Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Supporting the Arts in a Safe Environment for Artists

"Packing up in my studio" ©Mary Montague Sikes
The sad and tragic fire in an old warehouse building in Oakland, California reminds us once again about the importance of safety and vigilance in the life of an artist. Over the years, I have had art studios in several old buildings. I seldom questioned safety or the fire codes compliance situation in these artist facilities. I enjoyed working and showing paintings surrounded by other artists. I liked having an Open House to attend each month where patrons of the arts gathered.

I expected these buildings to be safe. I trusted those who operated them. More than one was a converted warehouse. Others were former school buildings.

Artists need spaces to house their works in progress. They covet places where they can show their paintings, crafts, sculpture, and more. They long for camaraderie, so they often look for and find nooks and crannies inside big buildings often located in "bad" areas of town where they can afford to rent.

"Open House Night" ©Mary Montague Sikes
I read somewhere that real estate people love for artists to invade an old rundown area because they know in 10 years it will be booming. That happened with Shockoe Bottom Art Center in Richmond, Virginia a few years ago. The artists converted an old tobacco warehouse into studios. Each month for the Art Open House, the area overflowed with art lovers as well as with those who enjoyed the refreshments and free (at that time) wine. It was fun and exciting to be there. The old section of the city thrived with the presence of the artists until eventually the real estate people came in and took it away. The artists moved to other locations, some of them to an old furniture store in Petersburg. More studio spaces were built and painted in the old buildings uncovered by the artists, and so a new cycle of development began.

Over the years, I have created a very large piece of sculpture inside an abandoned school building; I have painted in a rundown old office inside a once-deserted building; I have walked along many streets where I felt unsafe. I have stood on a sidewalk where slaves were once sold at auction. People were not permitted to live inside the studio spaces they rented in places I called my art home. I suspect that some of them did. After all, artists keep very strange hours. When they are inspired, they don't want to stop work. In one location, I brought in a little sofa that higher powers made me remove in case I became tired one day and fell asleep there.

I am fortunate because I have a working art studio inside my home. If I decide to fall asleep, no one tells me not to. I have a space in Richmond now in a nice well-kept studio/gallery facility. (Thank you, Jenni Kirby, for making this possible.) The Petersburg building now houses apartments, a beautiful art gallery and artist spaces. (Thank you, Noelle Ward and family.)

Because of my own past experiences, I can understand how the situation in Oakland could have occurred. Artists need affordable places where they can work. They need safe locations. They need patrons for the arts. There can be and should be joy in the creation of art.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Gloucester Arts on Main has First Annual Juried Members Show

"At the Opening" ©Mary Montague Sikes

"At the Opening and More" ©Mary Montague Sikes
The Gloucester, Virginia community should be very proud of its special art gallery, Arts on Main,  Kay Van Dyke, its founder, and all the special volunteers that have made this amazing art facility possible. Currently, Arts on Main has its first annual members juried show on view throughout the month of October. Well-known artist James Warwick Jones was juror. This show follows many other events there, including the annual show of the Virginia Watercolor Society that was beautifully hung and publicized by the gallery.

Gloucester can be proud of this ambitious venture that has brought in artists from all over the area. Besides presenting shows, the gallery holds art workshops and promotes the arts in many other ways as well.

Artists represented in the show will be at the gallery throughout the month of October. Some will present demonstrations of how they create their work. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 12 noon to 5 p.m.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What Artist Workshops Inspire You?

"Fitness Machine" acrylic/mixed ©Mary Montague Sikes
I love artist workshops. I love to take them; I love to teach them.

One of my favorites to teach is "Creating with Texture and Design". The painting to the left,"Fitness Machine," is one of my works of art that has texture built up with acrylic mediums beneath the paint surface. I love the study the way the light reflects on the luscious images that glow in this abstract painting on canvas.

The textured work of Jan Sitts first inspired me. I have followed her painting career for a number of years and finally went to Sedona, Arizona to take a workshop with her there. It did not disappoint. However, I discovered taking a workshop when you are flying into the city is far different from taking one, or teaching it, when driving. I use a lot of different mediums in my work, including thick white gesso, regular gel medium, heavy gel medium, gel with beads, and more. Since I spread these materials on my canvas with a painting knife, it takes a while for them to dry. When I can pack up my work in a car, there's no problem with the still soft surfaces. However, when flying, you need to pack up the work and ship it on the last day. That creates lots of problems and extra expense.
"Bell Rock" ©Mary Montague Sikes

My acrylic/mixed media painting, "Bell Rock," was inspired by the Jan Sitts workshop. So was "Pthalo Mountains."
"Pthalo Mountains ©Mary Montague Sikes

Mary Ann Beckwith taught me to love Yupo as a painting surface. A workshop with Carrie Brown led to broken barriers and greater love of texture. She taught me to use thick gesso in ways I had never before tried. She taught me to adore the square format.

