Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mary Page Evans at VCCA Studying the Way Nature Draws

“I learned by going where I have to go,” says Mary Page Evans quoting Theodore Roethke. “I’ve done this my whole life, and this place [VCCA] fits right into that.”

Primarily a landscape painter, Mary Page works directly from nature--en plein air. She clearly revels in capturing those fleeting sensations of what it looks like and feels like to be outside in the natural world, but her work is also a paean to the act of painting. Mary Page paints with great brio imbuing her work with particular visual animation. This is evident in her line that vibrates with energy and the lushly painted passages of pure, animated gesture. She likes to study “the way nature draws. "

Mary Page has been coming to VCCA each spring since 1991. She ‘s been coming long enough to notice that the boxwoods have grown so tall they’re beginning to obstruct the view. She used to love painting the mustard fields behind VCCA, but then “the daggone expressway came through and took them all out. When you paint from nature,” she says. “You never know when you go back if it’s going to be there or not. Developers keep coming in and taking away your landscape.”

Mary Page likes being at VCCA before the leaves come out because the tree trunks and branches are exposed. “They’re so figurative,” she says. “They’re like dancers.”

Largely self-taught Mary Page has taken classes here and there, most notably the Delaware Art Museum and the Corcoran School of Art. She has been very fortunate in a series of stellar and exacting mentors Grace Hartigan, Gene Davis, William Christenberry and Joan Mitchell whose influence is most apparent in Mary Page’s dynamic brush work.

While at VCCA, Mary Page was working on some figurative pieces in addition to the landscapes. There were long views with the Blue Ridge in the distance and a number of studies of the crabapple in front of the office. She also was reworking a large oil painted previously. Much of the work done during this residency was in preparation for her November show in Wilmington “Trees for All Seasons”.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Avy Claire: Finding the Edges

A professional landscape designer and artist, Avy Claire’s paintings, drawings on Mylar, digital photography and installations are all centered on nature. Much of her work is conceptual, dealing with the built environment and man’s interaction with the natural landscape.

While at VCCA, Avy decided to focus on just one thing, painting, and exploring ways to make the paintings more spare. “While here, I’ve been pushing myself to experiment a lot and play a lot and see what happens. I see something I like and I try to understand what is happening that appeals to me. A lot of the work is spontaneous and I’m trying to figure out how do I recreate spontaneity?”

Avy turned her attention to the brushstroke creating simple yet quite power swirls of pigment in hues taken from the world outside her window. With these reductive meditations Avy was trying to figure out how much is enough. This was challenging, requiring not only acceptance of it by herself, but also the confidence to put it out there in the world.

“When I look at the landscape, I imagine what I see, the land forms, the trees, and sky, as the veil or skin.  I’ve always been interested in the energies and the elements behind that skin. In some of these paintings, I feel like I’m pushing these forces up against each other and the most important part of the painting is that edge where they meet."

Avy relishes the point where contrasting things come together, which is the reason she adds matt medium to the acrylic paint to keep her expressive, juicy brushstrokes intentionally dry looking. “I think I’m always interested in the tension between two things that aren’t necessarily in harmony, but when they come together they create a tension that can only exist with two disparate elements.”  

Avy was in residence for five weeks of intensive work, challenging herself towards an original means of expression. “Through the whole course of the time here some days have been brilliant, some days are oh my God…I fall back into things I know. My biggest drive is to see something new. Always.  I’m painting to see something new for myself and when I do something old, it’s like, no, I’ve seen that before. I want to see something new. So it’s been kind of a push, push, push.” Her efforts were clear in the great quantity of visually spare, yet somehow emotionally charged work she produced.  


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Guest Blog: Joanna Chen, Entry Five


The following is reprinted from Garnet News. VCCA Fellow Joanna Chen, who lives in Israel, is writing a six part account of her residency at VCCA. (All images, Joanna Chen)

I’m sitting out on the front step of my studio, writing and listening to the music of Eileen Edmonds. She was in the studio below mine, and her sweet voice would ring out every day from her front door as I walked by to make coffee for myself in the kitchen we shared.
I watched her one morning, playing her guitar in the middle of the field that leads to the forest. She was in the zone, creating music with a voice as clear as the water that streams down through the forest this springtime. Eileen’s gone, but she’s left me the music she made here on my laptop. Now, I’m listening to her music again, and I miss her.
My time here is fast coming to an end. I’m beginning to get emails about work that awaits me upon my return. Part of me, quite a big part, wants to ignore them. I resent the intrusion although I know that the real world is closing in on me faster than ever. It’s making me aware of every precious hour I have here at VCCA.


