Lisa Bryson is an established American contemporary figurative painter. In 2017, the same year as earning her Master of Fine Arts in Painting and a Teaching Fellowship from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Lisa’s work was exhibited in the highly competitive Manifest International Exhibition Master Pieces. In 2018 she was awarded the prestigious Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant in painting.
As an artist she respects the nature of her chosen medium, subject matter and approach. However, she is acutely aware that in doing so she may be judged as being out of step with the contemporary art scene, a perception she will keenly refute. She cautions critics not to dismiss figurative work as traditional or purely representational, as contemporary concepts are often present and speak of current culture and experience. Now that experimental conceptual work is no longer new and shiny, and can be judged as a valid approach rather than beating a new path, there is a ground swell of opinion shifting perceptions about contemporary figurative work. Traditional studio practice and conceptual treatise have never been mutually exclusive, and Lisa Bryson’s work is a case in point.
She explains, “The mastery of the past is continually recalibrated into our current visual culture vernacular. Re-interpreting, appropriation are common contemporary art practices, such as, Marko Velk’s The Retriever re-interprets Francis Bacon’s assimilation of Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. These actions are mirrored in my work. Rembrandt, Goya, Freud, Bacon, Schiele, Kollwitz, historical mentors resonate in how I present the psychology of human experience. The work, however, does not reside in the past; content alongside inspiration derived from such artists as Alex Kanevsky, Sophie Jodoin, and Anne Gale ensure relevancy. We can, as artists, utilize the past, while questioning the present to perpetuate a relevant, dynamic visual vocabulary that informs and possibly forms our future.”
Lisa Bryson’s work articulates human experience in a moment of time, pregnancy, birth, aging, and isolation. This is set within the pervasive context of how social media is changing the way we communicate and experience the world. She says, “In an era of high speed, real-time global communication (texting, instant messaging, social media), the art of interpersonal (face-to-face) communication has greatly changed. Public is the new private, and conversation is technology driven. The practice of social networking on portable devices, in common public settings, is the norm in contemporary society. Ease of access informs popular culture; appropriation and reinterpretation are postmodern practices that permeate all facets of society. Lines are blurred. Connectivity in tandem with appropriation is presumed ubiquitous, however, the flipside, if acknowledged, disassociation and lack of true identity also exist. The intent for the work, through direct observation and documentation, is to redefine and challenge societal norms and social interactions.”
Lisa Bryson’s painting express the search for a transient moment of clarity in the milieu of noise. In an interview for the National Association of Women Artists, she explains her intent. “My work fractures the human form, reaches below the surface into the psychological, addressing issues of physical abuse, victimization, isolation and fear. I remain enthralled by the human figure, but am driven to find ways to expand on figurative representation as it pertains to our current trends and contemporary visual culture.”
Imprint Gallery will be presenting four works by Lisa Bryson as part of its Spring exhibition. The exhibition runs May 1 – August 2.
This spring Northwest artist, Karen Abel will be bringing her ceramic sculpture to show with Imprint Gallery in Cannon Beach. Her hand-built and slab-built ceramic structures often reflect homes, agricultural buildings and simplified bird forms. The flat planes of her construction provide a canvas for imagery that is incised and glazed on to the surface. Communicating a narrative is central to her work. Stories often emerge organically from the marks created by the clay texturing process. Groupings of multiple buildings provide a multi-frame structure through which the story can develop, and the interaction of bird groupings serve as a device to reflect human idiosyncrasies.
We wanted to get to know this artist a little better and she was kind enough to answer a few questions, with the resulting interview. Karen will be showing with Imprint Gallery April through June. The Cannon Beach Gallery is open daily, 10:00am – 5:00pm and is situated at 183 North Hemlock Street.
I’m Pacific NW born, bred and based. I’ve been blessed with a life rich in stories of family, friends, neighborhoods and community thus home and hearth themes have always resonated strongly. Houses, windows, doors, walls and stairs are overflowing with symbolism and meaning for most people – whether a protected place or a broken place. My challenge is thus to leave enough ambiguity in my structure’s shape and imagery so that others can complete the story with their own memories and emotions. I may think I have built a simple garden shed until the buyer starts to tell me about their grandfather’s sod house in Nebraska. Rural structures extend the symbolism with feelings of nostalgia and history and are interesting forms to replicate. I tend to be upbeat and enjoy tongue and cheek humor – houses, farms, communities, cul-de-sacs, animals and birds overflow with possibilities.
