from my father-in-law and I will miss him terribly. At his funeral, three of his granddaughters read his favorite poem that he had included in a letter to each of them as they graduated from college. Written by Gertrude Housman, it’s called The Gift of Choice.

I came into the world without being asked,
And when the time for dying comes
I shall not be consulted;
But between the boundaries of birth and death
Lies the dominion of Choice:
To be a doer or a dreamer,
To be a lifter or a leaner.
To speak out or remain silent,
To extend a hand in friendship
Or to look the other way:
To feel the sufferings of others
Or to be callous and insensitive.
These are the choices.
It is in the choosing
That my measure as a person
Is determined.

My father-in-law lived by the tenets of this poem and when I heard it for the first time at his funeral, it summed up his approach to life exquisitely.

Can we choose choice?

How much choice we feel we have in our lives is related to our locus of control – the extent to which we each believe that outcomes of events are within, outside or beyond our control. From a psychological perspective, people fall somewhere along a spectrum of internal locus of control at one end to external locus of control at the other end.

People with an internal locus of control feel:

-Responsible for their actions and the outcomes they achieve
-In charge of their destiny, with the power to decide and choose
-Less influenced by the opinions of other people
-A strong sense of belief in their own abilities
-Confident in the face of challenges or adversity
-Autonomous, without the need to turn to others for direction

Those with an external locus of control are likely to:

-Blame outside forces for their circumstances
-Credit luck or chance for any successes
-Believe they cannot change their situation through their own efforts
-Feel hopeless or powerless in the face of difficult situations
-Prone to experiencing learned helplessness
-See choices as limited or non-existent

Clearly, those with an internal locus of control, like my father-in-law, believe they are full of options, in charge of situations and outcomes and very much feel they have the power to choose. Those with an external locus of control…not so much.

The Gift of An Internal Locus of Control

When Gertrude Housman was composing her verse, perhaps a more fitting title would have been ‘The Gift of An Internal Locus of Control.’ Yes, it’s a dreadful, clunky title, with zero poetic quality, but one that more accurately describes the essence of what she is describing. The great heroes and inspirational figures in our lives have been able to be doers and lifters and to speak out and to choose because of the very fact they were operating from a position of self-belief and confidence. That’s what really gave them the gift of choice.

 


Happy Accidents

In his first interview, Julius Kalamarz talks candidly about his background, his journey from writing to painting. the joys of working free from constraints and precision and the notion of self-identity.

Can we start by going back in time? Tell us about your upbringing.

I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in a blue-collar town with good, hard working people. I was intrigued about drawing. I used to make up these picture books about forest creatures and bring them into my teachers. My third grade teacher read one to the class. It meant a lot to me, having an authority figure in my early days reinforcing my work.

Did picking up those pencils and drawing come naturally to you or was there some influence?

It came naturally. Mom and dad weren’t necessarily into art but dad was always reading. He was intellectual and very smart. Mom too. Curiosity was always prevalent in the house. I think drawing is natural to any child as a form of expression.

yellowgrassmountain
Yellow Grass Mountain by Julius Kalamarz

What significance, if any, was there in those forest creatures?

I wanted to draw my favorite animal at the time, a beaver. I don’t know why. Maybe because I had buck-teeth as a kid I wrote a book about beavers. It morphed into a whole motley crew of raccoons and foxes.

What else were you into as a kid?

Baseball, like a lot of American kids. I had aspirations to play in the big leagues but I wasn’t really very good. I would watch This Week In Baseball on TV eating my cereal. I had all the cards and sticker books.

How would you have described your personality back then?

I was a reserved, quiet kid and kept to myself. I was very shy. I have memories of field trips in early grade school sitting by myself on the bus and putting my head against the window. It would bump as I sang songs to myself. I was probably a bit of an odd kid, the opposite of my brother who was very outgoing and personable.

Julius Kalamarz
Kalamarz reviewing one of his latest paintings, Dot (Blue)

What was your earliest thought of what you wanted to be in life, apart from a baseball player?

I never wanted to be a policeman or anything like that. I thought for a long time that the drawing could take me somewhere but I didn’t know where it would lead me. Working class and neighborhood people weren’t running out and making a living from drawing. I wanted to pursue it but I didn’t know how.

What kind of a teenager were you?

I was still pretty awkward. I was a bit of a loner but comfortable that way. It didn’t bother me too much. The transition from middle school to high school was rough and I found it hard to meet people. I wasn’t very sociable. I ended up getting into sports, which helped. I was always pretty reserved. I get that from my dad. We both find comfort in solitude. I have no problem being with someone and not having to talk. I don’t need to fill the space.

Did you go through any teenage rebellion?

Not so much. I was a pretty good kid. My parents gave me a lot of freedom. I never had a curfew. Their philosophy was to trust me until I did otherwise. I got great grades in high school. I was always a good student and they trusted me in that. It gave me a tremendous amount of freedom so I didn’t feel the need to rebel.

What role did drawing play for you as a teenager?

By that time I had shifted gears to writing. I remember trying to write poetry. That angst! No-one understands me so I’ll write these poems that were just awful. My dad wrote poems back in the day. He’s now switched to fiction. Part of me was trying to emulate him. From the junior year of high school through graduate school I was primarily focused on writing and thinking, “How could I make a living from this?” I went from short stories to novels and back to poems.

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Artist in the making? Kalamarz’s daughter visits dad in his studio

I’d like to explore the writing versus painting dynamic. What does each one give you?

Writing for me is always very controlled and concise. I treated my novels like poems – every word had to matter. It became very burdensome. For my MFA thesis, I had to write a novel. Other students were turning in 75, 100 pages. For one assignment, I turned in two pages. Sam Lipsyte, my thesis advisor, understood. He is always a very precise writer and he defended me and went to bat for it. I love finding a sentence that runs true to me. There is a lot of beauty in that and the pursuit of it is a noble goal but I kept stumbling over my words and limiting myself.

At some point I couldn’t work like that any more. Accidentally, a series of events came together that led me to the visual arts. I didn’t have a whole lot to do with it. To help with the writing, I had been keeping notebooks since 2001. I started painting a canvas and had no idea what I was doing. I was trying to do some kind of drip technique. It was fucking terrible. Some magazine pages fell on top of the canvas by accident. When it dried, I ripped off the pages and it was quite cool so I started ripping up my notebooks. It was so liberating. The process of creating visual art was so freeing. Interesting things were coming out of it that was outside my control as it was by chance. Like John Cage, I have always been enthralled by randomness.

Visual art gave me the freedom. It evolved naturally. I had a renewed excitement in the creative process. When I was still pursuing writing I wrote every day for years. I transferred that passion and it was rekindled with visual art. I turned my basement into a studio. I felt this need and drive to go there every night and make something happen. I was compelled to do it.

Who was the first person you showed a painting to?

My wife. She was like, “What are you doing down there?” Then I started putting stuff on Tumblr. I was getting feedback, which we crave. There is a vintage shop in my hometown in Milwaukee. I reached out to them through Facebook to see if they would show my paintings in the store. The owner said yes and I had my first solo show. It went really well. It was small, but it was great. A friend of mine went to the show the next day and met up with me that night and talked about how a guy came in and was really digging the pieces. People were responding to the work outside my social circle.

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Group Hug (2015) by Julius Kalamarz

At this time in your life, what was your self-identity?

I saw myself as floundering. For so long I thought I would write a book. I don’t know how many thousands of pages I have written. I identified as a writer from the time I was 23 or 24. For so long I identified as a writer although I wouldn’t say that about myself. Even after my MFA I never said it. I never really talked about it to anyone or beat my chest or made it known. When the switch to visual art happened, I felt like an imposter.

I am an experimenter. The best work comes from my mistakes, from the pieces I don’t know how they came about. This morning I went down to the basement for 15 minutes. There was a piece I was working on that I was going to toss but I started working on it again and it began to come together. The happy accidents and the mistakes are the best. I was so thrilled in the beginning with those pieces that just sprung together. Even now, I still don’t call myself an artist. My twitter handle says, “Imposter.”

I want to ask you about your pseudonym. How did it come it come about?

It’s my grandfather’s name so one reason for it is to honor him. He thinks it’s hilarious because he had to cash a check or two from some publishers; early on I didn’t make a habit of telling them it’s a pseudonym. Secondly, I like the idea of someone apart from me creating those works so I don’t have to take responsibility for something that does or doesn’t work; it’s not necessarily me. I can deflect and redirect anything through that alter ego. I like the idea of the uniqueness of the name. Steven Hanson is the most common name in the Midwest. The only Julius Kalamarz in the Milwaukee phone book is my grandfather and I like that aspect of it as well.

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Putting the finishing touches on Dot (Blue)

What are the guiding principles behind your work now?

It’s shifting. I am feeling my way and experimenting. I have gone through a lot of phases in a short amount of time. I have experimented with collages, turning women from adverts into revolutionaries. I’m experimenting with geometry, architecture and lines, trying to find my voice, just like in writing. You have to write hundreds if not thousands of pages to find your voice. I really follow where my curiosity takes me. I abandon things really quickly if they are not working but I also start things up really quickly like the altered ads and photography.

I was just cataloguing some early work and came across Daniel Day-Lewis from 2014. That was my first piece. I got the supplies from Home Depot, rather than buying expensive paints and materials. Maybe it’s the working class mentality. That piece came together over time. It was days and weeks. I was sanding, scraping, repainting and drawing over and over again until I felt I shouldn’t touch it any more. At that point I feel like I’ve earned the piece, especially with my fear of being an imposter. If I’ve put the work in I feel I’ve earned it.

In certain situations and pieces I get to apply the written word. It hasn’t left me. It’s still there. I don’t write anymore but the passion to get some words down is still there. It satisfies me.

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Daniel Day-Lewis (2015) by Julius Kalamarz

I’m curious and fascinated by the titles of your work. From where do they derive?

I don’t know. A lot of it is trying to find that beautiful phrase or sentence. I like the idea of any type of subversion. For example, I like the juxtaposition of every day objects or pop culture with political figures or philosophical concepts.

So what about your painting Daniel Day-Lewis?

I’m a huge fan of him and have seen all his movies. I like that you can’t pin him down. I relate to that and like it. He is a mystery and the piece is a mystery to me. I don’t know how I got there, there was no planning. At the time there was a novel I was working on. In it, there was a band called The DDL, The Daniel Day-Lewis, and they all wore masks of him while they performed. The lead character couldn’t be pinned down, he was an enigma and a mystery. I feel the same way about the actor and my process. I had that piece and really liked it but didn’t want to show it to anyone because it didn’t have a title. It sat in my basement. Then all three things came together and then I thought, “That’s it.”

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Commenting work on a new piece
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The joy of painting

What does success mean to you as an artist?

I don’t know. I can’t help but paint so I’m going to do it anyway, regardless of success. I like getting any kind of recognition, everyone wants that at some point. To get any spark of recognition is a huge, huge deal. I’d be lying otherwise. I would argue with myself, “Can there be any pure art without any ego involved?” Only for outsider artists who create just to create. I love that idea and wish I could be as pure at that. Every artist, writer and dancer feels a compulsion to do what they do but there is notoriety and ego to it. What would it take for me to call myself an artist? What would that entail? What would make it acceptable in my head to call myself an artist during a dinner party conversation? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Gallery representation. To say that someone likes your work enough to want to sell it to people is huge in terms of defining success. What did success mean to Henry Darger? He created so much work and never showed it to anyone. That was creation for creation’s sake. Even when I was writing, I thought the end game was a published novel. It was easy for me to define success. I’m still trying to define what it means for my work in the visual arts.

What does being creative mean to you?

It’s something that you can’t put a finger on but you can’t help but create and make. You get that spark.

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Thomas Pynchon as a Butterfly (2015) by Julius Kalamarz

Is there anything else you want to share with people?

My influences. I’ve talked about John Cage and his process. I’ve been in love with Dada and surrealism for as long as I can remember. Then there are the other artists I’m fascinated by like the Henry Dargers of the world, the people that just follow their impulses. I heard this great TED talk by the writer Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. She was talking about the poet, Ruth Stone and her creative process – about poems coming at her from over the landscape.

As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming, cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.

The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would “continue on across the landscape looking for another poet”.

Every time I try to control anything it just doesn’t work out. When I let it flow, interesting things happen and more often than not it’s beautiful in my eyes. I need to incorporate that more in my day-to-day life. I feel absolute freedom down in my basement studio. People talk about time standing still and the cliché of being in the zone but it’s so true. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t have a destination. Writers start writing without knowing the destination. They let the characters decide. It makes a lot of sense. I remember being told in my MFA classes, “If you don’t love the process, you’ll never become a writer.” Now I feel more freedom and welcome all mistakes. As a writer, a mistake in a sentence would send me into a spiral. As a visual artist, I can just paint over it. I love the freedom. It’s beautiful.

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Experimenter? Yes, Imposter? No

See more work by Julius Kalamarz.

 


Jerks Need Not Apply

Last month, I had lunch with Newark-based artist Joseph O’Neal. Over artisanal pizza and flavorful pasta, we covered a glut of topics: my recent marriage, his recent engagement, the pains and pleasures of wedding planning, the fall of historic architecture to rising lease prices and O’Neal’s sell-out show, A Sunday in Soho II, in Basel, Switzerland. II because he had an equally successful exhibition of the same name in Basel in 2011.

