Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Gina Elliott Proulx, Photographer, Tells Her Story

I went to college much later than my peers. I was in my mid-thirties as I sat in visual journalism classrooms at the University of South Florida, in St Petersburg. I'd like to say that the reason I often overthink things is my somewhat recent foray in higher learning. But the truth is, I've always spent more time within than without. Which is odd, because there are many who consider me gregarious and outgoing. But those who spend more time with me, know that only comes in fits and spurts. I spend just as much alone time -- recharging from it, as I do actually swinging, metaphorically, from the lamp shades. 

I never knew why I was the way I was, or even clearly identified it, til I came to understand a very specific definition of a word: Mediation.  I say a specific definition, well, uuuh SPECIFICALLY, because there are many ways to define things. In my case, mediation refers to how I interact with the world and people and events. I always put something between my personal firewall and the environment at large. As a young child, I used pets as my talisman, between me and an often violent and dysfunctional environment in my home. I look through old photographs of me as a child, and it's hard to find me without some furry friend in the frame. 

Later, as a teenager and young adult, it was music that provided my bridge to understanding my surroundings. I carried music, and a camera with me as I served in the military. I even managed to earn a living within my passion, as a civilian radio broadcaster for several years before I finally found the ability to pursue a college education. And throughout all that, I also had my camera to mediate new relationships and experiences. 

Marriage and parenthood came later than most for me, as well. And like every aspect of my life, it too has been well-mediated, again through photography. In fact, the waters of adulthood and parenting are just as challenging to me some days as that of my early days of shooting, where I had no idea what to do, or what the definition of 'good' might be. 

Parenting a child with almost invisible special needs is just hard enough to call it 'difficult' at times, and just easy enough so that not everyone realizes you're doing it. Like a camera, there are days that it's possible to put the kid and the gear into 'automatic' and roll through a pretty productive day shooting, literally and figuratively.  

Then 'those' days crop up. The ones where the meter readings are fuzzy, and it's hard to know where to set the camera's controls for the best hope of capturing light the way you see it in your mind's eye. The best plan is to always try to measure what one can see, and hope for the best exposure outcome. That's what my cameras have taught me, anyway. 

I photograph anything I can, whenever I can. What I am exposed to in life is constantly changing. From time spent  overseas, where I photographed ancient ruins, to later years shooting live concerts sometimes with real rock stars, to the day to day life of parenting and marriage: I'd be lost trying to understand it all, without my mediation devices.. My cameras..  It's my therapy, in a very real sense.

Later years have brought more opportunity to mediate my life as a parent through photography, as I professionally document a summer boys camp in Maine.  I've learned the most about myself, and how best to parent my child through the many weeks I've spent photographing that camp each summer. It may be that all my camera handling has led up to this photography experience now -- time will tell. After a childhood best described as one to be glad that 'one survived,' I now can see what I missed, and am thankfully able to give it -- ironically, also through my efforts in photography, to my own child.

It's a simple concept really -- but very important. It's how to play.  Sure, we all played as kids.  I still play, but not like some. Through my lenses, I've watched and learned from children and my own child, at camp -- what it means to truly let go, and PLAY.

It is ironic that I watch and learn this silently, alone, and typically at least 200mms away, is not lost on me. Letting go, as many already know, is the key to connecting with people, whatever the age. My son is learning how to do that now, as a child. It's my hope and expectation that the skills he learns through this summer-long camp in Maine will be the foundation I never got, how to BE within the confines of PLAY. I believe it's one of the bedrock skills of happy adults.  

I will continue to work on this project about the importance of PLAY for the next several years. Camps are an integral part of my photographic exploration, but not the only venue. Live music still holds my best personal window into how people can lose themselves, and find themselves all at once, also a kind of play. Nature also suggests this possibility. I plan to manifest an openness about seeking out more ways to visually speak about the importance of play. And through the mediation of my cameras, I hope to understand more about myself in the process.  

This is Week 34 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Gina's story today. To see more of Gina's work and connect with her, visit her Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Kuniko Yamamoto, Storyteller, Tells Her Story

Why do I do what I do? Often I'm asked and I answer, “well, ladies and gentlemen, I want to change the world with my art, with my show.” Blah, blah, blah …

Hmmmm, it sounds cliché, doesn't it?

