We are happy to announce that past contributor Carolyn Lavender from Issue 9 has been selected to showcase her graphite and acrylic drawings at the Tempe Center of the Arts “draw” exhibition. Tempe Center of the Arts states that “Artists were selected by a distinguished panel of community jury panelists including artists Alexandra Bowers, Joe Ray and Sarah Spencer as well as architect John Kane. In a highly competitive process, 11 Arizona artists were selected, three of which will work in studio spaces set up inside the gallery for 12 weeks this summer.” The exhibition will be open from May 25- September 1st. Come check out her work!
Are you in LA this weekend and looking for something to do? We suggest checking out the last weekend of “Connections to the Natural World” exhibit at the LA Artcore Brewery Annex. This collection features the personal responses to nature through various media of seven unique artists, four of those artists being past SR Contributors. Sarah Kriehn, a printmaker, uses nature as a visual framework for intuitive play. Monica Aissa Martinez works to experience and understand nature through human anatomy in her intricately rendered paintings. Carolyn Lavender explores natural preservation while portraying the fake and the real of flora and fauna in detailed graphite drawings. Mary Shindell reframes nature’s geometry and reorganizes its special relationships in her large-scale installations.
This collection is only on view until January 30th during normal gallery hours (12-5 pm Thursday- Sunday). Be sure to admire these artists’ brilliant work in SR. Sarah’s paintings were featured in Issue 10, Monica’s drawings in Issue 9, Carolyn’s drawings in Issue 9, and Mary’s work in Issue 11.
My identity is as a visual artist who is connected to the natural world. I have mostly maintained that connection through my urban yard. A real naturalist would live close to nature, or at least go there regularly. I usually go to my studio. And my work plays with combinations of what I see as real and fake. Such as the drawing Baboon-Baboon, based on a photograph a friend took for me when we were at the zoo, and an object I own. The zoo animals are still wild, but in captivity, which is a situation where something natural is not completely natural.
My yard attracts about as much wildlife as central Phoenix yard can, with the largest mammals being the endless feral cats. Some are strays, but some are true ferals, having reverted back to a wild state. Apparently cats are only 10% domesticated, so it is not difficult for them to make the transition. Last summer when a female and 3 kittens showed up in the yard I decided I was up for another taming project. This is the 4th time I have trapped and tamed a wild cat. Kittens are much easier, though the first cat I tamed was an adult. I had my eye on a pure white kitten who peered at me through the window a few times.
And by luck, he is the one who ended up in my trap. He was one of the wildest cats I have ever trapped even though he was still a kitten. So I named him Feisty, put him in a crate, and moved him into my studio. Having a wild cat in my studio mimics some of what happens in my work, but the cat is real. And it is again a case of nature that is no longer in a completely natural state. Feisty was an extra big challenge in the beginning because he kept hurting himself trying to get out of the crate. Usually cats give in to being in a cage after a day or so, but not Feisty. The cage speeds up the taming, the smaller the space, the faster they tame. The first step in taming is to get the cat to eat while you are in the room. Their motivation to eat is the only reason they can be tamed. I also wrapped a stick in a rag and started reaching it into the cage and petting Feisty with it.
Everything I did was with my protection in mind. He showed aggression many times. He charged the cage when I walked by, attacked the rag stick with his teeth, spit, swiped, and hissed regularly. After 6 days I was able to reach into the cage with a bare hand to pet him at times. But he was still hurting himself, so I released him into the studio early. After a couple days of letting him hide, I blocked all his hiding places, and started over with the taming. It took a couple weeks to get him as tame as he was in the crate. And it took about a month to get him completely tame to me. It is an amazing transformation to go through with an animal. They hate you in the beginning and love you completely in the end. Their love feels like an extra special gift.
The next step was to get him tame to other people. And I needed help from friends and my husband for this. I bought some extra yummy treats that he only received from people other than myself. And lots of people came out to my studio to help with his taming and to give him treats. This eventually worked after really generous help from my friend Monica and her husband.
For the next step my husband and I screened in the porch between the house and the studio to use it as a space to introduce Feisty to our 3 indoor cats. First you allow the cats to smell and hear each other before seeing each other. We also have a security door that allows seeing each other, but not getting at each other. And this is the where we are now. Eventually Feisty will be moved into our house to become our 4th cat. The introduction process can take a couple days, or a couple of months, depending on the cats involved.
It has been 6 months since I trapped Feisty, and he demands quite a lot of attention while I work. I have chronicled his taming on Facebook, and people I see who would normally ask me about my art, are more likely to ask, “How is Feisty?” All cats carry a sense of the wild with them, but for me I think back to what he was like when he was wild, and think about that difference. Here I have taken a wild animal, have gotten to know him intimately, and have turned him into a loving and affectionate creature. What is the place of animals in our world? There are lots of answers and opinions on that. At some point the truly wild animals and places will be nearly gone, and we will need to decide as a whole whether we are going to let them go. This is one of the big questions of my work as an artist. Feisty is a great example of what wild was.
And as an artist I need to have interesting life experiences that I can take into the studio. But in this case, a little white cat is already waiting for me every day.
Phoenix, Arizona is not a place that attracts serious artists the way New York City and Los Angeles do. Some might assume that artists who live there are not as serious as those who re-locate to the important art centers of the world. I admire the artists that make those moves, but at this point it doesn’t look like that will be me. Even though I am living and working in Phoenix, I am very serious about what I do. All the artists I know here are. One of the best reasons for living in Phoenix is that it costs less to do so, and that means more time in my studio. A lot of creative people believe that it is okay to live somewhere like Phoenix as long as you travel. Traveling is interesting, people who travel become interesting, and then they can live in boring place but have interesting things to talk about.