I have known O’Neal for just over a year and have been consistently struck by his humility, gratitude and compassion. His stock as an artist is rising exponentially but, as far as I can see, he has stayed true to himself and his craft. I recall an interview he did earlier this year with Erik Noonan for Sensitive Skin. One of the questions was about O’Neal’s painting, Ezra Pound. Noonan’s question was filled with all kinds of hypotheses about the piece. O’Neal honesty, candor and lack of pretension in his response, particularly the words below, thrilled me:

“Again I can’t stress enough about the piece not being about Ezra Pound. If a painting has a speck of blue on it, would one consider the work to be about the color blue? Or any other color that may be present? My works are about nothing, certainly not anything tangible. There’s nothing to “get,” there is no puzzle to solve. Turn your brain off and be in the moment. If anything they are opportunities. The ocean isn’t about swimming but it provides the opportunity to swim.”

In an age where art has become a commodity and success has less and less to do with the art itself, a number of questions have been on my mind since my lunch with Joseph O’Neal. What makes a great artist? What does it take for an artist to become successful today? Do the characteristics associated with success in the business world apply to the art world?

I am not going to dwell on the actual art when considering greatness or success because (a) it would be too obvious, (b) there are people much more qualified than me who can comment on that and (c) being a gifted artist is no longer enough. Rather, my reflections focus on the importance of personality characteristics to succeed in today’s art environment.

I know from interviews I have conducted with artists, definitions of success vary tremendously. For some, it’s about making a primary living from their art, for others it’s about gallery representation, wider recognition and critical acclaim. Then there are those artists for whom success has nothing to do with the number of pieces they sell or the fame (or infamy) they achieve. Rather, for them being an artist fulfills higher-order needs such as: serving a calling or purpose, personal expression, providing commentary, documenting events, creating dialogue or positively impacting communities. The countless explanations of success given by artists tend to fall into one or more of the following categories: commercial, social, psychological, political, and even religious. No doubt, an artist’s goals and aspirations are tied to her or his own traits, beliefs and values.

Accepting that coming up with a single definition for success or greatness is futile, let’s turn our attention to the business world and the connection to artists, beginning with founders of start-ups. Without taking the analogy too far, there are parallels between emerging artists and entrepreneurs. Both are at the start of their journeys and looking to establish themselves, build their brands and grow. An April 2015 article for Inc. magazine by Jayson Demers, Founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, described five characteristics that define successful entrepreneurs:

Resilience: Founders of start-ups and entrepreneurs face numerous challenges and roadblocks and are also responsible for driving their businesses forward. Keeping going, especially when you are in the eye of the storm, is critical for success.

Agility: Being nimble and agile is both a benefit and requirement for start-ups. Activating change, and hopefully improvement, is a way to grow and move forward.

Patience: The bombardment of stories we hear about start-up millionaires, billionaires and gazillionaires creates the false expectation that success happens over night. It doesn’t. It takes years of hard work.

Trust: Rarely is success achieved alone; all kinds of partnerships are necessary. With relationships comes the need for mutual trust. Employees, investors and partners need to trust the entrepreneur and founders need to trust the people working for them and the people to whom they open up their businesses.

Passion: While not every task or day is a walk in the rose garden, entrepreneurs need to be satisfied and exhilarated by what they are doing.

The correlations with emerging artists are clear when it comes to resilience, patience and passion, but what about agility and trust? An artist’s ability to evolve is important for their personal and professional growth. As such, there is certainly a connection with agility. While the act of creation is often a solitary endeavor for artists, in a world of hyper-connectivity where judgements about people are made quickly and with limited data, giving and establishing trust is a requirement for artists. Whether it’s receiving the feedback and guidance of a mentor or teacher, forming a partnership with a gallery or engaging directly with a collector, trust, and more broadly relationships, really matter.

But what about established artists? The analogy from the business world is senior managers and executives. To what extent do the characteristics associated with their success apply to those artists who have made it? A recent review I conducted of the current literature on essential executive qualities reveals a plethora of attributes including:

– Strategic and visionary thinking

– Driving execution

– Clarity of purpose

– Influencing

– Global mindedness

– Determination to succeed

– Confidence and self-assurance

– Motivating and inspiring others

– Creativity and innovation

– Problem solving

– Business acumen

– Financial acumen

The association of this list with established artists is less pronounced, particularly for those characteristics that are more about the mechanics of running a business or leading people. Sure, there is an argument to be made that established artists need to be financially savvy, business minded and globally aware but other capabilities would likely take precedence over these.

On top of the inventory above, we are in an era of leadership that’s all about authenticity, empathy, vulnerability, self-insight and understanding others. More so than many of the characteristics in the last list, these attributes are of great significance to artists, emerging or established.

The point is, being a technically gifted artist or the most original, provocative, groundbreaking conceptual thinker isn’t enough in an art world that now operates like a business. In a recent interview I did with artist Kelly Neidig, an established Portland-based artist with years of experience navigating the art world, we talked about what it takes to be successful. The last question I asked Neidig was about her advice to other artists just starting out. This excerpt from her response captures the premise of this article perfectly.

“Read as many books as you can about art marketing. They won’t teach you that in school. If you want to make a living as an artist, you have to know how to market yourself. Just because you are an artist doesn’t mean you can be flaky and lazy. If you say you are going to hang your work somewhere, you have to do it. If you don’t, people will drop you very quickly. If you are a jerk, no matter how good you are, people won’t put up with it, unless you have a lot of money in the first place. There are too many other good artists. We have to be nice to the gallery owners and coffee shop owners. You have to be nice. Maybe 10, 15 years ago you could have been a jerk and got away with it, but not now. There is so much good art out there now, people don’t need you if you are a jerk.”

Neidig’s wise words bring back a memory of an emerging artist who submitted her work in the early days of The Road Gallery. I thought she was talented and, conceptually, her work was interesting. After seeing her paintings and meeting her in person, I gave her the artist-gallery agreement to review. I am always happy to answer questions but this individual sent me a list of obnoxious demands longer than my arm. At first I tried patiently to explain why I couldn’t and wouldn’t meet the demands, only to be greeted by another long email full of “but….”, essentially negating everything I had said and reasserting her stipulations. Rather than trying to provide reason again, I wrote back with the following:

“While I remain a fan of your work, experience and instinct tells me this isn’t going to work out. I wish you all the best.”

So yes, personal characteristics really matter for artists to be successful.


From Experience Comes Wisdom

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. Maybe. No. No. No. No. Yes. Maybe. No. No. No.

This has been my life for the last two years reviewing submissions for The Road Gallery. As I have become more certain where I want to take the gallery, so has my decision making process about which artists to include. Having clarity of purpose and direction has been invaluable to curating the gallery and perhaps the most important lesson of all. Beyond that, here are five other life lessons reinforced through my life as a gallery owner.

(1) Be candid. Prior to running the gallery, I worked in organizations for 19 years. As a manager and leader, I made too many compromises in an attempt to please others or avoid interpersonal conflict. Now I am completely in charge of my own business and its success, I am far less likely to settle or be overly accommodating. On the occasions I have, I’ve kicked myself, especially in situations where I knew I was making the wrong decision. In the end, those decisions served no-one well. I am learning to stick to my guns and say what I mean. Less and less am I letting my well-intentioned gestures and desire to please get in the way of the right decisions.

(2) Trust your instincts. Our instincts are shaped through years of experience navigating and reacting to situations. Instinct is a valuable asset, especially in the subjective world of art. In curating the gallery, following my instincts about an artist has been as important as trusting my gut when I review a submission. I made a promise to myself when I first conceived the gallery that I would not partner with arrogant, unreliable or difficult artists, essentially prima donnas or jerks. I have encountered more than a couple of people along the way that ticked those boxes. Despite a few close calls, I have listened to my intuition, especially about people. I’m certain it’s saved me from a lot of angst and irritation.

(3) Have an abundance mindset. In Stephen Covey’s seminal book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” he talks about the importance of having an abundance mentality – believing that there is plenty for everyone and that we can all win and be successful. I’m a firm believer in this concept and it guides the way I run the gallery.  I have consistently tried to make good business decisions that not only drive revenue but also deepen relationships, build trust, show flexibility and generosity and create opportunities for people. For the most part, these decision have achieved positive outcomes, some tangible, some intangible. The decisions I have made with a scarcity mindset, thinking resources are limited and there is not enough to go round, have backfired. My experiences have reinforced that we should stick to leading with an abundance mindset.

(4) Relationships are at the core of everything. Whether it’s with artists, collectors or service providers, relationships matter. When I have taken the time to make an investment in a relationship by listening, inquiring, helping, understanding or empathizing, it has served me well. When I have been lazy or disinterested or when I have written an email when I should have picked up the phone to find out more, I have lost out in some way.  Making the extra effort to fill up the relationship account is well worth it.

(5) Keep innovating and adapting. While I have stayed true to the mission I set out for the gallery, I have learned that you can never stand still or rest on your laurels. Since I launched The Road Gallery, there has been a rise in the number of on-line galleries; competition has grown exponentially. As such, I’ve had to keep challenging myself to differentiate my gallery from others. Adapting to changes in your environment, being rigorously honest with yourself about what’s working and what’s not and having the courage to take risks and try new approaches are critical to success.  When you are running your own business, the emotional highs and lows are much more pronounced. That means pushing through the moments of doubt and investing your energy in the things you can control. Be your own analyst and consultant.  Learn from the successes, learn from the mistakes and keep driving forward with smart problem solving.

 

Cover image by artist Kyle Utter


Every cloud has a layered lining

From carousel horses to drinking games in Mongolia, this interview with Portland-based artist Kelly Neidig has it all.

When I interview artists, I combine my background in psychology with my new world of art. As such, during the interview I’d like to discover more about you as well as your paintings. It’s a good way for the readers to get to know you and your work. To begin, let’s go back in time and talk about your upbringing and early days.

I grew up outside Pittsburgh in a small borough. My earliest memories are of being out in the country at my grandparents’ houses. I have really good memories of those times, of going into the woods and playing. I have an older brother and all my cousins are older boys. I wasn’t quite old enough to play with them a lot or wasn’t interested in what they were doing so I spent a lot of time playing by myself as a kid. My imagination developed from there. I was creating a world for myself. In the winter when I was indoors, I did a lot of drawing. I remember sitting next to my grandpa and drawing all day long. I would visit my relatives and all the boys would be out playing. My aunt had all this paint and she’d let me sit in the laundry room and paint. With a different upbringing I don’t know if I’d be an artist. If I’d had a sister close to my age, maybe things would have been different.

Art runs in my family. My great-aunt, mom and aunt are all great artists and really creative. We have a couple of relatives on my mom’s side of the family in Serbia who are artists.

What did you draw back then?

Carousel horses. I really liked horses. I also did a lot of weird landscapes; really colorful, psychedelic rolling hills and bizarre trees and flowers.

Was there any other significant to the horses?

No, I just liked them. There wasn’t anything significant about them. It was cool to draw horses and embellish them with fancy saddles, ribbons, ropes and braided hair.

What kind of reaction or feedback did you get about your drawings?

I got pretty good feedback from my parents. I remember coming home from kindergarten and I had drawn a bird. I showed it to my mom and she got mad at me. “You didn’t draw this, your teacher drew it. It’s too good.” I thought she was really mad at me but maybe she was just saying it was really good. In the first grade, I won a drawing contest over Memorial Day, which often falls on my birthday. Every grade gets a piece of paper with a generic American flag on it and they add their own drawings. I drew a lighthouse around the flag. I won the contest and five dollars.

The school I went to didn’t have a great art program, so I was pretty much self-taught, especially in high school. I always wanted to take art classes across the river in the fancy town but we didn’t have the money. I don’t know if it would have made me a better artist or whether not having classes pushed me to develop my own style.

My parents had a Sam’s Club membership and my dad would come home with markers or drawing kits. It wasn’t something I’d asked for. He just picked them out for me and I was so blown away. One time he came home with beautiful colored pencils, which cost $100. I was so scared to use them. I still have them to this day. It was cool because when I went to school for landscape architecture I had to use them.

When I went to college, I wanted to go to school for art but I didn’t have a portfolio. I didn’t even know what a portfolio was. Instead, I applied for the landscape architecture program and got accepted at Penn State. There were a lot of painting and drawing classes there and I was actually ok at it. I enjoyed it and realized I could switch my major to art. I created my own degree. I took a lot of figure drawing, sculpture and ceramics classes. I also took Zen art classes, where everything made was destroyed so you could learn the Japanese art of letting go of what you create.

Before we leave your early days behind, what other creative outlets did you have, besides drawing?

Art was the only creative outlet I had. Living in a pretty small town before the Internet, there wasn’t a lot of access to music or information. We had a library, so I read a lot. I would read anything I could get my hands on. I liked a lot of scary, supernatural mystery stories and Stephen King. A lot of what I read was too old for me and I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on. My dad had gone to college and got an associate degree to be an electrician when I was very little. He must have taken an English class because I found a lot of his books, the great classics like Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby.

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Convection by Kelly Neidig

What was your earliest notion of what you wanted to be in life?