The real answer is blowing in the wind . . . more elusive . . . bigger than I can explain. But as a storyteller, perhaps I can answer this question by telling my story.

Right after I started my performance career with my solo show for K-12 grade students, I got a call from a Jacksonville, Florida afterschool program. They booked me for one show at 5 PM in their police department gym. The neighborhood was very rough, and the teenagers needed to be kept under police officer’s watchful eye. On the phone, the contract person alluded to the roughness of the group but I didn't know what to expect.

When I arrived at the police gym, the teenagers were playing basketball and their voices and noise level was horrible, with the counselor’s voice being ignored. The counselor brought the police officer over and the officer yelled, “Hey, stop playing ball and bring chairs out for this lady’s show.“ They reluctantly stopped running around and brought chairs from a storage area, banging into each other and making all kinds of noise. Some even got cuts on their heads! I was freaked out. I just wanted to finish my little Japanese storytelling fast and get the hell out of this place in one piece.

The show was a disaster, the worst show I ever had. Chalk, pencils, socks and pennies were flying. They sat freeform, rocking and sliding down in their chairs. Every once in a while I would see some eyes staring at me with hateful boredom. Oh dear.

When I finished my 30-minute show, the police officer pointed out three boys to help carry my suitcase out to the car. Two of the boys started sticking chewing gum on each other’s arm and disappeared. The only boy left quietly carried my suitcase to my car. He was thin and tall, wearing an old beat up shirt with missing buttons. His pants zipper was broken and he looked into my eyes and said, “I like Samurai movies. I was really hoping some day to see a show like you did today in person. You made me happy.”

I was speechless and found myself hugging him. I made this boy happy – how wonderful is that! There actually was a good reason for me to continue performing. More than 20 years passed since then. I have collected more stories like this here and there. Without them I could not continue. Without them I would not have enough reasons to perform.

This is Week 33 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Kuniko's story today. To see more of Kuniko's work, please visit her website.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dwayne Scheuneman, Dancer, Tells His Story

When I was 15 years-old, or 20, or 25 even, if someone would have told me I would be a professional dancer one day, I would surely have thought they were crazy. If they had gone on to say not just a professional dancer, but a professional dancer who uses a wheelchair, I would have recommended a good psychiatrist to them. 

On July 4th, 1995, I dove into a pool, hit my head on the bottom and broke my neck, leaving me paralyzed from the chest down. Many thoughts ran through my mind the following weeks and months, none of which included me traveling the world performing and teaching dance. I did however begin competing in wheelchair track and field. After literally going in circles (on the track) for four years, I decided to spend an off-season doing something different, with full intentions of returning to competitions the following summer. I met a woman who offered to teach me to dance. 

We began meeting once a week, working on some basic Ballet for wheelchair users. Soon we got a call from Disney World in Orlando asking us to perform at one of their events. We put a duet together and that, just 4 months into my introduction to dance, was my very first dance performance. I remember the feeling of accomplishment I got as the audience showed their appreciation with a roaring applause. I also remember how many people came up to me and told me how inspired they were by the performance. This feeling and interest in motivating others launched me into seeking out more disabled adults and children and using dance to show them that anything is possible. Four years later I started REVolutions Dance, an inclusive dance program for adults and children with and without disabilities. I began showing up at local Ballet and Modern dance classes and going to dance festivals trying to learn as much as possible. Now, fifteen years later, my racing chair still hasn't made its way back to the track. 

The focus of REVolutions Dance is to bring disabled and non-disabled people together in a creative environment that encourages a deeper understanding of each other and their communities. Since creating it, I have been invited as guest teacher and performer at many universities and dance companies across the United States. REVolutions Dance has also performed and taught internationally, visiting places such as Russia and Palestine where we visited schools and communities that had virtually no form of social inclusive events or opportunities for disabled citizens. 

Currently we have an ongoing children’s dance class in Tampa that has children with a variety of experiences including Autism, Spina-Bifida, Cereal Palsy and non-disabled students as well.  All taking dance class together, all of them learning from each other. In the spring we are returning to Russia and we are looking into other international outreach opportunities. 

