Art and inspiration in everyday urban elements.

Downtown, our walls and sidewalks tell a story through artful messes—compositions of paint, tar, mortar, chalk, rust, or even beverage spill. There is visual texture beneath my feet—on cobbled streets, nonslip curb ramp treads, bricked walkways. Concrete walls and building exteriors are marked with graffiti explosions or patterned murals. I see city maintenance markings for gas and water lines, warnings for low-overhead parking entrances, or directionals for loading docks. Everywhere: letters and numbers, smears, drips, crackling paint, arrows, puddles.

Electric panel, rust, found in a parking garage stairwell

You might see me standing before walls, iPhone in hand taking pictures of what seems mundane to passersby, but those elements isolated in a photo or reassembled with others on substrate in the studio become something else: urban iconography. And, my unfolding narrative of living and working in Richmond’s urban center.

Tag by Akers and other graffiti, under a bridge in Shockoe Bottom

These are the things appearing in my art and are often posted on Instagram along with my paintings (some successes, some work-in-progress). You can visit that site to see what intrigues me, but there are a few shots tucked into this post. They are reminders that art is everywhere, and can be in unlikely places. Sometimes, they just need the eye of a wandering artist to bring them to your attention.

Not sure what this is–city maintenance mark?

Curious about the cryptic marks left by maintenance crews in your city? You can learn more about what those things mean here.

Creativity, rush, and satisfaction.

My husband said recently that his current job punches more adrenaline through his system than skydiving ever did. Call it what you will—a kind of runner’s high when he beats a deadline or juggles multiple calls and internet portals to resolve a crisis for a client. I get it, but what I feel when I’m onto a stream of something successful with my art is more like that moment when my car moves from potholed, washboard, gravel roadbed to smooth, sloping asphalt. Relief, not wanting to stop, flowing easily to the next thing, and the satisfaction like that from having consumed a warm, zesty meal after a day of fasting. Whatever that is, that’s what I’ve had in the last week when I made this painting…

And then…

And finally this one.

The first two were quicker than the third, and there is a fourth, still a work in progress. Basically, I have found my arty groove.

Note the urban elements in this series of paintings: graffiti, cityscape, motion, light. Think of the stenciled labels in downtown parking lots. The buildings at sunset with their reflections. A train bursting past at just the right (or wrong) time. If I could attach the sound of vehicles blasting down highway overpass, the sirens, and the clip of worker-bee heels on brick walk, I would.

Basic steps:

  • Graffiti-style lettering on white clayboard.
  • Greasing a collage of city imagery down with a layer of cold wax under and over.
  • Swipes of the colors I remember or felt when I saw all those things live.
  • Stencils of random letters (well, the LC had significance).
  • More play with knives and paint mixed with cold wax—blurring colors, swiping away to leave traces, and learning which colors that I like seeing side by side.
  • Leaving mess here and creating more there, then wiping away where I want you to see things.
  • Then walking away before it got muddied.
  • Maybe I went back and dragged texturing tools across areas. Pressed paper in and pulled it away. Patted at the paint with a knife. Did it again.
  • Walked away one last time.

I prefer shine to matte, and plan to wax and polish these for a good finish when totally dry, which may take a few weeks. In the meantime, this weekend’s plan is to recreate the above theme with acrylic media options and see what results unfold.

I’m hoping for a good ride from that, the kind that comes from succumbing to that sensation of easy smears and swipes, the gliding dance from palette to board (or canvas), and the full-feeling in my eyes of radiant color, texture, symbol, and urban iconography.

 

Tools used: paint knives, spatulas, brushes, paper towels, stencils, toothed scrapers, mini screwdriver heads for etching.

Media: Sharpie, Gamblin oil paint, Galkyd gel, cold wax, odorless mineral spirits.

Collage: Newspaper, magazines, postage stamps.

 

Artwork: Wish you were here

Downtown Richmond comprises a small crop of old brick and newer concrete structures, a circle of interstate and train track, and a hook of James riverbank. There’s a narrow canal within and a fair arrangement of low hills surrounding, which one community or another lays claim to as gentrification wars forge on. Walking bridges cross the James to various islands or the not-so-distant shore where deteriorating, abandoned structures remain. And over plush treetops, one glimpses layers of factories with their stacks puffing steam, or office buildings gleaming like jewels in midday sun.

I cannot help but wander among these things daily, seeing something new and notable each time, returning to the studio to recreate the essence of this city. Over and over, photograph the mosaic of buildings where road and trestle rise and intersect. Then, in my little paintings—the play of geometry in colorblock, swipes of line for water or street. The repeated arches of bridge supports. Layers of other materials accrue, like what the passage of time does to old structures.