I didn’t realize I wanted to be an artist because I didn’t know it’s something you could actually be. I wanted to be a garbage man, a professional baseball player and be in the CIA; all of these unrealistic goals. I realized in high school I had to go to college and get out of this small town but I had to go somewhere cheap. Penn State was far enough away and big enough. So the goal was how to get into Penn State. When I was applying for college I wanted to go to school to do art but it wasn’t until I switched my major that I realized I could do this. I was so worried about telling my parents. I came home for Thanksgiving and went out with my high school friends and got really drunk. I didn’t come home until 10 the next morning. I was in the car with my parents heading back to Penn State telling them how I was switching my major to art and that this is how it was going to be and they just laughed their heads of. That’s when I realized they were supportive of me although a little sad because they would have liked me to be a landscape architect.

You’ve talked about your childhood and spending time alone. What was your self-esteem like as a teenager?

I’d say it was ok. Being a teenage girl is probably the worst thing on the planet you could put yourself through. Well, clearly not the worst but you know what I mean. You have to be skinny and look a certain way. A lot of my peers were always dieting. I made this resolve that I wouldn’t worry about what my body looked like. I was pretty skinny so it helped. Now, I have a hard time with women who say, “I gained 5lbs, I have to go on a diet.” Luckily, I had that self-esteem and chose not to worry about my weight. Because it was such a small school, everyone knew me and I felt like I was friends with a lot of people but everyone got picked on for something. I don’t think there was one person who got singled out and picked on more than the others. Everyone got their fair share.

I definitely felt lonely at times. There were times when girls and friends got into little cliques and I got excluded. But I would come home and go up to my room and draw. I had my own little world. Growing up with all boys and being excluded, I was used to it so I never felt too left out. I had my own things.

Were there any other significant or poignant moments from your early days we haven’t talked about?

No, I don’t think so. The big thing was my dad coming home with art supplies. That was so cool to me.

At Penn State you switched your major to art, what was the impact on your paintings?

I wasn’t really making anything that great at the time. I think I was doing more watercolor portraits of people but they were still abstracted. I remember taking these figure drawing classes and instead of using charcoals, I went in with watercolors and did abstracted work. The teachers liked what I was doing but the others in the class didn’t know how to critique me. Even with the figure drawings, the bodies would always end up looking like landscapes. Maybe it was because I had studied landscape architecture or maybe there is some love of landscapes in my genes.

There weren’t a lot of people I clicked with in high school but at college I found a lot of funny, creative people I could hang out with. I finally had friends that were cool and listened to weird music. I spent more time socializing in college than making art.

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Totem by Kelly Neidig

Were you looking for this? Was it part of the identity you wanted for yourself?

I don’t think I thought about it that way. I just found people I wanted to hang out with that I clicked with. I wanted to be sociable rather than sitting in my room and drawing.

What was the difference between the two groups of people – the people at high school and the friends you made at college?

Going away to college, you can be who you want to be. Growing up in a really small town, I was with the same 32 people for 12 years. You are stuck with them. When you are the kid who peed his pants on the school bus on the way to the museum you are always that kid. When you get to college you can be who you are as can everyone else. Going from a small town of 7,000 people to a campus of 42,000 people, no one cares who you are. A lot of that small town crap doesn’t matter. Also, the pool of knowledge was so much bigger and you can get access to all this information you never had.

So who did you want to be at that time in your life or who were you?

I was very happy I had really cool friends. They were so creative and cool. I was enjoying life at that time. Being a little crazy from having been so sheltered and not having access to a lot of information and resources, there was now this whole world of stuff out there. I knew at high school there was so much out there and it was fun to have access to that. I was just a girl having fun.

If we did a reunion with your closest friends from college, what words would they use to describe you at that time?

Happy, fun and a little annoying. I always saw myself as innocent. I never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings or create drama. They would see me as a good friend running around hugging everyone.

When did your art career start in earnest?

After college I moved to Arizona with my boyfriend. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I knew I needed to make money so maybe I could pursue landscape architecture and paint on the side. It was a really hard thing to get into in Arizona because the landscape is so harsh. Also, it was really hard to make friends out there. I went from finally meeting a group of people that I loved to not having any friends. My boyfriend was always in school and I was very lonely which pushed me back into making art. In a way it was a blessing. If I’d had friends I would have been content having a meaningless job and socializing after work. It made me look at art really seriously. I met artist Candice Eisenfeld after about a year in Arizona. I really loved her work and she was making it as an artist. I asked her what I needed to do and she told me to get a cohesive body of work together. She also gave me a book about the business of art. I started going to galleries to see what work was out there and got inspired by all these artists, particularly the work of Michael Kessler. I stared using a lot of the colors he used – blues and grays. I’d be driving for hours and then come across these abandoned mining plants. I was painting these gray, dreary landscapes with these teeny, tiny plants on the horizons. I thought they were beautiful and I started marketing myself to a galley and got into one in Scottsdale.

At that point were you sure you wanted to be a career artist?

Yes, absolutely. I knew it’s what I wanted to do. I saw Candice doing it but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be. I didn’t know how long it was going to take to get there but sometimes I realize that I’m more successful than I think I am. I’m not just a beginning artist anymore. I have been in museum shows. I shouldn’t downplay that.

Is there a particular piece of yours that really stands out in your mind?

Yes, it’s called Escape. It’s 72” x 72”, the biggest painting I have done. I don’t even really remember painting it. I was so scared to work on that canvas because of the size. It was daunting. The rays of light coming out of the clouds and the tree-lines against the horizon I’ve never really done in other paintings. I still have it. It’s in my dining room and I look at it every day.

KNeidig_escape_72x72
Escape by Kelly Neidig

Is there any significance to the title?

I think because of the size. Doing a really large piece allows you to escape. Also, I was having problems in my marriage at the time and my aunt was passing away. When I was a kid I would paint a lot to escape. That piece allowed me to do that. I probably don’t remember painting it because I was so stressed about everything else. That piece was in my studio when I was sick and it was hard for me to feel like an artist and think I could paint again. That piece reminded me I can do it and I will paint again.

What are your benchmarks for success?

Being able to support myself 100% making art is huge for me. I feel like I’m almost there. I occasionally struggle month to month when nothing comes in and I look at why aren’t I generating more sales than I’d like to be but I’m in your gallery, another one in the Hamptons and I have been in two museums, which is a huge benchmark. I’m being taken seriously as an artist.

A lot of stuff in the past I would have said “yes” to I won’t any more. Someone said to me recently, “There is this little coffee shop that has artwork, you should show your stuff there.” This isn’t the right situation for me anymore. I have got my work up enough that people know who I am. I don’t want to say “no” to anything but….

What do you like about being an artist?

I like that I can lie in until 10 o’clock every morning if I want to. I like that I don’t have a boss. I like the process of being creative and sitting down in my studio and solving a problem of how to make this piece of art look good and know when it’s finished. I like the business aspect too of doing the marketing and applying for something and getting accepted. It’s awesome selling art and making money off that, feeling that people like my art and will be a champion for it.

What do you like about being in the art world?

I like meeting other artists and l love the relationships and camaraderie with them. They understand how hard it is to get into something and write grant applications. Meeting patrons and seeing all the support for the arts that’s out there is amazing. But sometimes I question what I am doing. How is putting clouds on a canvas making the world a better place? But then I remember the feeling I get when I look at something beautiful that inspires me. I love that art has the ability to do that and being a part of that.

Let’s talk about the evolution of your work.

When I moved to Portland, I was doing these really drippy, watery works like the cloud pieces I am working on now. I was using acrylics, doing a lot of layers and really light colors. I was playing with abstract landscapes and something happened. I’m not quite sure what but I started painting these lines. They weren’t quite landscapes. They were really awful. I took them to a gallery that I was going to have a show at and the curator almost had a heart attack. She said it wasn’t like the work I’d shown her. Something clicked in my head. I knew I had to make the lines in the landscapes looser and layer more. I said, “I have to go. I know what I need to do.” She apologized thinking she had offended me but it was exactly what I needed to hear. As soon as she said they were awful I got this picture in my head of these landscapes. I made 17 pieces in a month and a half. The work got a really good reception. That was in 2007 and I was doing it until 2010. Then I got really sick with Lyme disease.

When I think, “Why haven’t I got further when I’ve been painting for 10 years solid?” I have to remember I got sick and I also got divorced around the same time. There were three years when I didn’t produce much art. I was in a lot of physical and emotional pain and I started doing these tight mandalas. I am not good at being tight and precise in my work so they weren’t great.

NewStudio
Kelly at work in her studio

Where are you now in your practice?

I’m working on these clouds. I’m kind of going back to where I started when I moved to Oregon. Lighter colors and watered down washes. A lot of drips come from that. These drippy, light washes. I’m layering colors over the top of each other but with the cloud pieces there is a lot more room to breathe and for the under-layers to show through. I’d now like to take that back to the landscapes. I’m on the verge of something new coming from this. I have to give this body of work time to develop. I’ve got a pretty good reception on the cloud pieces so I’m happy about that.

As an artist, what is the motivation to evolve your style?

“I got this. I know how to paint lines. I know how to make lines that look like a landscape. I know how to make realistic clouds but what next?” I need to challenge myself to keep changing the work in a way that keeps it interesting. Boredom is a motivator. I’m bored with the lines at this moment. “What can I do differently but still true to the way I paint and the colors I use?”

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope I can keep painting and not have to get a job. I feel like I have hit a lot of goals I wanted to achieve. I’ve been in museums. Hopefully that’s not going to stop. I want to keep doing what I love doing, travel more and incorporate my art into my travel more by giving a lecture or teaching a class.

Talking of travel, how did your artist’s residency in Iceland come about?

I always wanted to go. I used to be a travel agent in a past life and learned about Iceland and that they eat fermented shark. “I need to go to this country where people eat fermented shark.” I learnt more about it and that it’s a beautiful, amazing country. I was trying to get my husband to travel with me but he wouldn’t. He didn’t think it sounded like fun and didn’t want to travel with me. I couldn’t live the rest of my life not traveling. This artist’s residency was open so I applied and got accepted. I was still pretty sick from the Lyme disease and I had just got off my antibiotics. I had six hours in any given day when I could move about which was fine because there were only four to five hours of daylight. I’d go into the city and look at art and come back to the residency. I became good friends with two of the other girls. We hired cars and went out into the countryside and took pictures. I saw the wild horses and came full circle from my childhood with my love of horses. I still think about Iceland a lot when I’m painting. I was there in the winter but it was very colorful. I saw how colorful white snow can be when it’s reflecting the sunlight. Gosh, it’s so beautiful.

KNeidig_Jokulsarlon_24x24_864
Jokulsarlon by Kelly Neidig painted during her residency in Iceland

You recently came back from Mongolia. Why Mongolia?

It’s another one of those places that you hear about but don’t really learn anything about other than Genghis Khan. It’s a mysterious place that fascinated me. I saw the movie Weeping Camel and thought, “My gosh, that’s my landscape.” It’s flat and open. The people in the movie seemed beautiful. As I learned more, the more fascinating it became to me but never somewhere I thought I would get to. It’s so far away and remote. It was hard to believe that we were going until we got there.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

I thought I’d be so inspired by the landscape. It was beautiful but I was more fascinated by the nomadic herders. They live in yurts and raise cattle. They are not poor but have chosen to live a simple, nomadic lifestyle. They are vey happy but have no sense of time. I loved that there is no attachment to time or possessions. It’s a very harsh environment, hot in the summer and -40 in the winter. It blows my mind. People are friendly and hospitable. There is this small, nomad festival with archery, horse riding and wrestling. They put on an exhibit for tourists and we saw them build a ger in 20 minutes. Then there was the vodka made from distilling yoghurt. We were sat in the ger with these two older Mongolian guys who were telling the women to get the foreigners drunk. We were cracking up, playing drinking games. Getting to know the people and how they live was the best part of the trip. It was hard to come back to powerlines and billboards and all the crap I have in my house.

What about the art there? Will any aspects of the style spill over into your work?

I think so. Some of the contemporary artwork in the museums and galleries was beautiful and inspiring. Their style of artwork is pretty similar to Chinese and Japanese artwork. It’s mostly very traditional, Buddhist work. It’s very colorful. You see the Chinese and Japanese landscape-style paintings where everything is stacked up on top of each other with no perspective; nothing gets smaller. My clouds are stacking and not going into the distance. I want to do that with landscapes and clouds. I really like that.

You’ve been painting professionally now since 2003. What would your advice be to an artist who is just starting out?

Make the time to make your art and read as many books as you can about art marketing. They won’t teach you that in school. If you want to make a living as an artist, you have to know how to market yourself. Just because you are an artist doesn’t mean you can be flaky and lazy. If you say you are going to hang your work somewhere, you have to do it. If you don’t, people will drop you very quickly. If you are a jerk, no matter how good you are, people won’t put up with this, unless you have a lot of money in the first place. There are too many other good artists. We have to be nice to the gallery owners and coffee shop owners. You have to take every opportunity you can to get your work out there. Once you get rich and famous, then you can be an asshole but not until then. Maybe 10, 15 years ago you could have been a jerk and got away with it, but not now.

See more of Kelly’s work in the gallery.


