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By Shu-Ju Wang
Above, a corner of Susan’s studio with various complete and in-progress work.
Susan Gallacher-Turner is fascinated by shape-shifters. Characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, stories from Native American traditions, or even looking out the car window where faces appear in the distant hills and trees…these are all sources of inspiration for her boxes, repoussé work and aluminum window screening sculptures.
Susan is a bit of a shape-shifter herself…
Wait, did you say aluminum window screening?
Yes. Lets talk about that, it is a bit unusual. Although Susan did not start out intending to create sculptures with aluminum window screening, she now does much of her work with that particular material. Previously, she had been working with beadwork and fabric and was trying to create a painted fabric piece that needed to be shaped and formed. After trying various methods, she hit upon the idea of using aluminum screening to shape the fabric and brought it in to consult with her sculpture instructor.
“Why are you bothering with the fabric?” was the instructor’s response.
Once Susan let go of the fabric, it all came together and she started working with the screening material more and more, and she hasn’t looked back.
One might call aluminum screening sculpture X-treme Handiwork. Instead of holding a silk handkerchief and slowly building an image thread by thread, Susan holds a giant piece of aluminum screen in her hands as she slowly and gently pushes into the material to create a form. There are no molds or drawings, she just holds the material in her hands and starts pushing. The nose comes first, but only barely at the beginning. The first round of ‘pushes’ creates the sketch, if you will. Once the sketching is complete, she then goes back and pushes again, to deepen the definition. The process is slow, as once done, it can not be undone; Susan is careful to not over-push it.
As she works, if appropriate, she also starts to shape the entire piece into a form that can stand up by itself. Again, all by pushing and shaping with her fingers. Slowly, the aluminum screening transforms into a human face, an eagle, a lion or a variety of other half animal, half plant creatures. Then Susan paints the sculpture. Coats and coats of paint are needed for the colors to finally built up and be visible on the mesh material. As she paints, she watches for where the material needs more definition and she returns to pushing again.
Back and forth, back and forth, until she’s satisfied with the form, the colors, and the balance. The standalone pieces stand up by themselves indoors; outdoors, they do need some support so that they don’t blow away.
Now, where were we? Oh, yes.
Susan is a bit of a shape-shifter herself — she’s a professional writer, and for those long time readers of this blog, you know that she has contributed much to this forum; she’s also a sculptor of many different mediums, including clay, copper repoussé and, of course, aluminum screening.
To see Susan’s larger and smaller sculptures (many are jewelry pieces), visit her studio during Portland Open Studios on Oct 17 and 18, 2009. Susan is artist number 79 on the tour. You can see more of her work at her website at http://www.susangt.com/.
To learn more about Portland Open Studios, visit their website at http://www.portlandopenstudios.com/.
Below, top: Susan’s workbench where she works on her repoussé work. With the copper sheets, she does sketch first and follow the sketch; bottom: The Shape-shifter Polar Bear.
By Susan Gallacher-Turner
Podcast audio interview available at http://www.voicesoflivingcreatively.com
“I have done a lot of different things, but I think that’s the way my art developed,” says Margie Lee. “It’s not just a straight path, that’s for sure.”
Margie Lee’s life path has led her across the country and Europe, and across the fields of geology, literature and art. Margie’s interest in art started in second grade when she tagged along to her older brother’s private art lessons, “I was very encouraged by my brother who was a painter. It was a very rich environment, all the teachers were from the college,” Margie explains. Her early schooling in Bellingham, Washington, was at the Campus School, a lab school associated with Western Washington University.
Margie’s interests grew to include math and science in high school and it was there her path took a turn that led her back to art. “I got kicked out of French class, and put in art which was horrible because all the weird kids were in that class,” Margie laughs. “But I started doing my sketching. I liked to draw figures and fashion illustration. The teacher noticed and said I think you should go into this…so I kept that in my mind.”
Fashion illustration was Margie’s first career choice, but with the advice of her mom, and her interest in science, she went to Western Washington University getting a BA in Geology but right after graduation her path took another turn. “I worked for one day, and I got fired,” says Margie. “So that weekend, some friends and I went to Carmel. It was so beautiful, and I wanted to know who lived here, and they said artists.” That’s when Margie realized, “I don’t think Geology is for me. I think I’d better go into art.
So I started that path.”
Seeing her figure drawing and painting as characters, someone suggested she look into working in costume design. Since there were only a few places in San Francisco that hired costume designers, she took another suggestion and headed across the country getting a job working as a wardrobe mistress in New York. It was there, resident playwright Lanford Wilson, asked her to do the graphics for the theater. That’s when Margie started taking classes at The Art Students League.
“I studied printmaking,” says Margie. “Then I met an artist named Ari and he said why don’t you try oil. I was very frightened of oil but I tried it and I just got hooked on oil painting.” Her classes didn’t lead her to graphic design for the theater, but into the fine art world instead. Margie describes her path, “I had a few exhibits in New York, went back to Bellingham and had some more exhibits, then I won a Purchase Prize at the Anacortes Art Festival and I used that to go to Europe.”