My next workshops will be in Hilton Head, South Carolina and in Gloucester, Virginia. Please contact me at monti7olen@verizon.net for more information about registering.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Tapestry for Peace

"Angel of the Earth and Sky" ©Mary Montague Sikes
"There's a place in space for peace."

That's what the late Eve Mackintosh learned from her vision of an angel almost 20 years ago. I met Eve not long before she died in 2005 and am so glad to have had the experience of knowing her. She inspired me to create an angel panel for the Tapestry for Peace project. Please read all about the project at Notes Along the Way.

Before I shipped my watercolor on linen panel called "Angel of the Earth and Sky" off to Denver CO, I brought it to Petersburg Regional Arts Center to hang for a short while. I couldn't help but be fascinated when I found this photograph from the old days at PRAC because I am standing by the same staircase that now has been so elegantly restored at the Ward Center for Contemporary Art. (See the second photo.) Notice that the floors have been beautifully redone as well.

The Tapestry for Peace project brought together art work from around the United States and elsewhere with the concept of peace. Sadly, Eve's vision of the project traveling around the world, inspiring children with dreams of peace, has not yet come to fruition. Perhaps it will one day. After all, "There's a place in space for peace." Hopefully if will be on planet earth.

Restored staircase at the Ward Center for Contemporary Art ©MMSikes

Monday, July 11, 2016

Visit The Ward Center for Contemporary Art for a Journey Through Time

With Noelle Ward and "Dunn's River Falls II"
When Petersburg Regional Art Center was purchased in 2013 and closed for renovations, I was saddened. After all, the historic old building with all its flaws and woes had been a part of my life for ten years. Before that, I spent a few years as a resident artist in Shockoe Bottom Arts Center in Richmond which was the predecessor to PRAC. When SBAC was forced to close and move, I decided to follow Rusty Davis and Deanna Thomas, the founders, to Petersburg, a community like my native Fredericksburg where memories of the Civil War still lingered.

It was a fascinating time. I watched Old Towne go down following a damaging tornado, then rise up again. I saw original artists disappear from their gallery spaces, and new ones come in to replace them. Soon after Rusty carried a large painting up to the third floor for me (since it was too long for the elevator), he vanished due to illness. His mother was gone soon after, leaving only his sister Donna to carry on. She worked with enthusiasm, but there was a severe sense of loss because hopes and dreams were left in the lurch.

"Monet's Pond" and "Budding Falls" in the Underground
Now the Ward Center for Contemporary Art has opened with a richness of bright, well-lit gallery walls and spaces. I was honored to have a one-person exhibition, "Passenger to Paradise" hanging on the walls of the Grand Gallery for the opening events last summer. The original wooden floors remain in the Grand Gallery as does the historic staircase. The Ward Center has begun its own journey through time with new art and massive possibilities. Hopes and dreams are alive once again. Perhaps the best is yet to come.
"Rose Hall Great House"

Friday, June 24, 2016

Using a French Easel to Paint En Plein Air and Indoors As Well

A couple of years ago, I painted en plein air at the Rosewell Plantation ruins in Gloucester. Construction on the magnificent brick house began in 1725. Eventually, it was described as the largest and finest colonial home in America. Thomas Jefferson did some of his first writing at Rosewell. Sadly, the old mansion burned in 1916. The remains are iconic and a little bit eerie.

For many years, I toyed with the idea of purchasing a French Easel to set up for outdoor painting. Although I looked at art stores and online, I never found one that appeared sturdy and attractive for a price I was willing to pay. After all, with all the insects we have in Tidewater Virginia, I'm not sure how often I will use it. Then I studied easels on line some more and looked once again at the Cheap Joe's American Journey French easel and decided it was the one for me. With the specials and other items I ordered, I was able to get free shipping which always attracts me. Since it didn't ship until Thursday, I was worried I wouldn't get it in time for my Saturday event. However, we seem to have a direct route (with regular shipping) from Boone NC to my home. The two boxes arrived on my doorstep by noon last Friday.
"Painting at Rosewell" ©Olen Sikes

The French easel is even nicer than I expected. I love the convenience of the drawers and compartments. Using Rembrandt soft pastels and a few Senneliers, I completed a pastel painting on the grounds of Rosewell. In my studio, I added a few color highlights to the painting. I still have not tried the Sennelier oil pastels I ordered, but that's a project for a different day.

Now I'm looking forward to another excursion en plein air. At my house, the gnats and mosquitoes are out full force. We were fortunate that insects were not a problem for painting at Rosewell Plantation ruins. 

As for Rosewell Plantation, I wonder if someday a restoration will take place. So much history lies hidden among the ruins.
"Rosewell En Plein Air" ©Olen Sikes
Since my first en plein air excursion at Rosewell, I have used my easel to paint outside New Town Gallery (now closed) and at Prince George Gallery on Jamestown Road in Williamsburg. I plan to paint with it once again this Saturday when we will have a floral still-life set up for the Italian Picnic and Open House at Prince George Gallery.