#FreakinAwesome

When we launched the gallery over 18 months ago, one of our goals was to make artwork accessible to people who love art. Social media behemoth Instagram has been doing this in spades for years. It has proved to be a hugely successful and vibrant marketplace for artists to promote their creations and for art lovers and collectors to source and enjoy new work. While we have found many of the artists at The Road Gallery through our submissions process, we’ve also had a lot of joy with Instagram. Without it, we wouldn’t have discovered the likes of Taylor Thomas, Melissa Monroe and Matthew Conway.

In celebration and support of the arts, we are giving shout-outs to 10 of our favorite artists, whose work we have discovered through Instagram.  They are #freakinawesome.

 

Holly Andres (@hollyandres)

Holly Andres uses photography to examine the complexities of childhood, the fleeting nature of memory, and female introspection. Typically her images rely on a tension between an apparently approachable subject matter and a darker, sometimes disturbing subtext. She has had solo exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, Istanbul, Turkey and Portland, Oregon where she lives and works. Her work has been featured in The New York Times Magazine, Time, Art in America, Artforum, Exit Magazine, Art News, Modern Painters, Oprah Magazine, Elle Magazine, W, The LA Times, Glamour, Blink and Art Ltd. – which profiled her as one of 15 emerging West Coast artists under the age of 35.

Liz-s Palace of Beauty (1)_1000
Liz’s Palace of Beauty I by Holly Andres

 

Jesse Bell (@jessbellm)

Jesse Bell was born in Marshall, Michigan and received his BA in Visual Arts from Olivet College. Since that time, Bell has been creating work that strives to condense his visual language into two-dimensional imagery. Focusing primarily on the abstraction and interaction of organic shapes in various painting and digital mediums, he employs symbols and detached iconography to create what he refers to as “visual poems”. Bell has shown in numerous group and solo shows throughout the Upper Midwest and currently works and lives, along with his wife, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Trapezoidal Mono Form with Parallel Lozenge by Jesse Bell
Trapezoidal Mono Form with Parallel Lozenge by Jesse Bell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Jason Craighead (@jasoncraighead)

Jason Craighead is a recognized leader in the North Carolina art scene. His work has been featured in many solo and group exhibitions throughout the Southeastern United States, and is included in many private and public collections throughout the United States and internationally. He has been an active participant in the Raleigh arts community for many years. He is a member of the City of Raleigh Arts Commission and chairman of its Art, Education and Collections Committee. He has donated many paintings to charitable art auctions, including the annual Art Papers Auction in Atlanta, and his paintings consistently bring in some of the highest bids. He serves regularly as a juror for art shows throughout North Carolina. Craighead’s process is one of expressive, emotionally charged mark-making that is raw and honest. Working in mixed media, his exploration of space and line is often compared to the expressionistic, gestural painters of the mid-20th century.

Self Portrait at 41 by Jason Craighead
Self Portrait at 41 by Jason Craighead

 

Khara Oxier (@k.oxier)

Khara Oxier is a self-taught painter living in, and loving southwest Idaho. Oier began painting later in life in an attempt to project herself outside of her traditional household roles. Her work focuses on exploring life through the process of painting; inspired by politics, culture studies, war, separation, homemaking, and social constructs. Her goal is to maintain work that is brutally honest. In this attempt, her work often communicates culturally taboo subjects, demonstrating confusion, isolation, aggression, obsessiveness, and satire. Process is a driving force in her work, creating a dirty, labored, and often overworked feeling. Her goal as an artist is to contemplate complex subject matter, bridge cultural/political gaps, and analyze society (through distorted eyes).

Little Skin Houses by Khara Oxier
Little Skin Houses by Khara Oxier

 

William LaChance (@wmlachance)

William LaChance is an American painter born in St Louis, MO. He received a BFA from The Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from Indiana University and was artist in residence at The Chautauqua Institution, New York and The Oxbow School, Michigan. LaChance’s works are in the permanent collections of The US Federal Reserve, Lambert St Louis International Airport, The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and Nike Inc. LaChance is currently professor of studio art and art history at a small four year design college in the midwest.

Chautauqua by William LaChance
Chautauqua by William LaChance

 

Allison Janae Hamilton (@aljanae)

Allison Janae Hamilton is a visual artist based in New York City. Her photographic practice merges the rural landscapes of William Eggleston and Walker Evans, the elegant vignettes of James Van Der Zee, and the unearthly illusions of speculative fiction. Hamilton’s whimsical portraits comment on the haunting gaps within cultural memory and histories, filling these voids with imaginative fantasies pieced together from fairytales, family myths and overheard gossip, superstitions, sermons, archival family photographs, Baptist hymns, and cultural iconicity—a visual take on Audre Lorde’s “biomythography.” In this way, the work draws from the canons of magical realism, southern gothic literature, and the carnivalesque in order to meditate on disruption and magic in the seemingly mundane routines and rituals of rural life.

AllisonJanaeHamilton_HaintsatSwampII
Hainstat Swamp II by Allison Janae Hamilton

 

Gustavo Ortiz (@gushortiz)

Gustavo Ortiz is an Argentinian artist who is currently living and working in London, UK. Influenced by colonial art as well as native indigenous artistic practices, his paintings are distinctly Latin American in their hybrid blending of both a European and a South American heritage. Using collage as his primary medium, he combines the whimsical elements of Naïve art with the unexpected juxtapositions of Surrealism, creating an atmosphere of surprise, charm, and simplicity. Populated by disproportionate human figures, animals, and objects that tightly occupy reduced landscapes, his paintings draw on the native myths and legends of Latin America, and the decorative quality and tactile texture of the compositions resonate with traces of indigenous art and craft. The strong use of colour and the patterns of clearly defined shapes afforded by the medium of collage give an air of childlike naivety and understated humour to my paintings which, created in series, offer narratives of the wonder and enchantment of human experience.

Semilla by Gustavo Ortiz
Semilla by Gustavo Ortiz

 

Monique Lovering (@moniqueloveringstudio)

Monique Lovering was born in Devon, England. Her family immigrated to Perth, Australia where they lived for several years before moving north to Port Hedland and then settling in New Zealand. Her formative years were spent growing up in Rotorua. After leaving school she traveled to Europe for a year and returned to study art in Brisbane, Australia at the Queensland college of art. She graduated with a major in Graphic Design and went into publishing and had a successful career as an Art Director in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. In the background, she was studying art and following a passion to create her own work. This led her to spending a lot of time traveling in Italy and discovering Palermo in Sicily. So inspired by the energy and history of this island she stayed for short periods working on her work when not in London. She regards this period as the birthplace of her work and from there she has continued to work fully as an artist. She is now based in Sydney.

WALK_FURTHER_IN
Walk Further In by Monique Lovering

 

Steve Salo (@stevesaloartist)

Steve Salo is a contemporary painter, best known for his emotive portraiture. To see a Steve Salo portrait is to feel. He’s poured his tender heart into it, toiled with the complexities of his mind and expressed his soul with every stroke of the canvas. It can be a painful process and it can be divinely beautiful or somewhere in between. Look closely at a Salo: Is this the artist’s truth, the subject’s truth or your own truth that you are feeling? Salo is an explorer. In creating his paintings, he has extraordinary patience for working things out. Often it is the imagining of a picture that takes the most time; hours, days or weeks of pondering and unravelling as he sits capsuled in his couch in front of the easel. Then, when ready, the painting flows out of him in an inspired frenzy. Other times he might just add a stroke then return to the couch to review the evolving image and plan his next move. The magic moments are when he touches the canvas and the painting “paints itself”.

Man Ruminating by Steve Salo

 

James Greco (@jamestgreco)

James Greco is a Brooklyn based painter and sculptor whose work is a continued exploration of improvisational mark making that in turn, develops into a narrative abstraction. The work flows as pure without emotional or intellectual constructs or concepts -the marks leading to the discovery of the picture that lies between the gestural and referential. His work is collected both in Europe and the US. Using traditional oil paints, epoxy resins, house paints and other mixed media, his abstract variations range from small explorations on paper to largescale paintings.

Where is Her
Where is Her by James Grecco

watercolor abstract painting

Turn, turn, turn

The influence of the changing seasons on humankind has been an inspiration for artists, poets and musicians for thousands of years.  We can go all the way back to the Book of Ecclesiastes to find references to life’s cyclical nature:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

If those words sounds familiar, it’s because they were popularized by the Byrds in 1965 in the flower-power infused melody Turn, Turn, Turn, a song originally written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s.

6. Summer 8   30x30
Summer 8 (2015) | 30″ x 30″ | Mixed Media on Panel

Fast forward to today and contemporary, abstract artist Liz Barber finds herself moved by nature’s transitions. In a recent correspondence with Barber asking her about the impetus behind three new paintings we added to the gallery, she had this to say:

“My newest paintings reflect the changing of seasons and nature as influences. I am captivated by organic shapes, perfect in their form. Elements in nature are transforming all around us. This is where I draw inspiration. I look to capture the season’s transformation, the drama and experiences that take one’s breath away are the result of nature moving in a cycle. To cross from familiar to unfamiliar to new beginnings, my paintings are the passage from one state to another. Moments are captured from the past and are as fragile and changing as nature itself. Combining memories and nature provide a decadent ballet of movement and transformation.”

When you look at these three new pieces, Barber’s description immediately comes to life. They each perfectly embody and evoke the seasons they represent.

modern art
Autumn Light (2015) | 48″ x 48″ | Mixed Media on Canvas

See these pieces and more of Barber’s work on her gallery page.


Shepherd Strings

I see a correlation between the notion of diversity and abstract artwork. Diversity, at its core, is about difference and about the understanding of difference, respect for difference, the appreciation of difference and the benefits of difference. Abstract artwork is, by its nature, diverse and does not dictate explicity to its viewer what it is. As such, it enables the viewer to extract her or his own interpretation. Some will be moved, some may be left cold. Some will be certain in their explanation and find meaning, others will see nothing. Some will generate the most profound, intellectual concepts whereas others will stop at an aesthetic appreciation of color and form. Abstract artwork generates a cognitive, perceptual and emotional chain reaction in its viewers.

In her series The Chase, Taylor Thomas has provided her viewers with ample room for diverse opinion, thought, reflection, debate and discussion. The series, like any great body of work, is held together with some common threads, while each pieces has it’s own individual identity.  This is certainly true of Shepherd Strings, which we feature today. In her poem of the same name, Thomas throws us some breadcrumbs so we can piece together the beginnings of a trail as to the evolution of this piece. She tees us up with just enough information to get our neurons firing. The combination of words and image are the perfect platform for us to retire to our favorite chair, stare out of the window and contemplate our lives, our direction, our faith and what grounds us.

Shepherd Strings by Taylor Thomas

Hem me in,
behind and before. It is too late,

and I stare blankly, like I am going
to get somewhere by painting
with my eyes. Sheer white washes
collect, however; small
drops from bucket to bristles

to canvas. I am expanding
forms, recalling the way
that blankets billow
as they grip the wind
and smear the sky.

I am the wide shape-
shifting blues–how they run
away and after,
[nearly] dissipating, as they do.

Thank God for lines
that reel us, raw
and crisp as they disrupt, but
always perfect. They are always
predicting where to linger

just enough.
To keep
an eye on moving masses:
a nightlight for the lost.

Shepherd Strings (2014), mixed media on canvas, 60″ x 48″


contemporary landscape painting

Beyond contemporary landscape paintings

To observe Xanthippe Tsalimi’s work and see landscapes is to appreciate her work on a single, superficial dimension.

As human beings, we learn from an early age to cluster objects into groups. This helps us make sense of the world but by doing so we miss the nuances and the intricate details. As small children, we would be overwhelmed with so much complexity if we didn’t simplify to the lowest common denominator. Thus, at three years old we don’t learn about a high-backed, upholstered, dining chair, we just learn about a chair. As adults, when we look at art, we can’t help but do the same thing and look for something we recognize. When we spot something familiar, we feel reassurance. We quickly want to make sense of what’s in front of us, rather than sitting with the ambiguity. We want to apply meaning rather than living in a world of uncertainty.

To reach deeper levels of insight about ourselves and her paintings requires us to fight against our natural instinct to converge on the landscape explanation when observing Tsalimi’s work. To feel rather than look, to imagine rather than describe, to contemplate rather than to solve is to appreciate and be moved by Tsalimi’s work in a much more profound, substantial way.

In this recent body of work, we witness Tsalimi taking risks and being more vulnerable than in the past, while reassuring us with a degree of familiarity. Take for example, Down On Earth. What’s familiar is the exquisite proportions that are a hallmark of her work. Less typical are the three pronounced, contrasting bands of color that keep their own distinct identifies rather than partnering calmly with each other. The greatest departure in this piece is the explosion of deep umbers, ochres, and rusts, color seldom found in her work. These are made even more vivid and impactful by the darkness of the band above and the muted, understated grey tones at the top of the painting. Down on Earth conveys messages that are at once subtle and explicit. This piece literally cascades with emotions. Mood is such a strong feature and central tenant of Tsalimi’s work and this piece challenges us and how we are feeling multiple times over.

Down To Earth
Down To Earth (2013), Xanthippe Tsalimi

In paintings such as The Line, Two Worlds and Second Impression, we experience transcendence between the known and the unknown, between the outer core and the inner sanctum and between the exposed and the hidden. The runs in these pieces offer us a way to find a connection between the two halves. But it’s a fleeting, fragile connection. The two halves dance with each other while keeping their distance, tip toeing into each others’ space without ever fully committing to one another. The titles of these pieces beautifully reinforce these dichotomies.

