This past weekend I exhibited in the Rittenhouse Square Art Show in Philadelphia. It was the 80th year of this prestigious, originals-only show. The weather goddesses were extremely kind to us and, for three beautiful, breezy and sunshiney days, this historic square in downtown Philadelphia hummed with the energies of diverse peoples and art. I am a Midwestern transplant out here in the Mid Atlantic but weekends like this one remind me that I am exactly where I have always belonged. I love New Jersey for lots of reasons, not the least of which is my one-hour driving proximity to all manner of awesome places…. the ocean, the mountains, the incredible Delaware River, and two great and culturally rich cities–New York and Philadelphia.
Artists come from all over the country to exhibit at this show and being there with my work is both an honor and a humbling experience. There was some really good art there. Really good. Today’s blog will feature the stuff I liked the most because, well, I just liked it the most. I approached these artists on the last day to ask if they would mind me putting them in my blog. They were all as nice as they were talented and I would encourage you to explore their web sites, too. After I took each person’s photograph, I told them to “tell me one thing.” This is a confusing thing to say to an artist, I know, because we are all programmed to begin giving our artist’s statement. I think that the general public loves to hear something “profound” from artists so that they can feel like they have a take on the workings of their brains, their hearts and their souls, but I find that the most interesting things anyone can say are the things that no one is expecting them to talk about. You can read their statements online…. but these are the interesting bits about them that I took from the streets of Philadelphia.
New York state resident, Jenny Pope, is a creative creature researcher (I love that!), a woodcut artist and a printmaker. She has some really amazing works that feature starlings and, as a black bird lover, this is what drew me into her work, which is vibrant and full of the energy of the animals that she renders. But, Jenny is also really, really smart in animal stuff! Like scientist-researcher smart! She began telling me about her upcoming piece which features lemurs and is a part of a series called “Isolation Produces Oddballs,” a look at a natural process whereby certain animals radiate and fill up environmental niches. Radiating sounds pretty cool to me.
I exhibited my paintings at Rittenhouse but those of you familiar with my work know that I am originally a collage artist and so Blair Barbour is a girl after my own heart. Her paper cut work is quirky, colorful, and jazzy but full of the familiar imagery that will pull you right in: Dorothy on the yellow brick road, Ann Darrow in the grip of King Kong, busy cafés along city streets and musicians and singers in raucous lounges. On the morning I shot this picture, her three favorite things were roller skating, yoga and sushi. What I can tell you after visiting her site is that she is also a gorgeous pin-up gal. 😉
I stalked out Sean Huntington, also from New York state, when I saw his name listed right next to mine in the directory below a thumbnail of his favorite painting subject: TREES. Once I see someone who shares my artistic obsession with trees, I start asking them a lot of questions about their process. Some artists don’t like to give away their secrets but Sean was really generous with his information and he is a master of frisket, I must say. His work is very calm and soothing to me and his color choices are right on. He describes himself as a “botany freak” and told me that his favorite flower is a rose called New Dawn which was the first patented plant. I bet you didn’t know that.
Loren Rosenstein from D.C. is one of the most cheerful artists I’ve met. Her art is cheerful, too. When I look at her work I see someone who is in love with color and shape and who can take something as simple as those two things and bang them up in new and exciting ways over and over. I liked her a lot because I got the sense that she doesn’t take herself (or her art) too seriously and I feel the same way. When I asked her to tell me the one thing, I was delighted that she didn’t hesitate for a second and never even began to give her artist’s statement. She said, “You know, as much as I love painting, I love cooking more. Cooking is immediate creativity and it’s a socially acceptable addiction!” She even makes her own ice cream which sounds complicated to me but she assures me it is not.
And, since I am talking about color and shape, meet Tom Hlas from Philadelphia. He creates these wonderful and whimsical paintings on wood which completely fooled me into believing they were encaustics. He was eager to talk with me about mediums and gels, which are what he layers to create the illusion of encaustic paintings (though I did not get the impression that imitating encaustics was the intentional objective). We also talked about social media and how this can really work for an artist and I am happy to report that we are now Facebook friends. You would never know it from looking at his contemporary work but Tom is an avid knitter who makes traditional, handmade lace shawls that he doesn’t sell but gives away to friends and family.
I have been a Cloth Paper Scissors junkie ever since last year when I started subscribing to the magazine and I have a whole new appreciation for the true mixed media artist and a newfound love for people who work with fabric. Ilene Pearlman’s art is sweet, funky and full of a million little bits of goodness to look at. She resists being categorized as a fabric artist and likes to think of her work as “paintings,” but I absolutely love their fabric-ness and told her that if she gets in touch with those folks over at CPS, they are gonna love her so much they’ll wanna eat her right up and tell all their international subscribers about her–and they will all feel exactly the same way.
Virginia pastel artist Lou Gagnon has worked with Wolf Kahn and I adore the work of both of these men but find Lou’s livelier and brighter (don’t tell Wolf). Lou also owns a flower farm in Gainesville which I am sure is a lot of real work but must provide him and his family with a charmed life. Before moving to the farm to be a full time flower farmer and artist, Lou was an imagineer for Disney and was one of the team member’s for the Mission Space exhibit at Epcot center.
Michel Delgado is from Senegal but makes his home in Key West. I interrupted his breakfast to take this picture and he was very gracious. Describing his own work as “naif” or “brut,” Michel is undoubtedly accustomed to having curious questions asked of his imagery that I personally found to be, perhaps, the most compelling at the show. He was quick to give me his artist’s statement, which is a beautiful one: Art is a conversation I have with my heart. But, can I tell you that what you will notice about Michel when you begin having the first words of a conversation? He smells wonderful. He laughed when I told him that and then described a blend of essential oils that were made by another artist which he puts on a piece of paper in the dryer with his clothing. Michel’s work will be jarring to some but I’m sure this doesn’t bother him. He said this “originals only business isn’t for sissies” but what good fortune that “our product never spoils, never gets stale, never goes bad.”
Finally, there is my artist friend Patricia Walkar. Her booth was busy and crowded all day and I had to wait until nearly closing time to get her shot. She lives in Haddonfield and we see each other every year at the shows we both do. She paints on silk and you really have to see the gentle beauty of her pieces in person to appreciate them. I ran up to her and took this picture along with her “one thing” in about 15 seconds. Her one thing to tell me? “It’s been so much fun, I can’t wait to be here again next year!” Right on.
TRY THIS WEEK: Support the arts. Support artists. Buy handmade things when you can. Teach others the value of beauty and the importance of the conversations of the heart.