Really, I am not bored when I am at home in Phoenix. There is more to do and experience than one ever could. But spending time somewhere else helps makes things vivid. My current house sitting opportunity in Brooklyn, for an artist friend, is allowing me to experience quality time in a major art capitol.
When I go to an old city I am thrilled by period decoration combined with the patina of age. Like the manhole cover in the basement of the contemporary art space, PS1, in Long Island City.
Also in PS1, is the always-magical Skyspace by artist James Turrell. Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art has one, but each Skyspace is an individual experience. On this day the clouds are smiling at me.
Inside the American Natural History Museum there are endless dioramas. These dramatic taxidermy scenes, that blend real and fake, can be found in lots of museums. But in this museum, there are more, and they are grander. This detail shows a leopard with his peacock kill.
Something I always notice, are mound-like forms, which some very old buildings have at their edges. Usually they are situated on corners, where I assume they are meant to provide protection to the building. This one I found in an alley in the lower east side of NYC.
My last image is a small object that I photographed at The Cloisters, a museum created in the 1930’s by John D. Rockefeller Jr. consisting of re-assembled parts of 5 different cloistered European abbeys. This object is one of approximately 5,000 medieval works of art that is contained within The Cloisters. I have been to this museum before, but on this visit I especially love this object. It is strange and wonderful, but there wasn’t much information with it. It reminds me a little of The Garden of Earthly Delights, the painting in Madrid, that I have been lucky enough to see in person as well.
So I will soon return to Phoenix to continue teaching and making art. And the next time someone asks me, I will be able to say that I recently traveled somewhere important. Which might just justify that I am a serious artist living in Phoenix, Arizona.
On Friday April 5 Superstition Review editors met with s[r] contributors Monica Martinez, Carolyn Lavender, and Mary Shindell to discuss their collaborative exhibition at Mesa Center for the Arts. The exhibition, entitled “Creature, Man, Nature,” explores the formation of bodies—animal, human, and rock—and the voices inherent in each form. When I walked into the exhibition, I was immediately struck by the size of several of the pieces on display. As Carolyn later told me, there is a certain power that comes from artwork that is as big as or bigger than oneself. This was true of Monica’s work, specifically a pair of massive paintings of the male and female forms, hence the “Man” portion of the exhibition title. Monica explained how her intensive study of human anatomy allowed for highly accurate portrayals of bodily structures, as well as a literal frame through which she could explore male and female energies. She challenges the traditional patriarchal energy by including feminine qualities in her male figure (modeled by her husband).
Monica’s pieces, “Body Male” and “Female Body,” draw in the viewer through the visceral anatomic imagery coupled with animal figures. In her painting of a female figure, she includes a snake, which instantly brings to mind ideas of the Christian creationist mythos wherein the snake functions as an antagonistic figure. However, the female faces the snake head-on as an equal, accepting of the snake as symbolic of knowledge, rebirth, and sexual passion. Conversely, the male figure is presented with a cat between his feet, modeled by Monica’s own pet. Her husband trained the cat to walk on a leash; due to this curious skill, the cat connected Monica’s family to the rest of her community, a traditionally feminine quality exhibited in conjunction with the male form. Directly beside Monica’s human subjects, Mary’s digital art piece, “There is a Mountain” is a room-wide print of her backyard view, fashioned on the program Illustrator. 26 layers allowed for the tiny details, such as sage bushes and cacti, to be created on a mountainside of elegant color and texture. Mary had had plenty of experience with her subject, having sketched and painted South Mountain multiple times prior to attempting a digital rendition. As she said, South Mountain dominates the landscape with its sprawling hills, and the size of the print, dominating an entire wall of the exhibition room, communicated the grand scale of the mountainside well.
Mary explained to me the meticulous process of piecing together the different components of “There is a Mountain.” The minor details, like plant life, had to be modified outside of Illustrator in another program, such as Photoshop, so as not to overtax the main image file, and would then be incorporated back into Illustrator as a repeatable symbol. In order to create a soft, rolling effect for the mountain itself, Mary used the gradient feature, which she identified to be her favorite part of the process. As a whole, the intricate and time-consuming details paid off; viewers will be amazed to see the piece both at a distance and up close. The exhibition also benefited from Mary’s input for the lighting. Hanging light sculptures emulate the cacti in Mary’s backyard, functioning as relevant sculptures for the larger mountain view.
I addressed Carolyn’s art last, having finally made my way around the exhibition room. Carolyn’s work focused on the “Creature” aspect of the exhibition title, introducing a variety of animal figures on large panels as well as smaller paper sketches and paintings. She described her love of animals to me as that of childish fascination, a love fostered in her early years and carried firmly into adulthood. Her largest piece, “Preservation Woods,” features animals sketched and painted (acrylic) from photo and taxidermy models onto 10 foam-core panels. Carolyn explained to me how long the piece took to create, requiring 8-10 hours of tracing per panel.
With that in mind, the raw, openness of the piece, fully compiled, hardly transmits the idea of “incomplete” or “unfinished” but of intentional invitation, drawing viewers’ eyes from the broad white expanses of the bottom panels to the detailed shadows of each animal figure. While Carolyn told me that there are still bits that she would like to work on (as with any piece of art), she was pleased with the outcome of her efforts and considered “Preservation Woods” to have been a learning experience, having never worked on so large a scale before this exhibition.
Leaving the exhibition after interviewing these three artists, I felt encouraged to pursue art myself. Each artist approached her craft in a different fashion, and this collaboration no doubt impacted those approaches. I look forward to seeing the future works of Monica, Mary, and Carolyn, and I hope that the exhibition inspires others.
The exhibition “Man, Creature, Nature” is on display at the Mesa Arts Center until April 28.