Two Worlds
Two Worlds (2015), Xanthippe Tsalimi

Tsalimi is at her most vulnerable in Inner Self. We witness only brief moments of stillness that are synonymous with her work but, for the most part, this piece portrays a storm of swirling emotion imploding on itself, twisting deeper and deeper into a void.

To love and be moved by Tsalimi’s work is to devoid ourselves of all preconceptions, to move beyond our first thought of “contemporary landscape paintings”, to halt our search for reality and to just be.

Tsalimi’s show Dreamscapes, featuring more than 20 of her works, is opening on May 14th, 2015 at the prestigious Athens Art Gallery in the Kolonaki neighborhood of Athens, Greece. It’s her second solo exhibition at the gallery.


My Crying Pieces

In today’s 48 Minutes, Chantal Van Houten, a specialist in contemporary figurative artwork, opens up about her recent series of evocative paintings depicting the faces of people crying. What’s striking about these paintings is that the subjects are almost expressionless.  Take away the stream of tears and their faces give little away about their states of mind. They are not contorted in agony, despair or sorrow. There are no grimaces or frowns. That is the strength of Van Houten’s work. The power is in the interplay between the muted color palettes and still faces contrasted with the opaque, oily black lines of tears.  It’s the subtleness against the stark that makes us react to her haunting work. Below, Van Houten gives us her view on the importance of crying in society and shares the inspiration behind her painting, Desolation.

“The world is crying, and everyone, at some point in their lives, cries for something. Whatever the situation, the reason for the tears is always personal and always about a difference we would like to see.”

I have been thinking a lot about this today and I really felt the need to express myself and share my perspective on crying so that people realize and understand the significance. In some countries and in certain cultures, crying is discouraged and repressed. It’s seen as losing face. That makes me sad because being prevented from crying or stoping yourself crying is not human. Being able to cry and let the world see your tears makes you the most real, the most pure person that you can ever be. In our tears, there is no hiding and it’s the most intimate moment you can have with another living being. Crying brings people together, it gives us a sense of solidarity and makes us touchable, even cuddly. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to express yourself in this way and to connect to another person so deeply when you cry.

Perfect Environment 1
Perfect Environment 1 (2015). Acrylic on panel, 23.6″ x 23.6″

Recently, I have been working on a collection of paintings that show people crying. I wanted to give each piece a political or cultural message as well as making a general statement that when you see someone crying, there is always an emotional message being communicated through their tears. Being able to show your emotions is a good thing. It’s a way for people to get closer to each other, to (re)connect, to care again and to rethink certain situations. When we feel each other’s emotions and care about another person, that’s an interaction. Reminding ourselves and pointing out that we are emotional human beings that can connect and care for all kinds of people could save the world. Black, white, gay, straight, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Catholic, Jewish, whatever. It’s just not important. Important is being able to show, share and care about our own and others’ emotions.

Desolation by Chantal Van Houten

Desolation
Desolation (2015). Acrylic on panel, 19.7” x 15.7”

I wanted this piece to be about religion. I’m an atheist but sometimes I wish I could be a believer because it makes life more endurable when we experience certain events, like death for instance. If you believe that you will meet your loved ones again, that everything will be beautiful and you will meet God or some other such deity, what a comfort and relief that would be. Unfortunately not for me, I’m just not that kind of a believer but I think it’s beautiful that people are and that it gives them something to hold on to; a foundation.

Today there are some religions that are experiencing heavy weather. It is so sad when people make terrible misuse of their religion. It affects those being true to their faith and they become the victims of the religious misusers.

Desolation is about a Muslim man who is going to desolate his beliefs because his beliefs, which are good and pure, are being wrongly associated with all the horrific acts happening in the world, carried out in the so-called name of religion. For him, his religion is his grounding, his foundation and only a good thing. That’s why he is crying for it. Through this painting, I want people to think about this matter, care about the people who are true and honorable to their beliefs and feel his emotion.


Truth and Dare

In her new series of work, The Chase, mixed-media artist Taylor Thomas has produced a collection of abstract paintings that function as if they were words in a [run-on] sentence. For each piece in the series, Thomas shares some insights into the inspiration behind the painting through her poetry, while giving viewers the emotional and cognitive space to apply their own interpretations. The concept of enabling a dialogue between artwork and viewers is a fundamental philosophy of Thomas’s. Rather than imposing her own definitions, Thomas wants a conversation to ensue when people see her work.

Today we feature the exquisite Truth and Dare, a beautifully balanced painting which powerfully and dynamically juxtaposes the exposure of negative space with bold flashes of searing color.

Truth and Dare by Taylor Thomas

Bend me over,
form my arms
to reach around the irony:

I’d rather get than give
to stars,
and hear what dreams they’re dreaming.

For though I give
my wish and wants, though I
ask and keep repeating,

I bet they house
a truth I’ve yet
to dare, to risk believing.

Truth and Dare (2014), Mixed media on canvas, 48″ x 30″


photograph human face

Even An Igloo Can Be Strong

NJ: When I interview artists, I like to bring together my two worlds of psychology and art. As well as giving people insights into your work, through this interview I want readers to gain a deeper understanding of you, your background, your values, what drives you and what matters to you. I believe that the more the audience knows about an artist, the more meaning they can derive from that artist’s work. With that in mind, can we start with your background. Tell me about your upbringing and early years.

MM: I was an only child until I was 12 when my parents adopted my sister. My parents were very religious, so I went to church on Sundays and church camp. This wasn’t my decision; it wasn’t left for me to decide. My parents told me I had to be a Christian; my dad was the pastor and I was home-schooled until third grade. Church taught me moral values and I met some really good friends there but it screwed with my head. I realized recently that I didn’t make decisions for myself. I didn’t have a choice; I couldn’t say, “I don’t believe in this.” At 15, I rebelled in all the usual ways, drinking, smoking cigarettes, getting into trouble. I moved out as soon as I could at 18.


MM: My parents weren’t happy together. They were very disconnected and did their own things. My dad very depressed. He isolated himself and felt that nobody cared about him or loved him and that the church didn’t understand him. He put a lot of that on me. It was hard for my dad when I moved out. I had a boyfriend at the time and he would stay at my apartment because his parents were drug addicts. My dad would drive by the apartment and see my boyfriend’s car outside. He told me, “If he doesn’t stop staying at your house, I won’t pay for your college any more.” My response was “Ok, I’ll just get married then.” The next day we went to get the paperwork and were married later that week. I was 19 at the time and it wasn’t a good relationship. He was very dependent on me but I still wasn’t able to make decisions for myself. I was at community college but I had no real goals. He said, “Lets have a baby” and I got pregnant two months later. I had to stop school because I was working full time and had a baby on the way. I always wanted to be passionate about something but I never had any direction. I was never told I was good at something. My teachers at school thought I was depressed. I couldn’t spell or write well. I think I’m dyslexic.

NJ: You were dealing with a lot at a relatively young age. What outlets did you have away from all this? Did you have other people in your life that you could talk to or confide in?

MM: No, not really. I was alone a lot. I had a friend who was like an older sister at the church. I confided in her that I had been drinking and smoking weed and she told on me. The church was very judgmental. By the time I was 18, my mum was severely depressed. She’d go to work, come home and go to bed until my dad went to work. My parents got divorced when I was 22. My dad relied on me for emotional support and I said to myself, “Fuck you, I’m not going to do this anymore.” We still have a lot of friction.

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Melissa’s recent tattoos which match some of the symbols in her work

NJ: As a teenager and as you made the journey into adulthood, what was your view of yourself. What was your self esteem like?

MM: At school, I was always the nice, funny one; the class clown. I liked to make jokes. I didn’t take things too seriously but I didn’t make my own decisions. I also saw myself as a hard worker and that I could take care of myself. Five months into my first pregnancy, my husband cheated on me. It really messed with my head. Someone from the church came over to counsel us and said Christianity is all about forgiveness, so I just forgave him.

NJ: With all this going on, and with a  sense that you weren’t in charge of your own decisions, did you have any view about the job or career you wanted?


MM: I was working at Michael’s, the arts and crafts store, as a manager and got good pay for that. I took care of my three kids and tried to take care of my husband. He had drug problems the whole time we were married. Every now and again I thought, “maybe I’ll go back to college.” I originally wanted to be a high school teacher or maybe a doula. I did a lot of pottery in high school and college. I really liked doing it but I didn’t have any examples around me of people who had done anything awesome. I had a lot of sad people around me. I was stuck in a marriage that I didn’t realize I was allowed to leave. This was my life; I was depressed and drinking a lot. My fun thing to do was go out with my friends, get drunk and dance.

NJ: I’m really eager to know, what was the turning point?


MM: My sister-in-law got me a job at a coffee shop in a cool part of Portland. I met really cool people, including Jesse (Reno). People liked me. The customers were so involved. They got their coffee every day and I could talk about whatever I wanted. I had one customer say to me, “What are you going to do about it? You need to go to a counselor.” Then my husband did some things that were totally horrible and I came home one night after being out and I said, “I’m done.” I had no plan.

MM: I remember seeing Jesse paint a mural at the cafe. I didn’t look at him and think, “I could do that” but I saw that people can just paint, it doesn’t have to be your job. I was home so much at night and after I put the kids to bed I’d drink or watch TV. One night, I decided to paint. I used house paint and no brush. I just poured it on. I felt like I was doing something, making something. People at the cafe asked me the next day what did last night and I told people them I painted.

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One of Melissa’s early works from when she first started painting

NJ: How did your confidence and sense of worth grow at this time, given everything you had been through?

MM: My confidence grew when I started working at the cafe. When I left my husband I realized I could do whatever I wanted. He used to put me down about my painting. “Why are you doing this? It’s ugly. You made a mess.” My sister-in-law was supportive of me, especially during the last year of my marriage. She was so supportive of my painting. Jesse has also played a big role. We became friends at the cafe and helped each other make decisions by telling each other the truth instead of diluting it with what we thought the other person wanted to hear. I remember our first long conversation and I told him things that I had never told anyone. It was just so easy and we told each other all these things you probably wouldn’t say to a new boyfriend or girlfriend. That was such a cool part of our relationship; we were friends first. Jesse has been a full time artist for 10 years but he just pulled out a painting and let me paint on it. He is amazing to watch. He wouldn’t tell me what to do. We just painted together. At the same time, we bought the cafe I was working in, together with an investor and another partner. I was working in the cafe and painting as much as I could. I started posting my work on Instagram and for my birthday, Jesse set up my website. I wouldn’t be here without him.

Collaboration with Jesse Reno
Melissa and Jesse working on a collaboration (Photo credit: VanEarl Photography)

NJ: It sounds like everything was starting to move in a really positive direction and was coming together for you?

MM: It was but that May, my business partner dissolved the LLC and fired me from my own business; he kicked me out. The cafe had been a huge part of my transition and I felt so helpless. I remember saying to him, “You are taking my most important things away from me.” We called the cops and they told us we’d have to take him to court. The day he kicked me out the cafe was the day I was going to my final divorce hearing. I learnt so much about how horrible people can be. I’m generally over-trusting. At that time, the cafe was more important than painting. It was doing well and making money. After that, I didn’t get another job but started painting more and painting became more important to me. Then Jesse opened up his gallery-studio, which wouldn’t have happened if we’d still had the cafe. I started understanding more about painting and was painting 40 hours a week but I didn’t know who Basquiat was until about a year ago. I just knew the likes of Van Gogh. I never went to galleries.

NJ: Did you start sharing your work with other people as you painted more?

MM: Instagram has been huge for me. In Portland, I’ve been going to show people my work and I emailed one of the biggest Outsider Art galleries in Chicago. They emailed back and said they really liked my work but they weren’t taking new artists. I have been lucky. I look at other people’s work and I can see how my work is good. I paint a lot. Pretty much I can pay my bills from it at this point. I help Jesse out with his gallery-studio. He lets me use all his equipment. He encourages me. My dad and mom, despite the issues we’ve had, have been very supportive of my artwork and are happy that I am happy.

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Melissa at work in the studio

NJ: That’s fantastic. How has your work been evolving as painting has become your primary focus?


MM: I am trying to do what I want to do. I’m not just painting more of what people have said they like about my work. I am trying to be in the moment. I really like making this brush stroke right now or using these colors right now. I don’t want what people say they like about my work to define what I am doing although I do want Jesse to like my work. This is the only thing I have ever had for myself. I’ve always done things for everyone else but this is the one thing I have for myself. I am trying to evolve as myself, not based off other people.


NJ: Do you want to go back to school and take art classes or do you want to evolve and grow on your own as an artist?

MM: I am going back to pottery studio. I’m really excited about that but I have no desire to go back to school. The best way for me to learn is to just do it.

NJ: Have you noticed your work changing at all in the last year and if so, how?


MM: Yes, I have been working on a lot of abstracts in the last month. I had two big ones and I sold them almost right away. I feel like that’s going back to where I started by breaking glass and making a mess. I really like doing faces and figures but the abstract work has been a nice break from that. I was getting caught up in making faces. There is no plan though. I may do these crazy abstracts for a while and then go back to the faces and somehow bring the two together into one.

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One of Melissa’s recent abstract pieces. 3 Months (2015), 36″ x 36″. Acrylic, oil pastel and pencil on wood

NJ: When I first saw your work, it fell into two camps. On the one hand there were the faces and figures and one the other hand the structures, buildings and igloos.