Margie went back to New York after Europe and met her husband, a writer. From there, they went to San Diego, where Margie painted and her husband wrote a book. A move to Boston led her back to college, this time to study another love, literature. After getting her masters in English and American Literature from Harvard, Margie started writing. Making art and writing was a balancing act according to Margie, “It’s hard to do both. Because, all this time I’m doing different jobs to make a living, I could not possibly do both. When I say balance, I mean I’ll do writing for 4 years and art for 3 years.”
Margie’s worked at a variety of jobs over the years including UPS loader, telephone survey researcher, fish cleaner, Burger King cashier and bookstore clerk. But it was her last job that finally allowed her to combine her unique skills. Working at the Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Margie did graphics and art. “I did a lot of charts and maps,” explains Margie. “I mainly wanted to do illustrations for the features section. My art was being used, not in fashion illustration but in this character study way. I did it all from memory and on photo shop. I get them all out of my head, my imagination. You have to have an imagination for that, that’s why they want an artist because the artist can do something they can’t get from a photograph.”
Describing her painting process Margie says, “I start with a blank piece of paper or canvas. I just start putting paint on it, sometimes I have an idea in my mind and sometimes I’m just putting paint on it. I’ll see what’s on the canvas. If I see something exciting, I’ll just go with it.”
It’s her intuition and imagination that fuels her creative process now more than ever. Whether it’s writing poetry, creative non-fiction, painting or her newest passion, video, Margie is involved in characters, words and stories.
This year in addition to being on the Portland Open Studios Tour, Margie is on the board and produced a video about other Portland Open Studios artists. As she learned about how other artists work, she learned more about her own work as well, “It’s just amazing what these artists have in their backgrounds. You’re going into a studio with someone who’s practically spent their whole life on something and what a wealth of information. I was just amazed at the biographies and process.”
While filming artist Bill Park painting, Margie recalls he said, “And now, it’s getting really ugly and that’s just where I want to be.” Margie agrees, “That’s just the perfect point to be in art, to be creative, when you’ve just lost everything and you have nothing more to lose.”
Margie’s never at a loss for work these days, dividing her time between her solo studio work, Five Windows Studio, her poetry and creative non-fiction groups, video work and Portland Open Studios. Margie’s life and art have taken many turns along the way but there is a common thread to her intuitive path, “There are just so many projects that I want to do. As an artist, my number one thing is experimentation and always something new.”
You can visit Margie’s studio and watch her at work next weekend October 17 and 18th during the Portland Open Studios Tour. Tour Guides are available at Art Media, New Seasons, Powell’s and our webiste.
By Shu-Ju Wang
Jason Kappus is full of contradictions. A natural-born story-teller bent on making non-narrative art; a painter who thinks of himself a writer; and a gifted portrait artist who can’t help but create non-objective, abstract work.
Below, Ode, by Jason Kappus
Jason Kappus is a standout in other ways too. As children, almost everyone draws—that’s what we do because we have no other means of visual communication until we learn how to write. And once we acquire the skill of the written language, many give up drawing all together, leaving behind our colorful crayon lines and forms that perhaps only a parent can love.
But Jason wasn’t going to have it that way—before he could write, he dictated children’s action adventure stories to his parents (who wrote them down), and Jason illustrated them. And as a teen, he taught himself how to do portraits using graphite as the drawing medium and fashion magazines as sources . Before long, he was making technically excellent, realistic portraits. But perhaps because he was doing it on his own, without the guidance of a mature artist, he couldn’t take it to the next level. He couldn’t figure out how he could use his technical skills to create expressive work, and without the expressive component, these realistic portraits became an exercise in frustration. Impatient with how-to books and with interest and talent elsewhere, he gave up painting and returned to writing.
After moving to California and enrolling in film school to study screenwriting, he quickly ran out of money and dropped out of school, and found himself working as a lighting technician in the film industry.
It was during this time that Jason started painting again and discovered Elmer Bischoff, an abstract expressionist who returned to figurative work. The trajectory fascinated Jason—he saw in Bischoff’s path a possible way for himself to move forward. That he could use abstraction as a way of learning the painting medium without having to achieve specific goals. That he could return to figurative work with this new skill set.
But that never happened. Jason discovered that he appreciated abstract art, that he enjoyed the ability to express himself with shapes and colors. In abstraction, he finds “…a viewer has no way to judge whether the abstracts are accurate, or even if they are relevant to my initial sketch or thought, that since there is no automatic gauge to judge them by that if someone enjoys them then I have achieved a greater accomplishment.”
And although Jason hadn’t said so, I think that it is not a coincidence that he found success in painting after working first as a lighting technician. After all, the organic, luminous forms in his paintings shimmer like they have been painted with gelled lights. Each scene is orchestrated and colors carefully chosen to pulsate against and melt into each other, creating a beat, a rhythm. Using a time-consuming technique known as glazing, colors and forms are slowly built up with layers and layers of paint until the proper intensity and luminosity are achieved. The images might imply looking up at the sky, peering through the microscope or perhaps looking through dense brush, but glow they always do.
To see more of Jason’s work, visit his website at http://anonymousphenomena.blogspot.com/.
You can visit Jason and 99 other artists during the 2009 Portland Open Studios tour, October 10, 11, 17, and 18, 10am-5pm. To learn more about Portland Open Studios, visit http://www.portlandopenstudios.com. Tour guides are available at New Seasons, Art Media and other retail outlets listed on the website.
Below, a corner of Jason’s studio, with new work in progress and also older, portrait work