Before breaking my neck, I was working for UPS in Buffalo New York. I had a stable, well-paying job, comfortable home and a secure future. I would’ve been content living that life for the rest of my days, not knowing the art and creativity that was welling inside me looking for an outlet. If I were to go back in time, to that moment when I was standing on the edge of that diving board, and a little angel appeared on my shoulder and said “if you dive in that pool, you’re going to break your neck and go through a lot of pain and suffering, but in the end, this is the life you will have”, I would take a deep breath … and jump.

This is Week 32 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Dwayne's story today. To connect with him and see videos of his work, visit his Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Susan Carlson, Mixed Media Quilt Artist, Tells Her Story

Tickled Pink, 64 x 42 inches, fabric

At seven years old I knew when I grew up I wanted to be an artist, a veterinarian, or a teacher.
Now I'm a fiber artist making quilts of animals and teaching others to do what I do. That willful seven year-old still lives in me. She's the one I rely on to make sure I'm following my dreams.
It wasn't a straight line. Sure, I went to art school, but I studied illustration, not fiber, at the Maryland Institute College of Art. For that part of my education, I attended the Meta Carlson Studio of Fabric Creations (aka my mama's sewing room). Fabric had always been an element of my world, like oxygen. I twisted college assignments in order to complete them using fabric.
Another part of my early upbringing was selling hand-made items in my parents' seasonal home business, "The Craft Cellar." My mom made spice trivets and table runners and such. My dad was a woodworker. I painted and stamped and stenciled their work as well as helping to create other knick-knacks and tchotchkes. Producing work to sell is what I was familiar with.
I spent the first half of my full-time art career making art quilts to sell. In the beginning I was thrilled to have found an outlet for my creativity. Eventually, I learned that when I paired those two aspects — making and selling — neither was completely satisfying. Making art to sell became repetitive. Instead of creating the quilts I was really interested in, I was making quilts to sell.

Dixie Dingo Dreaming, 48 x 48 inches, fabric

My art soon became less fulfilling because I was creating versions of the same quilts over and over again.
Selling quilts also became less fulfilling. That's weird, huh? As long as I was getting paid, what would it matter if the sale was fulfilling. However, since I was putting my whole self into whatever I made, especially the larger and more unique quilts, I grew attached to them. They became family members. Their value to me couldn't be calculated in dollars. When they sold, the money disappeared into my bank account and was disbursed each month to pay bills. If it weren't for the fact that the electricity was still on you wouldn't have even known I was making quilts.

Golden Temple of the Good Girls, 50 x 58 inches, fabric

Then in 1994, I was asked to teach a class at Portsmouth Fabric Company in Portsmouth, NH where I worked as manager. I taught students my way of doing fabric collage at that time. I work differently now, though the basics remain the same: cut fabric to shape, tack down with glue, repeat until desired image is achieved.
Over the next couple years, I taught a few more classes there and at other regional quilt shops and guilds. Eventually my quilts were featured in national quilting magazines and I received invitations to teach and lecture on a national and then international basis. Two books, Free Style Quilts: a No-Rules Approach in 2000 (out of print) and Serendipity Quilts: Cutting Loose Fabric Collage in 2010, helped to spread my name around.

Samuelsaurus Rex, 48 x 40 inches, fabric

Teaching has grown to be a larger part of my career. I'm away from my home and studio for weeks at a time. Ironically, and in contradiction to Mr. Shaw's opinion, the blossoming of my teaching career has coincided with the blossoming of my art.
Income from teaching allows me to create only the quilts I want to without a thought as to whether they will sell. In fact, I haven't tried to sell a quilt in years. Instead, the quilts I make promote my teaching through blog and magazine features, art shows, lectures and exhibitions.
Now, after years of holding onto my quilts, I have gathered a body of work I will be premiering in a special exhibit at this year's International Quilt Festival in Houston. Entitled Specimens, the show will feature eleven of my large animal quilts, including the (almost) 22-foot long "Crocodylus Smylus."

Crocodylus Smylus, 21 feet 6 inches x 70 inches, fabric

But teaching is more than a means to an end. I wouldn't want anyone to get the impression that teaching is a sort of bitter main course I have to swallow in order to get to the dessert of studio time. While I still sometimes dread the stress of travel — missed connections, hit-or-miss food — I truly enjoy teaching.
I hope (and am told) that my art touches people in important ways. I'm fairly certain that for many my pieces expand the definition of quilts from craft into the realm of art. And as an unabashed animal lover, the message of my art is clear. As one person said upon seeing my quilt "Polka Dodo," "I've known about dodos, but I've never really thought about them before." I hope many feel that way about all of my "Specimens."