MM: I was just speaking to Jesse about this. I always liked architecture, shapes and angles. I was sitting in our studio and there was a big house across the street and I said, “I know, I’ll draw this house.” It was a wonky-looking house. That started it. As for the igloo, it just appeared. I never set out to draw an igloo. I was just making shapes and then painted over part of the piece and discovered the igloo. Once the igloo appeared a few times, I started to think about what it makes me feel. Obviously, I’m painting it for a reason, so why? It’s something small and cozy but it’s temporary and made of ice and snow. It’s shelter. When something is temporary but needed, like my marriage, I held on to it for too long. It’s about realizing what’s temporary and what’s not. I had a lot of friends I had to get rid of because they were bad influences or didn’t get me and what I was doing. I believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe that’s my view because I can make the best of what happens. Losing the cafe was hard and it was temporary but without it I wouldn’t have moved on. In a similar way, When I’m mad at a painting, I put ugly colors all over it and it makes me move on. With my paintings, there are many layers under a finished piece that are temporary but needed.  There could be a really amazing part of a painting that I base the entire painting on and then at the end I paint over that part. But without it being there during the process the entire painting would be different.

Happy Igloo
Happy Igloo (2014), 25.5″ x 21″. Acrylic, oil pastel and pencil on wood

NJ: I find that so interesting. We often associate something that’s temporary as not always being positive but you have found a link between impermanence, necessity and the good that can follow. But at the same time, it seems like you don’t start your work with a specific, intentional concept in mind. Rather, the process is iterative and the meaning can come after. As you continue to paint, what’s your definition of success as an artist?

MM: I’ve been struggling with that recently. The main thing now is to be able to support myself and pay my bills. I’ve always lived month to month. I’ve never had money. I’d like to be able to relax and have the money. Success would mean being able to paint all the time and not to be stressed about monetary things. I’d like to have a home, be happy and paint. I have these temporary highs, “I just got a show,” “I just sold a painting” but this can mess with you because it’s temporary. In the long term, I just want to be able to be home with my kids and show them this can be done.

NJ: I can completely identify with the temporary highs. I have experienced the same feelings with the gallery. As you think about your journey, what are you most proud of today in terms of what you have achieved?


MM: I think my biggest achievements are making decisions for myself and doing something I really love. I never thought I would be here. It’s unbelievable but it’s not luck. I made the decisions along the way. I could have chickened out several times. I’m proud that I allowed myself to be me and I just did it.

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Melissa painting in the studio (Photo Credit: VanEarl Photography)

NJ: What was the feeling like of selling work internationally for the first time?

MM: Really weird. I put my work on eBay and one guy bought six pieces. It’s turned out to be the same person who had bought work from Jesse when he started painting. There is a guy in Greece that has bought about 15 paintings and I recently sold a painting in Israel. They found my work online. They were so nice and sent me a picture of where it is in their house and they like the fact that it came all the way from Portland. The relationships I have built with people through all this has been amazing. I never thought I’d be talking to you. I have sold 100 pieces in my first year as a painter. No one tells you that you can do that.


NJ: Based on your experiences, what would your message be to a struggling artist that is finding it hard to break through?

MM: First, you have to like it. I’ve met a lot of artists and some of them don’t even like painting. You have to like it and do it all the time. You have to be willing to sell your work for less. Letting go of your work is important so it’s out there and lets you make more. People expect thousands of dollars for their work straight away and then they don’t sell anything.

NJ: Is there one painting you are particularly proud of?

MM: A really transitional piece for me was Stone. I love that piece. I have it hanging in the studio. It was an igloo for a long time. The white part of the eye was an igloo. It was one of the first faces I did. It happened so quickly and felt so good. I like the way it looks. All the firsts in a new style give me a rush; when it’s something completely new that no-one has ever seen from me before. I had a psychic reading and she saw that I was an artist in a past life a very long time ago and that I’m able to do this because I have some experience from a past life. I don’t know if I believe it but it’s interesting. What if you are pulling stuff from the past you know nothing about? Maybe you are remembering something you forgot. Like a dragon, I have tough scales. If I hadn’t found painting and made decisions I would be stuck in my old life or something worse. Painting has saved my life be it my spiritual or actual life.

stone
Stone (2014). 21″ x 22.5″. Acrylic, oil pastel and pencil on wood

NJ: Our blog, 48 Minutes, is all about busy people with demanding jobs and full lives taking 48 minutes, the average commute time for a New Yorker, for themselves. What would you do with a spare 48 minutes?

MM: I rarely have 48 minutes. I enjoy listening to music. I’ve been trying to make it a point to bring new music into my life. That and journaling and writing out my thoughts. Giving myself time to think about one specific idea. I’d like to think through something rather than just floating between thoughts. Just being able to concentrate and actually think. My three kids are constantly talking to me so having time to think without having to answer their questions would be nice.

NJ: What’s one thing you want to achieve or do in your life that you haven’t yet done?


MM: I’d like to be able to travel more. I’d like to go on a vacation; backpacking through Europe and being able to really enjoy it and see stuff. Eventually, I’d like to take my kids with me and relax. I just want to be able to chill out. I’m getting better at it. I want to say to other people, to my friends, if you want something you can do it. You just have to do it. So many people think about what they want to do but don’t ever do it. Ego can play such a huge role so you have to keep it in check. A lot of my friends think, “Oh Melissa’s a painter now” but I am still the same person. They got the wrong impression. It’s important for me to keep my ego in control.

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Melissa with her three gorgeous children, Emma, Scarlet and Devin

NJ: When I left the world of psychology after almost 20 years, I struggled with my identity. After I started the gallery and I met people, they’d ask me, “What do you do?” I found myself saying, “I used to be the MD …..” Finally I had to have a talk with myself and own my new life, which I am loving. So finally, how much of your identity is wrapped up in you being an artist?

MM: I do feel different now. It’s confusing for me when I meet people. They see me as a painter and I don’t know how to react to that. I put myself down. I’m learning to accept it without thinking I’m a superstar. People used to introduce me by saying, “This is Melissa, she has three kids” but that doesn’t define me. It bothered me when people introduced me that way. I remember a woman from the cafe, she is in her 80s and she went back to college when she was 75. She asked me, “Who are you?” and I didn’t have an answer. I’d like to spend time thinking more about who I am, what I’m trying to do and my purpose.

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Her expression says it all. Passion found! (Photo credit: VanEarl Photography)

We have over 20 pieces of Melissa’s work available in the gallery.

__________________________________________

NJ: Neil Jacobs, Owner & Curator, The Road Gallery

MM: Melissa Monroe

 

 


contemporary painting

The Chase

Today marks the official release of a new painting by Nashville based, mixed media artist Taylor Thomas.  A Parent Piece (pictured above) stands as an official beginning to a new series of paintings, The Chase. Below, Thomas describes the concept behind the new series and shares a poem she wrote in response to A Parent Piece, which gives us added insights into the intentions behind the painting.

“While every piece inevitably takes on a unique, visual and conceptual focus, I envision these works to function as if they were words in a [run-on] sentence. Image-by-image, they will string together a story of pursuit and attempt and reaching. Just as A Parent Piece responds to a painting that came before it (Tower Over, Tuck Me In), the next work will pick up where this one leaves off, whether in the emotive force of a shared stroke of orange, or a concept strewn through an unending line. To where will the chase continue? To whom will the story speak? And will the sentence end with another beginning, if it should choose to end at all?”

 

A Parent Piece by Taylor Thomas

I love to exercise a childlike mind: asking,
requesting, wanting–to specify
my imagination’s musings.

At the tipping point–slipped
between the seeking, and the receiving
–are answers that rattle
expectation. I try to remember

My parent here: my pursuing,
giving, responding piece
–with arms like gutter-guards
and eyes that turn me

into my best, and not
onto my specifications.


Behind The Rhinestone Mask

The art of film-making is alive and well in Jeanie Finlay’s new feature-length documentary ORION: The Man Who Would Be King, which has its world premiere on Friday, April 17, 2015 as part of Tribeca Film Festival. In today’s 48 Minutes, we share the unbelievable story behind the film. You may have to pinch yourself, twice.

British artist and documentary filmmaker Jeanie Finlay has long been fascinated with stories that peek under the surface of popular culture and the machinations of the music industry, or stories that explore just how important music is in our lives. Stories like The Great Hip Hop Hoax about two Scottish chancers who faked their way to a record deal by pretending to be American rappers; Sound It Out about the very last record shop in Finlay’s home town of Teesside or Goth Cruise, a documentary about 150 goths taking a cruise in the sunshine to Bermuda.

Finlay’s latest film ORION: The Man Who Would Be King explores a roller coaster tale of the Nashville music scene in the wake of Elvis Presley’s death; a story of deception, a quest for success, a search for identity and a tragic conclusion.

The story starts in Tennessee in 1979 with this report on the country music talk show Nashville Now:

“There are many that believe that Elvis is still alive. If he is alive he wears a mask and goes by the name Orion.”

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Twenty six years later in Nottingham, England, Finlay was wandering through a garage sale with her husband and unearthed an obscure album by an artist called Orion. It’s on the Sun Records label, limited edition gold vinyl, guy in a blue rhinestone-studded mask on the cover. No songs she’d ever heard of, but that cover… She wondered who that mysterious masked man was.

“I took the record home, put it on and within seconds the mystery deepened. Whoever this guy was, he sounded exactly, and I mean exactly, like Elvis. Except these weren’t songs that Elvis ever recorded, and there was no mention of the King on the record. But it was on Sun Records and there was this odd story on the back sleeve about a guy called Orion Eckley Darnell and something about a coffin, and a book. Most of all, though, there was this mysterious man, standing hand on hips, with his perfect raven hair and sta-prest trousers, in a blue rhinestone-studded mask with the voice of Elvis. Just who was this Orion guy? What was his story? I had to know more.”

What Finlay discovered was one of the strangest stories she’d ever encountered. Even if you’ve never heard of Orion, you probably know about the ‘Elvis is Alive’ myth.  Finlay uncovered that the story of Orion is source of the myth, and here it is.

In the marketing offices of Sun Records, maverick producer Shelby Singleton came up with a plan to utilize the incredible pipes of Alabama singer Jimmy Ellis, a voice which was both a blessing and a curse to the singer. Ellis had found it hard to get a solid foothold in the industry because of the similarity of his voice to Elvis’, a similarity that was wholly unpracticed. Jimmy didn’t try to sound like Elvis, he just did. That made it hard for any record company to use him.

Singleton had already tried one tack, dubbing Jimmy Ellis’ vocals uncredited onto the Jerry Lee Lewis tracks in the Sun catalogue, releasing the recording under the name of Jerry Lee Lewis ‘and friends’. He’d leave it up to the audience to come to the conclusion, if they saw fit, that it might just be a previously unheard recording from the depths of the Sun vaults. After all, that voice sounded just like Elvis.

But it wasn’t until Singleton came across the intriguing novel Orion by Georgia writer Gail Brewer Giorgio that the stars aligned for Jimmy Ellis. Gail’s book told the story of how the world’s greatest rock star faked his own death. As a character, he wasn’t a million miles away from a certain Memphis-dwelling King. It was a fantasy that could so easily be true. A fantasy that could be made true.

In a move that Singleton himself later described as “part madman, part genius,” Sun Records put a mask on Jimmy Ellis, rechristened him Orion and unleashed him on an unsuspecting world. In Ellis, Singleton had ‘the voice’, and now he had a book that gave him a name, and a backstory. Borne by his incredible voice, Jimmy Ellis as the masked and rhinestoned Orion, gained the success he’d always craved, the women he’d always desired and the adoration of screaming masses.

“Everyone wants a mask to hide behind if they fail. But If I succeed … who am I?” Jim Ellis JR, son of Jimmy Ellis.

In the midst of a growing identity crisis, the deception of living a lie for five years became too much for Ellis and he self-destructed, ripping off his mask and thereby tearing up his ticket to fame. What came next would be even more tragic….

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Finlay’s feature-length documentary ORION: The Man Who Would Be King revels in the manipulative schemes of the music industry, the truth and lies at the heart of Jimmy Ellis’ story, the allure of fantasy and the eternal search for identity. The story of Orion proves that fact is indeed ‘stranger than fiction’. Her film tells the story behind that story.

Tickets for the world premiere of ORION: The Man Who Would Be King, at 6pm on Friday, April 17 at Bowtie Cinemas Chelsea are available through the Tribeca Film Festival website.

You can find out more about the documentary here.


Behind The Portraits: Part Two

We are currently hosting an online exhibition of photos taken by Daniel Jack Lyons for HealthRight International. The series, Portraits of Resilience, documents the lives of individuals and communities touched by the work of HealthRight. Limited and open edition prints from the series are available to purchase. Here are the remaining stories behind these incredible photographs.

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Home in Time for Naming in Arghakhanchi, Nepal
Sapara Rana went into labor ten days prior to this photo and delivered a healthy baby girl at the Khana community health post. Unfortunately, Sapara suffered from postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) and was rushed 200 kilometers away to the nearest hospital with emergency care. Globally, PPH is the leading cause of death during pregnancy. Luckily, Sapara recovered quickly upon reaching the hospital. She was happy to return home just in time to celebrate the naming of her newborn daughter. Since 2009, HealthRight has been working with the local health system in Arghakhanchi to reduce preventable maternal deaths due to complications like those experienced by Sapara.