My time here is fast coming to an end. I’m beginning to get emails about work that awaits me upon my return. Part of me, quite a big part, wants to ignore them. I resent the intrusion…


A friend told me now is the time to put everything else aside, including all the writing I have done here, and write my heart out — to uncover all the things I have not yet dug down deep enough to find. I thought I had been doing that, I said, surprised to hear this and a little miffed. Now, as I sit here, I think of the words of Walter Benjamin, who talks exactly about this: He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging.” Or a woman. Yes, I must dig deeper through the layers of my life to get to the good stuff.
***
Last night, the visual artist Katherine Kavanaugh showed her work. She dug down deep and came up with a video of a woman walking through the very same field outside my window that Eileen had walked through that morning. The video shows a blurred woman wandering along. Lurking in the background are the rickety towers made by Katherine from old wooden pallets and fallen branches.
The woman’s repeating indistinct phrases as she walks, over and over again. The words, I think, are unimportant. It’s the image that strikes me so — a lone woman traversing a space, lifting her skirts, lowering her head, stepping through grass that grows wild, mumbling a phrase, an utterance that only she can decipher, searching for a way. I, too, am searching for my way here in Amherst, and no doubt I will continue when I return home. I need to think what the words are that I have not yet said, and I need to repeat them to myself, in a loop, until they are down on the page.
It’s difficult. I’m already thinking about home, already checking the status of my flight back, eyeing up all the books accumulated here and wondering whether I’ll have overweight bags when I get to the check-in at British Airways. I am on a journey and the road ahead has never looked longer.
Joanna Chen
In NOTES FROM AFAR, writer Joanna Chen sends us weekly dispatches from Amherst, Virginia during her six-week residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In Notes, Chen explores challenges and advantages particular to women writers, the allure and the reality of leaving her partner and children to write and the importance of personal space as she charts her own creative process in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains far away from her home in Israel’s Ella Valley.
NOTES FROM AFAR is the first in a pilot series focusing on women in the arts and one that we hope will become a regular feature. 


Guest Blog: Joanna Chen, Entry Four


The following is reprinted from Garnet News. VCCA Fellow Joanna Chen, who lives in Israel, is writing a six part account of her residency at VCCA. (All images, Joanna Chen)

This week, after dinner, I present my work to the other fellows. I decided to share work I’ve done here, an abstract piece on trees and homeland, and a new chapter from my book.
The presentation is a joint venture with Avy Claire, a visual artist from Maine who has been here almost as long as I have. Her work taps deeply into landscape, and we both feel a certain affinity.
We take walks together in the countryside around VCCA, and I enjoy seeing the world through her eyes — the invasive plants that have become rooted in the native — and her uncanny awareness of what lies beneath the surface.
I don’t usually have a problem reading. A friend once told me I should imagine I’m reading the back of a Cheerios box, and this little trick still works for me, irrespective of how many people are in the room. This time, however, as I stand there, pages in hand, reading a line about my home in the Ella Valley, the faces of my three beautiful children swim up before me, and I falter for a moment, unable to conjure up that big, bright, yellow box. I clear my throat, apologize and then continue.


I don’t usually have a problem reading. A friend once told me I should imagine myself reading the back of a Cheerios box, and this little trick still works for me…


I’ve never been good at art, but with the help of Avy’s visual acumen, we turn the residency living room into a forest. There’s a sound track of birds recorded at 5am one chilly morning when I could not sleep; there are thin strands of yellow string tied with twigs and tiny bits of satin to represent the red cardinals that we hang together from the rafters after I climb a precariously high ladder, ignoring my vertigo because I want to prove that I can do it.
Together, we articulate through artifacts and words what it means to us to create. There’s a lot of fun in the process, too, and I’ve grown accustomed to Avy’s sudden eruptions of laughter as we work. 
There are two weeks left before I pack my bags and return home. My book moves across the cork board in my studio, changing shape daily as I add another photo, another note, another theme scribbled in felt pen that escaped
It has flown the confines of my laptop and has become a visual entity that breathes and speaks. I will keep adding to it and will eventually write it into the book that, I hope, will speak not just to me but to others.
Last night, I slipped away from the living room earlier than usual, walking away from dinner and conversation with the other fellows and down to my studio in the dark of night. I arrive at my studio door, fumbling with the key in the lock, and open the door. What The Trees Reveal is waiting for me.
********
In NOTES FROM AFAR, writer Joanna Chen sends us weekly dispatches from Amherst, Virginia during her six-week residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In Notes, Chen explores challenges and advantages particular to women writers, the allure and the reality of leaving her partner and children to write and the importance of personal space as she charts her own creative process in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains far away from her home in Israel’s Ella Valley.
NOTES FROM AFAR is the first in a pilot series focusing on women in the arts and one that we hope will become a regular feature.