Your approach to glazing is very painterly…. do you do preparatory drawings or just work directly on the clay?
I keep a sketchbook in which I gather ideas for structure shapes, approaches to color, and drawings of individual elements that become part of the overall image. However, I rarely plan out an entire scene because ideas and stories often emerge out of the texturing process; My work seems best if I can keep the etching and glazing process as loose and spontaneous as possible and not overthink things.
What other artists do you admire?
I love the work of Dennis Campay. This contemporary Atlanta-based artist uses disorderly drawings and marks in his paintings of cities and street scenes. Often a quirky black bull pops up – sometimes next to a phonebooth. How fun it that?
The extraordinary surfaces on the ceramic vessels of Sam Hall and Craig Underhill, both contemporary artists in the UK, humble me and remind me I have a lot of development left in my own creative practice.
Are there any artists or art movements that you feel have influenced your work?
Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky pushed the used of color and line but I am most struck with Klee’s comment that a “drawing is simply a line going for a walk”. I love taking lines for a walk around and around my structures either with incised line or with wire.
Is there recurring imagery in your work? And, is there any special meaning attached to that imagery?
Birds, crows, cows, chairs, ladders and telephone lines crop up often. Birds, especially crows, mimic human idiosyncrasies and thus are great fodder for our own home and hearth stories. Cows have so much expression in their lack of expression that it’s easy to fill in the blank with our own thoughts. Plump little songbirds are sweet until they lined up and become nasty little gossips. I’m attracted to imagery that is often slightly humorous and gives the viewer a jumping off place to develop their own stories – and maybe their own title to the piece.
Can you give a brief description of your technique?
I work out three dimensional ideas for structures using stiff paper templates and a lot of masking tape to hold those shapes together. [Basically, I get to play around with paper houses!] That paper becomes the templates use to cut shapes from very stiff flat slabs of clay. Construction of the clay house is followed immediately with the application of texture by troweling on an uneven layer of moist clay and making marks, scratches and drawn imagery. Colored slip (liquid clay) is also added at this time. After the structure is bisque fired, I rub black stain into the textures and incised designs and apply very sheer glazes. Both these techniques really make the incised imagery pop. I’ll fire the piece two or three times to get the desired color wash.
Dawning Splendor is an exhibition pairing the works of Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley and Mary Alayne Thomas, opening as part of the new program at our new gallery in Astoria. The new gallery will be called Brumfield Gallery, opening in August. Dawning Splendor is scheduled to open September 12, running through October 4. Unsold work will then transfer to Imprint Gallery in Cannon Beach.
Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley and Mary Alayne Thomas are each creating a new body of work for the exhibition, sharing a fascination for wildlife, a similar sense of design within their composition, and spark of magic in their representation of the world. Both paint animals and botanicals to create a sense of myth and fairytale with an Art Nouveau flourish.
Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley’s paintings are rooted in marine biology, ecology and the natural environment, but her approach is influenced by a myriad of diverse aesthetic concerns and storytelling formats. Art Nouveau, kitsch, Asian art, and psychadelia provide visual cues, while childhood nostalgia, fairy tales, histories and an “Alice in Wonderland” sensibility drive the content.
Through experimentation with combining watercolor, inks, acrylics, glitter, sequins and gold leaf, and with this plethora of stimuli, she has developed her own style to depict animals, plants, landscapes, water and a general feeling of lushness. She paints temperate rainforests and tropical plants with psychedelic properties. She explains that, “I’m often trying to create a primordial sense of magic, to regain the feeling of wonder I had as a child adventuring in the mossy Redwoods alone or with animals.”
Where Mary Alayne Thomas’s work differs from Kamala’s is the introduction of the human protagonist. She paints women adorned with flowers and birds, surrounded by animals. These are fairytale women that may well have step from the magical temperate forests painted by her colleague. They are caught in a moment of contemplation and often are pensive. She is rendered as a part of the overall composition, no more important that the flowers and birds in her hair, the mink in her embrace, or bear at her side.
In common with Kamala, Mary Alayne is concerned with relaying a pure an innocent response to nature, drawing on childhood experiences. She explains she is, “constantly inspired by the wildlife, forests and dark beauty of my home in Portland Oregon, and childhood memories of wandering the mesas in Santa Fe continue to compel my work. I strive to capture those magical ephemeral moments we all experience, real or imagined.”
Raised by two full time artists, Mary Alayne began her career early, illustrating children's magazines at the age of eleven. After much experimentation with many mediums, she discovered the harmonious combination of encaustic with watercolor, refining the process to her current technique - a complex layering of encaustic and silkscreen over a watercolor painting. She says, “There is a sense of mystery, a softness that emanates from the floating art forms within the transparent, waxy surface. It creates an atmospheric work, a dreamy ethereal expression.”
Dawning Splendor will run September 12 – October 4, open daily 10:00am-5:00pm, (Closed Tuesdays), at Brumfield Gallery, 1033 Marine Drive, Astoria, OR,
John Westmark’s paintings convey a sound sense of composition and an attention to detail that allows conceptual elements to be seamlessly woven through the narrative without diminishing the aesthetic of the work. By these means he is able to create a subtle intellectual dialogue that quietly speaks of sociopolitical issues and gender.
The context, imagery, narrative and media are all carefully considered. His work comments on the portrayal of women in art from the standpoint of a contemporary male artist and feminist. Aesthetically his work has common threads with diverse genres including: Western formal portraiture; Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints; early 20th Century Russian propaganda posters, and monumental Mexican muralism. These paintings are grounded in art histories, drawing on archetypes to both document and question the portrayal of women, gender status, and power relationships.
He presents his female figures as agents of revolt, stoic martyrs, or fantastical beings. In every instance the identity of the figure is obscured by wraps, bonnets and bound faces. It is hard to avoid parallels with the use of clothing such as the burqa to mask sexuality, especially as the unavoidable “male gaze” remains a disquieting discussion in regard to the depiction of women by male artists. The absence of religious or cultural cues suggests it is more likely a devise to create ambiguity; a void in which meaning is sought through dialogue rather than dictate. The anonymous nature of these veiled entities poses the question of where the privilege of choice, control and power lies.
Much of his current work incorporates store-bought paper sewing patterns applied directly to the canvas - his interest being, “the metaphorical potential of unorthodox materials”. This particular material provides a rich stream of associated themes creating an undercurrent to the main narrative. We can choose to draw on feminist discourse regarding the role of fashion in the repression and/or liberation of women; or make reference to sewing and homemaking skills; or we can admire the nature of the material within the construct of the work as a whole.
Westmark explains that, “By embellishing the garment patterns with custom text from contemporary feminist writing and criticism, a conceptual narrative is created alongside the existing material narrative of imprinted assembly instructions. This added textual narrative disrupts the nostalgic or stereotypical notion of “women’s work” and admits an aggressive feminist dialogue into the visual conversation. The viewer is asked to read both the text embedded surface and the image.”
Remembering John Westmark’s 2014 solo exhibition Narratives, Amanda Breen, Curatorial Assistant at Gibbes Museum of Art, comments that, “it took me longer than I’d like to admit for me to realize these subtle messages the artist weaved into each piece. This realization forced me to slow down and examine each work closely. No longer just figures on the canvas, these small lines of text added to my interpretation of the piece and I eagerly sought out new details I may have missed.”
The strength of John Westmark’s work lies in the nuanced way in which he combines conceptual threads with skilled manipulation of material to create visually engaging paintings. The work would fail if the paintings could not stand in their own right as powerful compositions, provoking an emotional and intellectual response.
John Westmark received an MFA from the University of Florida and a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute. His work is held in numerous private and public collections including the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington DC; Weisman Art Foundation and Museum, Malibu, CA; Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha, NE; Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC; and the Kansas City Art Institute.
John’s work was also selected for the U.S. State Department’s Art in Embassies program. John is the recipient of two Individual Florida Artist Grants. In 2011, John was awarded a Pollock-Krasner grant and was selected as a finalist for the Arte Laguna Prize, Venice, Italy.
In 2012, John was awarded The Gibbes Museum Factor Prize for Southern Art (Charleston, SC). The Factor Prize acknowledges an artist whose work demonstrates the highest level of artistic achievement in any media while contributing to a new understanding of art in the American South. In 2014, John was a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant nominee. John’s work has been featured in New American Paintings, American Art Collector, Studio Visit Magazine, Surface Design Journal and Art in America.