 

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Skilled Birth Attendant at the Khilji Clinic in Arghakhanchi, Nepal
Jamuna Shrestha has been working as a skilled birth attendant (SBA) at the Khilji health post for over five years. She recalls one of her first deliveries in the facility and its profound impact on her. Early one morning, a woman experiencing contractions arrived at the clinic with her husband. Jamuna was the first person to greet her and, after an initial examination, admitted her to the birthing center. The woman, however, was uncomfortable delivering at the facility and, when the doctor stepped into another room for supplies, she bolted and ran from the facility. Jamuna quickly chased after her and was able to convince her to return to the facility where the woman later delivered a healthy baby girl. Jamuna realized that day that her job at the health post must begin with educating the community.

 

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Waiting for the First Embrace in Arghakhanchi, Nepal
Sita Gaire went into labor three months early. She arrived six months pregnant at the nearest HealthRight-supported facility, where she gave birth in a safe and secure environment. The baby was born underweight, a common result of preterm birth, and placed under critical observation upon delivery. Luckily, after careful attention by service providers, he was deemed healthy soon afterward. In this photo, Sita is waiting for nurses to return from the neonatal unit with her son, so she can hold him for the first time.

 

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Community Health Volunteer in Arghakhanchi, Nepal
After nearly losing her grandchild to an umbilical cord infection, Krishna Maya Thapa realized how little her community knew about neonatal care. This life-changing experience had a profound impact on her. Soon afterward, multiple women in her community approached her to share their own experiences with neonatal complications, many of them fatal. Krishna was moved by their stories and took action by becoming a community health volunteer. Trained in a HealthRight facility in the community of Khilji, Krishna now conducts weekly trainings for pregnant women and young mothers on a myriad of topics related to maternal and child health.

 

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Assisting with Asylum in New York City
After 9/11, psychologist Rachel Lee was deeply disturbed by the US government’s use of torture at Guantanamo Bay and other detention sites. When she learned that psychologists had played a role in torturing prisoners at these sites, she was appalled that the American Psychological Association (APA) did not declare this unethical. She withdrew her membership from the APA in protest and joined a group of like-minded psychologists who organized to speak out against the inaction of the APA. At that same moment, she inquired at HealthRight International about volunteering to help survivors of torture and violence. Since 2008, Rachel has worked with HealthRight’s Human Rights Clinic to conduct psychological forensic evaluations for international survivors of torture, a critical step in seeking asylum.

 

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Seeking Asylum: From Pakistan to New York City
While under surveillance by the Pakistani government for publicly advocating for women’s rights, Dr. Seema suffered a brutal acid attack and numerous other types of torture carried out to punish her political views. She was lucky to make it out of Pakistan alive, but even after arriving in New York, her struggle was far from over. HealthRight stepped in to arrange for Dr. Seema to receive physical and psychological forensic evaluations. These helped support her claim for asylum, which was successfully granted.

 
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Tania and Yura: Street Involved Youth in Kiev, Ukraine
Tania and Yura met on the streets of Kiev. Tania grew up in an orphanage after her mother lost parental rights due to severe alcohol abuse. At 18, Tania was released from the orphanage and returned home, but soon found that her relationship with her mother was irreparable. After leaving her mother’s house, Tania began a life on the streets of Kiev where she quickly began abusing substances. The HealthRight outreach team encountered Tania on the street and referred her to the HealthRight drop-in center. Tania began visiting the drop-in center regularly for substance abuse counseling, reproductive health education, and HIV and STI prevention. Tania also received legal assistance to register her residency in Kiev so she could access health care and other state services. With support from these resources, and from Yura, Tania feels stable enough to visit the drop-in center less frequently, staying in touch with the HealthRight social worker for occasional advice.

Yura was born in a small village outside of Kiev. As a child, he began running away from home. At 16, he came to Kiev in search of a job and a better life. He began working in a small cafe in Kiev, washing dishes and cleaning in exchange for a small wage and a place to sleep. He spends his free time on the streets with other runaways and homeless youth. Like Tania, Yura first came into contact with HealthRight through an outreach worker who referred him to the drop-in center. Yura drops by regularly for legal support, sexual health counseling, as well as food and a shower. Both Yura and Tania have attended HealthRight’s HIV and violence prevention trainings, and they appreciate having care that they can access together, as a couple.

 

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Olena: Street Involved Youth in Kiev, Ukraine
After graduating from university, Olena found a job and rented a house in Kiev. However, a violent conflict with her mother sent her on a downward spiral, during which she lost her job, struggled to pay her rent and found herself in situations where she was at risk for HIV and hepatitis. Olena sought care at the HealthRight drop-in center where she received free HIV testing and counseling. She began to meet regularly with the drop-in center psychologist and also enrolled in the empowerment training program for women who have experienced violence. Over time, she began to feel more emotionally stable. When the military conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine, Olena felt motivated to make a positive difference. She joined the Ukrainian voluntary army and became a medical assistant in the Luhansk region. She returns to the clinic on her days off to visit her counselors and friends.

 

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Mother and Son in Kiev, Ukraine
Tania and her two-year-old son live in her mother’s apartment in Kiev, without any support from her child’s father. The living situation exacerbates Tania’s fraught relationship with her mother, who is an alcoholic. In June 2014, Tania was frantic, resigned to a life on the streets, and on the verge of abandoning her child. With no experience of a positive family life, and unable to balance work with motherhood, Tania felt ill equipped to care for her son, who was growing quickly and required attention and resources that she was unable to provide. Then a friend suggested she visit the HealthRight drop-in center. There, she found guidance to help her improve her relationship with her mother, find a job, become more independent, and learn to better understand her son and his needs. The drop-in center psychologist counseled Tania in setting boundaries with her mother, and in setting goals for herself. Tania is now a waitress in Kiev and has saved almost enough to move out of her mother’s apartment. She feels more independent and confident in her ability to take care of herself and her son, whom she loves more than anything.

 

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Mother and Daughter in Kiev, Ukraine
At age 18, just after finishing high school, Ricka gave birth to her daughter. She has made sacrifices to meet the demands of being a single mother, such as forgoing her hopes for a college education. A friend referred Ricka to the HealthRight drop-in center, where she received psychological counseling and enrolled in an empowerment training program for women who have survived violence. Ricka also meets regularly with a social worker who offers guidance on child development and parenting practices. Ricka is a regular visitor at the drop-in center, and she is well liked by the staff and other clients.

 

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Katia: Street Involved Youth Sitting in Kiev, Ukraine
As a child in west Ukraine, Katia had great hopes of pursuing a job in Kiev and living independently. But when she moved to the city at age 20, the job she had hoped for fell through, and she was forced to sleep on the street. She began experimenting with drugs and was constantly on the brink of homelessness. Another street-involved youth recommended the HealthRight drop-in center as a safe place to get something to eat or take a shower. After a number of visits, Katia was encouraged by a social worker to participate in an HIV-prevention program, which helped her become aware of her past behavior that exposed her to HIV. She quickly requested HIV testing. The immense relief she felt upon hearing she was HIV-negative inspired her to make drastic lifestyle changes. After several individual counseling sessions with a psychologist, Katia decided to return to her home in the west, and HealthRight purchased her train tickets. Before she left Kiev, Katia was a huge help to the HealthRight outreach teams, bringing them to previously undiscovered locations where street-involved youth slept and spent their time—one of them being the warehouse where this photo was taken.

 

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Dr. Buhusal in Arghakhanchi, Nepal
Dr. Buhusal wraps up another day at the Khana community health post in Arghakhanchi, Nepal. He is new to the clinic and hopes to see large-scale improvements to pre- and postnatal care. By tracking serious or fatal maternal health complications, HealthRight is exploring the strengths and weaknesses of the health care delivery system as it concerns women and children. With this information, HealthRight will work with partners like Dr. Buhusal to expand on strengths and address weaknesses in order to avert complications and protect mothers and babies across the district.

 

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Officer Arthur in Kiev, Ukraine
Officer Arthur Rainsh has been a community police officer for over seventeen years. He has drawn upon his extensive experience to train other police officers on ways to best serve their communities. This is difficult in Kiev, amidst a high tide of street-involved youth, drug use, and domestic violence. At the Criminal Police Office for Children, Officer Rainsh has developed and implemented several series of trainings to help fellow police officers understand the structural barriers that street-involved youth face daily. With HealthRight’s help, he has been able to develop an intersectoral manual of best practices for police officers and other service providers. Officer Rainsh has devoted his career to identifying ways to improve the lives of street-involved youth.

 

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Safer in Kiev, Ukraine
With the increasing presence of Russian separatists in her hometown in eastern Ukraine, this mother began to worry for the safety of her son and daughter, both of whom are under ten years of age. One afternoon in the summer of 2014, she was driving to pick up her children from school when she heard a bomb go off nearby. She quickly turned on the radio and learned that a factory had exploded only blocks from her house. Without a second thought, she picked up her children and drove straight to her parents’ house on the other side of town. That evening, she and her children boarded a bus and left for Kiev, where they moved into a camp for internally displaced people. In this camp, she met HealthRight outreach workers who provided her with food and child care supplies, and referred her for medical care, and social and legal services at the drop-in center.


Behind The Portraits: Part One

We are currently hosting an online exhibition of photos taken by Daniel Jack Lyons for HealthRight International. The series, Portraits of Resilience, documents the lives of individuals and communities touched by the work of HealthRight.  Limited and open edition prints from the series are available here.

Below are the incredible, inspiring and touching stories behind ten of the photographs.  Check back next week for the remaining stories.

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Awaiting Delivery in the North Rift Valley, Kenya
Salina Kangogo has traveled 150 kilometers to the maternity waiting home at the Ortum Mission Hospital built by HealthRight. Her first child was delivered at home, as is common in her village. Her second pregnancy was more difficult. After experiencing abnormal pains, she consulted a community health worker who explained the increased risks and encouraged Salina to go to the hospital in Ortum where she could safely stay until delivery. Salina went, despite superstitious rumors from her friends. Shortly after arriving, she went into early labor and doctors discovered that the baby was poorly positioned and becoming distressed. They moved quickly to deliver the baby through Caesarian section and, despite some complications, Salina gave birth to a healthy daughter named Lineth. Now, Salina is pregnant with her third child, and has no doubts about moving to the maternity waiting home for care throughout her third trimester and delivery.

 

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Traditional Birth Attendant in the North Rift Valley, Kenya 1
Lucy Kapechwa, a traditional birth attendant in the village of Lelan, Kenya, is on her way home from work. Lucy was trained by her mother to attend births in the community, and now Lucy is teaching her own daughter to do the same. In order to address high instances of maternal death in her community, she is now working with the local clinic and HealthRight trained and supported Community Health Workers to broaden the traditional responsibilities of a home birth attendant. In addition to delivering babies in homes, Lucy can also bring mothers to the clinic and combine the modern techniques of trained nurses and doctors with her own extensive experience attending births.

 

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The Community Mobilizer in the North Rift Valley, Kenya
Michael Agwala was born in West Pokot, Kenya and was raised in a nomadic community that is known to walk hundreds of kilometers in search of water and pasture. Due to his upbringing, Agwala has a unique ingenuity for community organizing and implementing community empowerment projects at a grassroots level. Since 2010, Agwala has worked for HealthRight as a community mobilizer, interfacing directly with community health volunteers, traditional birth attendants, and health facility staff to promote HealthRight-affliated maternal waiting homes. Agwala also serves as an essential link between community health workers and the Kenyan Ministry of Health through the facilitation of community-based trainings. In addition to his work, he is currently furthering his education at a local university where he studies community development.

 

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Returning Home to the North Rift Valley, Kenya
Lineth Kipkemoi, 22, has just given birth to her third child. She delivered this healthy baby boy after traveling 150 kilometers to the nearest medical facility in the North Rift Valley. She spent her final trimester at a maternal waiting home built by HealthRight on the hospital grounds, learning about pre- and postnatal health and receiving regular check-ups. This photo was taken on Lineth’s final day at the maternity waiting home, just before taking her son home to meet his family for the first time.

 

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Pregnant in the North Rift Valley, Kenya
Rael Simon, 18, is nine months pregnant with her second child. Her eldest was born three years ago in her hometown of Charangan, Kenya, delivered at home with the help of a traditional birth attendant. Unfortunately, due to complications during birth, Rael lost an extraordinary amount of blood and struggled to stay conscious. When Rael learned of this second pregnancy, she was concerned about delivering at home again. She decided to travel the 200 kilometers to the Ortum Mission Hospital, where she’s been staying in the maternity waiting home built by HealthRight for the duration of her third trimester. This photo shows Rael expecting to deliver at any moment.

 

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Community Health Worker in the North Rift Valley Kenya
Isaiah Cheptarus, 24, is a mentor to the youth in his village and already a well-respected member of the community. Due to his trusted reputation, Isaiah was nominated by a local council to become the Community Health Worker (CHW) for his village. CHWs are equipped with referral privileges and a basic medical kit, and community members can come at any hour of the day to discuss their health concerns and ailments. When necessary, Isaiah makes referrals to the health clinic, and will often accompany them on the 60-kilometer trip to the clinic if they are unable to make it on their own. Isaiah accepted the position of community health worker with great honor and considers this one of his proudest moments. He now dedicates himself to protecting the health and well-being of his community. HealthRight supports approximately 1,000 CHWs who in turn serve 20,000 households in the North Rift Valley.

 

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Traditional Birth Attendant in the North Rift Valley Kenya 2
Roseline Chepengat has been a traditional home birth attendant for longer than she can remember. Trained by a family member at a young age, she has assisted over 45 births. After a fatal incident during delivery involving a client who suffered from excessive bleeding, Roseline began to reconsider how she could best perform her job as a birth attendant. She participated in a training supported by HealthRight where she learned about the inherent risks associated with home deliveries and the importance of prenatal visits for pregnant women. Equipped with this information, Roseline, like many other traditional home birth attendants, now provides an important link to the formal health care system.

 

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Mother and Son in Arghakhanchi, Nepal
Radha Khanal gave birth to her son, Kabita Khanal, two years ago from the date of this photo. She was initially reluctant to deliver in the health post, largely due to rumors in the community about terrible things that happen there. She also felt uncomfortable discussing her pregnancy with male doctors whom she felt could never truly understand what was happening in a woman’s body. One day a female community health worker convinced her to at least attend a prenatal check-up at the health post. When she arrived, Radha was relieved to meet a female service provider who assured her she would be present during the delivery. Feeling more at ease, Radha continued to attend check-ups at the health post until the morning she gave birth to Kabita. Since 2009 HealthRight has worked to improve access to safe delivery services, newborn care and postnatal care for mothers and babies in Nepal.

 

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Donor of the Khana Community Clinic in Arghakhanchi, Nepal
When Dhundi Ram was a young boy, his mother fell sick and spent the last days of her life in a small clinic over 300 kilometers away from their home. Dhundi always resented the fact that his mother had to travel so far for basic services that could have saved her life had they been closer. In 1982, Dhundi donated land belonging to his family for several generations, to be used for the first and only health clinic in Khana today. In the 32 years since, he has visited the clinic every day to check on his investment. HealthRight has helped Dhundi’s efforts to prevent maternal and child fatalities by purchasing equipment for the clinic and by providing staff trainings. Dhundi is grateful to HealthRight for supporting his vision of improving health and safety in the community of Khana. At 82 years old, Dhundi says that he refuses to die until the Khana community health post is transformed into a full-fledged hospital with emergency care and a maternity ward.

 

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Bishal in Arghakhanchi, Nepal
Bishal recently became an older brother. His mother, Sapara Rana, went into labor ten days prior to this photo and delivered a baby girl at the Khana community health post. Thankfully, Bishal’s baby sister was healthy upon delivery, but his mother suffered postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) and needed to be rushed to the nearest hospital with emergency care, over 200 kilometers away. There she recovered quickly, and Bishal was relieved to see his mother return home in time to participate in the naming ceremony for his new sister.

 


I Have A Question

My 48 Minutes by N’Neka Wilson

When I was invited to take my 48 minutes, while humbled, intrigued, and proud even, at first I delayed my submission as I needed ample time to think. Yes, I needed the perfect topic, the perfect stance or thought-process to speak about. Ideally, I wanted to write about a topic that would revolutionize our current perception of mankind; an intriguing idea that would transcend any given boundary and set a ripple effect cascading over all inquisitive minds. I wanted to illustrate through words, an action of paramount significance leaving readers mystified yet enthusiastic, regardless of their accreditations, occupation, industry, and levels of intelligence. And then more than a month went by and I was still thinking. But what if rather than lecture you, I ask you a few questions?

Imagine a stage with one microphone in the front. What if you were asked to walk to the front of the stage, grab the mic and speak? What would you say? Anything? Everything?

Sometimes I wonder if I alone am curious about how the world as we understand it works. For example, how exactly were we able to make a camera capture and replicate an image in a second? How does a fax message pattern a document’s content and transmit it to another number, irrelevant of location? Why do we park in a driveway, yet drive on the parkway? And how exactly does the “Do Not Walk on Grass” sign get placed in the middle of someone’s lawn?

Do these not stump you? Okay, let me go further…

While we live in a world with different people, different cultures, different religions, different values, different upbringings and traditions, different attire, different communication guidelines, and different acceptable mannerisms and explanations to follow, how are we so quick to answer what right or correct looks like? Why do we conveniently forget this reality when we disagree with one another? Furthermore, what validates our initial conviction to begin with? And even when our best intention is to hear the other out, how easy is it for us to armor ourselves with our pre-secured viewpoints?

Ready for more?

Why do we idealize picture perfect figures, yet vilify the media for commercializing them? Racism serves as a prevalent and re-emerging topic, but does it serve as an effective smoke screen for the self-hatred internally present within races? Why do the common insecurities we have cripple us with their venom yet masks our wounds with pride? Why is education dependent on the fiscal capabilities of our economic system? Is it fear alone that has hindered us from knowledge and growth? With so many fundamental similarities and values shared amongst religions, why is it that yours is believed to be authentic and concretely valid while others fall sub-superior? At the end of the day, with so many grey areas identified in this world, how is it so easy for us to believe in only black or white?

Simply, what if we asked more questions and then listened for an answer?

What would happen should we hesitate to lecture another on our self-found proclamations and instead gave ear to others’ thoughts? What if we were to pass that microphone to the person next to us and step back? What would we learn?

That’s my question.

NekaW

 


Everyone Deserves HealthRights

I am a strong believer that access to good quality health care is a fundamental and essential human right. Whatever the limitations of the Affordable Care Act, the goal of making health care available to everyone, is a non-negotiable one.

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North Rift Valley, Kenya

When I moved to the US in 2008 I was introduced to an organization called HealthRight International. This incredible non-profit builds lasting access to health for excluded communities, employing a human rights-based approach and working closely with community partners to improve local capacity and advance the inclusivity of health systems. HealthRight are active in some of the most marginalized and vulnerable populations around the world including torture and trafficking survivors, orphans and people living with HIV.

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Pregnant in the North Rift Valley, Kenya

In 2014, HealthRight partnered with photographer Daniel Jack Lyons on a series of images called Portraits of Resilience. The series celebrates the triumph of excluded communities around the world over disease and discrimination. Excluded populations – including street youth, minorities of all types, drug users, sex workers, and more – bear a disproportionately large burden of ill health and human rights violations in virtually every society around the world. Stigma, misguided laws, and myopic institutions perpetuate a vicious cycle of disease, discrimination and violence that ensnares these communities. These photographs feature individuals who have benefitted from HealthRight’s work in Kenya, Nepal, Ukraine and the USA.

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Awaiting Delivery in the North Rift Valley, Kenya

The photographs will be sold and auctioned at two benefit events, one in LA and one in NYC, with all proceeds going to support HealthRight’s work with excluded population. I am honored to be hosting the online exhibition of Daniel’s work for HealthRight at The Road Gallery until April 30, 2015. Please take a moment to check out these inspiring images, and consider buying one. All the proceeds go straight to HealthRight initiatives.

Over the next two weeks, we will be sharing the stories behind each of the images on the blog.

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Mother and Son in Kiev, Ukraine

 


For The Love of Tulips

My 48 Minutes by Jo Yaish-Shooman, Tel Aviv, Israel

Art dominates my life: I see shades of green in winter leaves, hear bass and treble in the morning traffic, see Fonteyn en-Pointe in birds on a wire. But my one true love – the smell of turps, the feel of a freshly opened tube of burnt sienna, the meeting of brush on canvas – has alluded me for some time. In fact, the last time I painted was the day I found out I was carrying my precious son – almost 7 years ago.

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Since then, life has taken over and this precious son’s needs have become my reason and motivation for this new world of mummyhood. My desire to draw, paint, sketch, hum and strum has stayed with me but on a slow simmer, while I filled my days with the art of changing nappies, making bottles and inventing fairytales.

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Dreams of more children came and were dashed, so in my ache, I turned back to my art – this time with an inquisitive and excited 4 year old boy in tow. Each time I brought a new drawing pad home, he would grab his crayons and scribble furiously and enthusiastically, mad swathes of childish lines and circles. Under my gentle guidance, these turned into heads with legs, then as he matured, bodies, necks, eyes, feet. Now at age 5 and a half, my son draws a person in reasonable proportion and with a small understanding of form and colour.

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Last week, after reading The Road Gallery’s blog on taking 48 minutes for yourself, I found a rare quiet moment one evening when the house was sleeping, to begin a study of Spring tulips languishing by the window in my sitting room using the closest thing to me – his colouring pencils. For about 30 minutes, in the still of the night – just me, my paper, my eyes and my heart – sketching, enjoying the light on the crimson petals and shading the tones of orange, red and purple. I left it half-finished on the table and went to bed.

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Jo’s initial drawing of tulips

The next afternoon, after work, school, dog walking, and cooking, I came into the sitting room and saw my little boy, intense in concentration, continuing my sketch on his own. I saw his sweet little face as he looked at flowers, then down at the picture and scribbled and drew. I sat quietly beside him, watching. He noticed how I had combined yellow and green, how I had used crossed-hatching, how I had pressed down harder to create a stronger colour. He turned to me and ask me how he was doing. I looked at his work and said, in complete honesty, “It’s beautiful my darling, just beautiful.”

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Her son’s continuation of the drawing

48 minutes of utter joy.

Jo is the owner of IdoArt, a boutique, online store selling unique baby and wedding gifts and silver fingerprint jewelry. Check out her beautiful products here


Onassis To The Rescue

For many years, drawing was part of my daily practice until it drifted off in favor of jumping directly into painting and sculpting. Even when I did draw, transcribing sketches into paintings was never part of my process. I view both mediums as singular and separate pursuits. I had almost abandoned drawing completely until it unexpectedly re-entered my life last summer. In July 2014, I underwent surgery on the lumbar portion of my spine. A double laminectomy and double microdiscectomy were performed on the L-4, L-5, and S-1. After this delightful surgery, I spent innumerable hours lying in bed and on the couch. It was during this time, and with the foresight and encouragement of my girlfriend, that I began to draw again.

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Recovery Drawing Onassis 10

Drawing and obsessive viewing of soccer matches dominated the waking part of my days, and much of the first few months of my recovery. Initially, I only scribed Onassis drawings. Over and over, these drawings poured out by the hundreds. I was in to the fourth and fifth weeks of recovery before I began to embrace the non-objective side of my process that has dominated my oeuvre. I was unconscious of this until many months later when, with the help of my girlfriend, I began to analyze this happening.

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Recovery Drawing Onassis 5

I discovered that the repetition, rules and structure of the Onassis drawings provided me with comfort in the wake of the vulnerability of my situation. It was during this down time that I began to understand the role that the Onassis pieces play in my work as a whole. Just as Jacqueline Onassis is a contradiction in her own right; i.e. fortunate and tragic, the Onassis pieces are a contradiction to the rest of my oeuvre. For something to exist it has to have a contradiction; the color black is the contradiction to the color white, the sky is the contradiction to the ground. Through this discovery I have come to the conclusion that for my work to exist I must make these Onassis pieces, I must have the contradiction. The Onassis works contain structure and rules whereas my other work is lawless. They rely on each other in order to be effective.

Discover more artwork by Joseph O’Neal. They will also be featured in our Art Sale on Sunday February 22nd, 2015 in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.


Know Thyself

I was recently interviewed by Catherine Conlan for Monster, a global online employment solution for people seeking jobs and the employers who need great people. The topic was 5 things HR still wishes all job candidates knew. My musings are at No. 5.

With over 20 years of experience working with executives, leaders and managers, I have completed hundreds of assessments with people being considered for new roles and promotions. I have profiled and coached a diverse range of individuals in world renowned organizations from CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to Bomb Disposal Experts and from General Counsels to Police Chief Superintendents.

I continue to be amazed by the poor insight many candidates have about themselves. Time and time again, I wish they had better self-awareness; I wish they knew themselves better. Candidates can often pull a few headline insights out the bag but once I probe deeper, I’m startled by most individuals’ inability to talk more profoundly about themselves, what really drives and motivates them and who they are at their core. I hear the same trite, overused values trotted out time and time again but, so often, candidates struggle to articulate what’s really unique or different about them. I think this is due primarily to a lack of rich, deep self-reflection. Furthermore, I think it’s hard for people to step outside themselves and look back in.

My advice for anyone going for an important interview is to take some time in advance to really get to know yourself. Take some time to think through your personal story, go back to your early days and reflect on family dynamics, the roles you played growing up, the interests you had, the lessons you learned and the values you were taught. Ask the honest brokers in your life to tell you what they see in you, what they love about you and what frustrates them about you. Think about you at your best and at your worst; what have you learned from experiences at these two ends of the spectrum?  Then try to get specific. Think about what’s really distinctive about you; what differentiates you from other people?

Research tells us that individuals with deep emotional intelligence have a rich and nuanced self-awareness. Since we look at life through our own experiences, attitudes, perceptions and biases, it’s hard to fully understand others and the dynamics of relationships without knowing ourselves first and realizing what we are bringing to the table.

If you’ve yet to practice the art of self-discovery, I’ll leave you with this quote attributed to Greek philosopher Socrates:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

You can read the full article on Monster.

Discover more blog entries at 48 minutes.