Oddly, when I make these paintings, I am thinking about my past – but I did not grow up here. Somehow, my memories have become mingled with layers of Richmond experience. The feel of cobblestone underfoot and underwheel remind me of the stone, slate, and brick walks and roads in my hometown of New Orleans. Elaborate, stacked framework around doors and windows. Wrought iron gates and carved balustrades.

So these days, in the art studio, I am working to create postcards to myself—not-quite-mailable memories and impressions of who I am and where I was and where I walk today. My childhood stamp collection has worked its way in—valuable to no one, apparently, but me—and therefore the perfect postage for personal reflections and promises. I cannot say for sure where the paintings will take themselves though.

I have been playing with varied media. The oil paintings were first. Some encaustic experiments next. Cold wax recently. And too, I’ve conducted acrylic explorations with heavy applications of gloss to appear like resin. I found a matte molding paste that when scraped over acrylic and paper speaks of encaustic-like opportunities to add and subtract, to mute and to enhance, to scrape or etch, without the danger of heat or fumes.

We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, here is a creation of bridge, river, and city with acrylic and collage, laid on a slate roof tile (Richmond roofs in the city sport that loveliness as a matter of charming norm). As I made this, I was thinking about the postcard lines “Wish you were here” and the times I have really wanted to say instead “Wish I was there.” If you look closely enough, you can maybe see two photos—a bike on a trail at Tangier Island, and one of our train bridges that crosses the James. The two are nestled so closely and embedded enough in matte paste to appear that the bike is in the water—two ideas that should not converge. Yes, a little self-conflict, but then this is who I am, a  work in progress, as ever.

New business cards. New possibilities.

My new arty business cards came in. Square. Kicky. Emblazoned with my image and stamped with a newly created email address. They radiate opportunity-to-come. There’s something about brand new business cards, isn’t there, and while these don’t fit neatly in a wallet the way some people prefer, I’m enthralled with the idea of  sharing these funky little squares. Yes, the cards are still cards. Still on thick paper. Still not magically innovative. But they are just different enough. My face studies you from them, in a painted self-portrait with lively brushstrokes in warm colors. This is not a traditional airbrushed, posed, professional photo. This isn’t hipster-chic with an ultra-urban, saturated, filtered background. (I’m not cool enough for that anyway.) They are just me. Confident. Contemplative. A bit coy.

In a recent class, my professor said that not having a unified design between site and card looks unprofessional. I have long known this, but had carelessly dismissed the idea in the last round of brand overhaul of my own work. So, as part of revealing my work in progress, I thought I would share my excitement over this one small thing that was part of all the other things: an updated LinkedIn page (expect some tweaks there still), the redone personal site (my former portfolio is stowed away), the focus on exploration of art and self, and the new email address that reflects how I do what I do and not just my name.

Just wait till the Etsy shop I have is stocked and running again! Soon. I’m on to something new at Bonner Brushwork. Check in next week and see what’s going on.

 

 

This is not a portfolio. This is work in progress.

First post on a rebranded site.  Words unfolding, art in itself.

Periodically, I’ll be in a museum, looking at something like one of Mark Rothko’s color fields, which seems simple at first glance. Someone might ask, “Couldn’t you do the same thing?” No, no I couldn’t.

Not the same way, not with the same path, and not the same end result. Creation is a multi-layered process, and within those layers are hundreds of little decisions and hundreds of former paths-gone-down that resulted in the memory of “don’t go there” or “please let’s recreate that moment again.” It’s the essence of being human, too. Are we not where we are as the result of countless personal decisions?

Interpretation of said work is also a complex matter. History is what puts a work in context. What world events were occurring during its creation and prior to the artist’s entry to the studio in that day, much less before that person was born, and what has happened since, determine how we define the work and what we presently find aesthetic.

In the 1940s, Rothko’s color fields were new, revolutionary, modern. This series of work was part of a movement related to Abstract Expressionism and served as a way to move from use of any symbolism or representation. So much led up to that moment that Rothko’s loaded brush pushed against the canvas. I wonder what was going on in his personal life at that time, too. Not that I’m producing anything revolutionary here, but so much has led up to recent hours spent in my studio. You can get a glimpse of why and how in a recent LinkedIn post of mine.

As observers, even the most studied of us cannot really know what all was poured into a work. As creators, we cannot accurately predict what observers will find, not having walked your entire journey ourselves. So what I have chosen, as I find myself evolving, is to explain my process, and to give you snapshots of the critical moments that are going into my work. This is not my portfolio, but my work in progress.

Art has no standard for aesthetic perfection, but there is practice and play, and there is a journey to make. I cannot say for sure where I’m going, only that I know where I’ve been. Follow me. Even better, walk with me.

My little studio space is a work in progress, too. The recent addition of a shelf and paper towel-hanger hack improved function on my flat surface.