Polka Dodo, 40 x 44 inches, fabric

Teaching takes my influence to a personal level. While working in my studio, I listen to podcasts that talk about finding your purpose and your mission in life. They ask, what can you do make a difference in the world? The feedback I get from students is about how my classes free them up artistically. They've been able to take something that's been in their head and manifest it into art. They are amazed and proud at what they accomplish. It changes them. I think about that when I get tired of traveling and just want to be home with my family and pets. When I'm in the middle of my classroom, experiencing my students' energy and their insights, it keeps me going.
This is Week 31 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Susan's story today. To see more of Susan's work and connect with her, please visit the following links:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Charles Andrade, Painter, Muralist & Lazurist, Tells His Story

Lazure for Westside Waldorf School, California    

From a young age I always had a fascination with color. I amusingly like to think that destiny played a hand in this because the cross street by my childhood home was called Goethe. There it was, a beacon of light, color and darkness, teasing my biography even back then.

In elementary school a friend and I drew cartoons for the school newsletter. That led to our working collaboratively on comic book characters we made up - giving vent and vision to our imagination, figuring out the plot and the evil villain our hero would battle. I became the colorist for our shared comics and thus began my adventures into a systematic approach to working with color.

Fantasy mural for private residence, Maryland

Throughout high school I created many greeting cards for friends and family that kept my drawing skills alive, and again, color dutifully filled in the spaces. Its study was not an exploration into its own qualities and dynamics but was creatively and stylistically hemmed in by other design requirements.

Underwater mural for private residence, Florida

University study brought an explosion of creative possibility but not much in the way of color theory. The drawing classes were rigorous and demanding but my painting classes were "do what you want and it would be analyzed later."  Technical skill played little part in developing the craft of my imagination. I eventually quit and studied life outside university. I set up an easel in my apartment and would devote serious evening hours to creating paintings that allowed all manner of imagery to pour forth.

Lazure for Ecole Steiner near Paris France

Art reentered my biography in my study of Anthroposophy, a spiritual philosophy created by the Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. I learned a philosophy that gave me a reason to be creative. From a fuller more spiritual understanding of the place of art in human development, I was able to gain perspective on the importance creative activity had in developing my humanity.

Cycle of Life, watermedia,24"x17"

The idea of creating art to be more human, not to be 'an artist,' appealed to me more and more. Further work with Anthroposophy led me to England to study art therapy from this unique perspective at the Tobias School of Arts & Therapy. It was there that I learned the color theory of Johann Wolfgang Goethe and my creative life would change forever. Picking up where Goethe's color theory left off, Rudolf Steiner asked artists to work with their medium to discover the creative possibilities inherent in this relationship. For painters this meant learning the dynamic qualities within each color and how these expansive and contractive forces work within the human soul as well.

Aspen Grove, pastel painting

The founder of the Tobias school told us that if we were to be art therapists, we should learn to create a therapeutic environment as well so we were taught the art of Lazure painting by a British master of this decorative wall finish. If I were to give a definition of Lazure, it would be, the atmospheric blushing of analogous colors across a white wall.

Lazure for Mt. Phoenix Community School, Colorado

Alongside my fine art and murals, Lazure painting became my life's work - traveling worldwide to "ensoul with color" the interiors of residences, commercial settings, medical facilities, places of worship and schools, as well as lecturing and teaching workshops in the Lazure technique.

Mayan Ruins mural for child's room, Colorado

In meditating on the qualities of different colors, I find that one better understands how to communicate and where and how it can be properly used within a compositional context. This process of working with dynamic color theory unleashes a creative relationship between the soul of the individual and the creative energies of nature.

For me, it has formed a healing and regenerative source of creativity where I never feel alone in these imaginative explorations but always have the inherent dynamic qualities of color as a companion to work with.

Lazure at The Titerangi Steiner School,  New Zealand

This is Week 30 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Charles' story today! To connect with him and see more of his work, please click on the following links: