Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Gale Fulton Ross, Mixed-Media Painter, Tells Her Story

I arrived in NYC late 1970. Everything and everyone appeared so “cool” to this young artist and mother. My Boston accent was a novelty to a close-knit group of friends who are still comrades today. My neighbors were Taj Mahal and Miles Davis. Morgan Freeman told me if I stopped biting my nails I might be attractive and Liza Minelli suggested I wear my bra on the outside of my leotard. Donny Hathaway’s apartment was next to mine so I was invited to hear him play piano.

One day walking through Central Park Ivan Dixon winked at me and Geraldo Rivera was introduced as Gerry Rivers. James Baldwin’s brother poured my drinks and I lunched with a very young girl named Natalie Cole and her mom. I met Isabelle Washington Powell. We called her Belle. Belle lived in the heart of Harlem and was Congressman Adam Clayton Powell’s ex- wife. Belle had been a dancer at the Cotton Club. Her sister was the actress Fredi Washington and one of her best friends was Jean Claude Baker whose adopted mom was the great Josephine Baker. Jean Claude commissioned me to do Josephine’s portrait as well as her sister Margaret Wallace’s portrait.

HomelessOil on canvas,  2009

I painted Winton, Max and Monk. I exhibited with Gordon Parks and Robert Mapplethorpe. I visited the studios of Larry Rivers and Benny Andrews.  My life in NYC was rich in life lessons, old-age wisdom, youthful drinking and unforgettable lovers. I still live with the scents and sounds of the days of my youth spent living and learning that life ahead would be an ongoing series of adjustments. I also learned that men who only wanted pretty women lacked imagination and that to grow older does not mean to get old!

My artist philosophy is heavily influenced by African-American Artists, Charles White Jr., Augusta Savage, and Chicano Artist, Luis Jiminez. Charles said he, “used Negro subject matter because Negroes are closest to me. I am trying to express a universal feeling through them, a meaning for all men. All my life, I’ve been painting a simple painting. This does not mean that I am a man without anger – I’ve had my work in museum’s where I wasn’t allowed to see it. But what I pour into my work is the challenge of how beautiful life can be.”

Uncle SamMixed-media watercolor/ink on paper & clear plastic, 2016

My work is the continuation of his efforts. After resigning from the WPA in 1939, Augusta Savage opened the Salon of Contemporary Negro Art in Harlem, which was America’s first gallery for the exhibition and sale of works by African American artists. Works exhibited included those by Beauford Delaney, James Lesesne Wells, Lois Mailou Jones, and Richmond Barthe. The gallery was not financially successful, however, and was forced to close after
several months. 

My gallery in Oakland, California, was based on Augusta’s efforts and suffered a similar fate after eight years. She too had a child when she was 16 years old. Luis Jimenez made sculptures for public places, intended to be seen and understood by thousands of ordinary people, in many cases, of Latino descent, who would pass by them every day. JimĂ©nez's art had many aspects, but for me its most distinctive characteristic was the way it was structured to appeal to a variety of audiences.

Luis said, "My working-class roots have a lot to do with it; I want to create a popular art that ordinary people can relate to as well as people who have degrees in art." I too want to make multi-layered art for and by ordinary people that can relate to those who have degrees. Luiz and I were at LaNapoule together. He did my portrait.

Strolling, Mixed-media oil & acrylic on paper, 2016

After fifty years of a blessed career I am now entering the next phase in my evolution. My vision is continually amplified by a growing interest in what lies beyond the faces of the people I encounter, I see a global network of subjects including artists, curators and creative thinkers working collectively in hybrid ways spanning and driving curiosity as it applies to our changing “Culture” as a whole.

My art is like a “Ballad Poem” traditionally meant to tell a story; an un-transcribed narrative preserved for generations, passed along through imagery. My subject matter deals with religious themes, love, tragedy, domestic crimes, and political propaganda, only I don’t tell my viewer literally what is happening, I show the viewer what’s happening by implying crucial moments through the face, a figurative stance, or the angle of the eyes - each stroke is meant to convey a sense of emotional urgency of what some might call the “lower class.” My art is biographical.

Grandma's Hands, Mixed-media acrylic on paper,  2010

I find myself now in the gap where my art practice, knowledge production and research process operates; it’s that tension between and beyond recognized paradigms that motivates me. I’m encouraging active viewer-driven learning over passivity because that is what made me an artist in the first place and how I’ve reached this stage of my career.

I believe interaction between my audience and myself creates opportunities that promote new imagery, dialogue and collaboration between artists, writers, curators and thinkers across cultures driven by audience desires rather than demands of an elite, often exclusive, art world where art equals real-estate. I want to remain agile, responsive, nomadic.

President Obama, Watercolor sketch on paper, 2016

With mature new images I hope to contribute and capture a unique public narrative whereby my subject matter revolves around the collective human condition and is rooted in my people and our culture. My concept for Culture As A Way of Life/Paintings is to share a humanistic philosophy with my 70-year-old sense of social responsibility. I’ll continue my career commitment to archive Black society from a Civil Rights to Contemporary perspective.

My plan includes the development of a series of mixed-media paintings celebrating family, endurance, spirituality, and the diverse range of Black experience over the last 40 years. These paintings, acting as reflections, will hopefully overturn some common ideas about Black life from l975 to present, demonstrating a changing Black culture. Culture As A Way of Life/Paintings will investigate the metamorphosis of what is understood as Black culture.

Teenage Mother, Watercolor, 1985

This is Week 29 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Gale’s story today. To connect with Gale and see more of her work, please visit the following links:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Bonnie Brown, Hoop Dancer, Tells Her Story

It was 2007, I was 27, and had been in an on-again-off-again relationship with a boyfriend for almost 10 years. It was painfully obvious that we did not belong together. I believe we kept coming back together for comfort and safety of “the devil you know".

So at age 27, I decided I to break this cycle. I had been stuck in a loop that was only going round and round, and I realized it was locking me in and keeping me from of growing outward. When one keeps repeating the exact same behavior, it's like pacing in circles. Cue the visual of the proverbial cartoon character that paces in a circle over and over and over again, digging a trench with his steps. With each repetition of that loop, we dig ourselves deeper into that habit. It becomes more and more difficult with each repetition, every deepening of the trench, to step outside of that circle.

However, when we finally do climb out, we break the cycle of the never-ending loop. Later, this became the theory behind the name of my business, Outward Spiral since Outward Spiral is the concept that there are cycles in life, and any place along that circular path is an opportunity to step out of the clearly defined (well trodden) path. Taking steps outside of the familiar circle takes you out of the continuous loop and begins to create an ever-expanding outward spiral.

Once I broke up with my boyfriend, I found a circle - figuratively and literally. At the time I was living in Chapel Hill, NC and I went to a local festival called Shakori Hills. There, at this music festival, I saw some amazing women dancing beautifully with hoops. I had never seen anything like it! They were so graceful, and even magical the way they seemed to simply will the hoop around their bodies. It was as if they were so connected with the movement of this magical orb, that they had become one with it!

I wasn't brave enough to try hooping there at the festival, but the seed had been planted. It inspired me to seek out an adult-size dance hoop to learn with. I was also led by an online source to Weaver Street Market. The Weave (as it came to be known to me later) was a co-op grocery store with a cafe inside. The best part of the The Weave was the beautiful park area in the front lawn with mature trees for shade, picnic tables and benches to eat your food, have coffee or just enjoy the company of good people.

Every Thursday evening and Sunday morning they had live music out on the lawn and this had, over time, become a regular hooper hang-out. It was a tradition for the hoop dancers to dance to the live music on the side lawn. There was even a "hoop tree" where it was customary to put "personal hoops" you didn't want to share up in the tree.

The general rule was, if a hoop was on the ground, it was there for anyone to play with. After only one visit to the lawn, I befriended a kind woman named Julia Hartsell. This began a long friendship and apprenticeship of sorts. She taught me how to make hoops, and most importantly, how to build a community of hoopers.

I met many amazingly talented hoopers at The Weave; Beth Lavinder, Jonathan Baxter, Vivian Spiral, Ann Humphreys, Bonnie MacDougal, and many more. I began to pick up so many ways to move with my hoop from these great spinners and started to feel like I found a place where I finally belonged. I never felt so connected to a group of people that I hardly knew. They were so welcoming, and collaboration seemed to be at the foundation of their art.

Once I was connected to the group of Carrboro hoopers, everything began to magically fall into place. I began noticing cycles and patterns I'd never seen before. It was obvious that I was on the right path! It felt as if the gears had finally locked into place and were ready to roll. There are too many synchronicities to list -- basically, it felt as if the Guides were cheering me on.

By Autumn 2008, at the very same festival I had first been inspired to pick up the hoop, I met the love of my life. He was a drummer traveling with a band from Sarasota, Florida. We dated long-distance for as long as we could, but by Autumn 2009 I moved to Florida.

Since moving to Sarasota 8 years ago I have established not only regular classes but an amazing group of regular students, many of whom I call my closest friends. I am still amazed to see how this seemingly insignificant children's toy can transform people's lives!

But, to be fair, it is much more than that. Yes, the ‘toy’ is novel, but there is something magical about the spiraling movements that seem to be able to smooth down the rough edges of a harsh reality. Most beneficial of all, is the connection to authentic people. With the absence of competition comes collaboration. Collaboration is one of the fundamental foundations to building community, and belonging to a community is clearly a significant ingredient to finding happiness.

This Circle brought me to my authentic self. The path brought me to my husband, and our combined creative forces manifested the most amazing daughter. And yes, I taught and hooped through my whole pregnancy! Ha! Seriously, check out my video here!

I am so happy in this life that I currently live. I do not know where I would be without it, but I do know that hoop dance came into my life exactly when I needed it. Perhaps hoop dance is or isn’t the missing piece for you. However, I hope that my story encourages you to seek out novel experiences and engaging with people who inspire you. It can make a world of difference.

I teach an "Introduction to Hoop Dance: Foundations" series every month. There is more information on classes, workshops, and jams on the links below. I host a free hoop jam held every Tuesday on Siesta Key Beach an hour before sunset. This is my community offering for locals or visitors to the Sarasota area to casually try hooping and meet some amazing people. We live in a veritable paradise! Why not come out and enjoy the sand between your toes, good tunes, a beautiful sunset all while playing and having fun!

This is Week 28 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Bonnie’s story today. To connect with Bonnie and see more of her work, please visit the following links:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Nikki Serra, Ceramicist, Tells Her Story

I grew up in Nebraska and spent a lot of time on my grandparent’s ranch a few miles from my home. There, I played in the barn with the kittens and in the yard with Grandpa’s Airedales, watched cattle, rode on the old tractor with my Grandpa and adored walking through my Grandma’s garden full of county fair prize-winning blooms.  

She also had a gorgeous vegetable garden where I would sit in the dirt, eating tomatoes like apples with a saltshaker readily in hand.  When I was older, I helped her can her sour cherries for the winter pies. I could sit for hours and marvel at the incredible insects on the farm and on some evenings, sitting on the back porch steps, watch little dust twisters on the horizon. I was the typical barefoot, grimy, scabby kneed, freckle-faced tomboy who lived to be outside, either at my childhood home playing with the other kids or at one of my grandparent’s or uncles’ ranches, roaming like a little savage. Whenever I was indoors, I was constantly drawing . . . on anything I could find. When I was very small, my Grandma gave me a set of colored pencils for my birthday and that set was my most cherished possession.

We now live in rural Pennsylvania and as an adult, I’ve observed the decline of some of the insect and plant life I took for granted, back in the old Nebraska days. The decline of weeds, plants, and insects also affects bird and bat populations, which we’ve seen disappearing in our own yard and gardens. 

My appreciation of nature and the lush atmospheric floral and vegetative images which appear on my pottery is ingrained from childhood and sustained in adulthood. My functional pottery explores the beauty, whimsy and genuine concern inspired by my “nature girl” childhood. The colorful coneflowers, tulips, poppies, sunflowers, milkweed, random leaves, vegetables, fruit, the spiders, snails, my protective garden goblins all find space on my pots. The themes, although planned, seem to have a life of their own once implemented and often sustain the wistful atmospheric quality of a long ago dewy day. 

When my husband and I left graduate school we moved to D.C. and no longer had a place to make pots. We got entry-level day jobs and eventually discovered Glen Echo Pottery, where we were lucky enough to teach classes and work on our own pots on weekends. After about 5 years, we left the gridlock of The City and moved to our farmhouse in Pennsylvania. But my access to a place to make pots disappeared. We taught at the local community college for awhile, but found the teaching load was too much on top of the necessary but dreaded “day jobs”, so we left teaching.

Bisqued Example of Gestural Slip Trailing - 5” W x 9 “ W

Eventually, after about 20 years, I found an old wheel and an even older kiln (both of which I still use!) and began working on pots whenever I could find a free weekend . . . like so many potters – sadly, with very limited time. Happily, I retired about 3 years ago and have thus enjoyed the luxury of having days upon days to focus on my “real work.”

And also, like so many potters, the transition from the academic gas fired kilns to the little garage electric kiln was stark. Eventually, I stopped trying to recreate the look of the reduction atmosphere and taught myself how to handle underglaze and brushes. Now my work is focused on one of the things oxidation does best: color and imagery.

Floral Series Coneflower Pilsner Mug -  7” H x 3” W

Almost everything I make is wheel thrown. Sometimes, after trimming, I’ll apply slip (made from my clay body) from a Clairol bottle, gesturally. After the pots have dried, I bisque them and subsequently do all the decorating on bisqued ware.  The underglaze images are painted by hand. I sketch a design on the pots with a pencil and then, painstakingly, add the underglaze with brushes and with slip trailers to create the floral imagery. Sometimes I fill in an underglaze background around the imagery.

Crab Apple Bowl - 6” H x 7” W

Rather than mixing underglazes to find the exact color I want, I layer the different colors on top of each other on the pot. So, there are many layers of underglaze for each developed color. When all the imagery has been completed, I usually add a border around rims, handles and the base, either in black or in one of the darker colors of the designs. 

Garden Series Assorted Tumblers and Mugs

The under-glazed pieces are re-bisqued to harden the underglaze, before the glaze is applied. I usually use a clear glaze for the first firing. There are usually more glaze firings to follow to develop color over the decorations. I like the initial clear glaze firing because I can see the design and it helps to figure out where to add the colored transparent glazes. I glaze each pot up to 4 times.  

Garden Series Plates - 3” H x 10” W

Frequently, a luster firing will be added at the end so potentially each of my pieces is fired up to 7 times. All work is food safe, however luster work should not be washed in a dishwasher and cannot be microwaved. The investment of time and resources is quite large, as it is for most potters, and along the way, unique for potters, is the lurking potential for a devastating failure. I think many potters never “count chicks!”

Garden Series Floral Pitchers - 11” H x 4” W

Like most makers, what I create constantly evolves and it’s a wonderful journey, seeing where the creative process goes. Making things has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember, and making pottery is the one thing that never ceases to be fulfilling, challenging, and yes, frustrating. For me, pottery never disappoints and frequently delights. I hope my pots can bring smiles and hope to others, along the way. 

Garden Series Shadows Mug - 3.75” H x 3” W

This is Week 27 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Nikki’s story today. To connect with her and see more of her work, please visit the following links:

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Doug D'souza, Jewelry Designer, Tells His Story

My journey as a maker started with first being a breaker. As a child, I was fascinated with technology and had a deep desire to understand how things worked. I would meticulously take my toys apart to satisfy my curiosity, then try to reassemble them. I was mostly successful and learned early on that my hands could make things.

I was born in Mumbai, India where I experienced cultural and religious diversity, and rich colors and textures that would later influence my work. I moved to the US in 1980 to pursue my education and career in engineering mechanics. 
After graduation I started working for BMW, a job I enjoyed for almost a decade. Then one seemingly ordinary day, a high speed rear collision changed the course of my life, and at the same time turned on a creative light that has shone bright ever since. 
After the accident, I could no longer physically do the work so I set out to nurture my creative side with a course in Graphic Design. This led to an internship in a local studio where I learned how to etch and carve glass. I created edge-lit sculptures, lamps and room dividers using hand-fabricated copper to frame the glass. Unfortunately once again, another accident would change my direction. A back injury during an installation forced me to shrink my canvas to a more manageable size.
I was always drawn to metal. Already familiar with copper, I learned jewelry metal smithing through books and video tutorials. It all seemed to come quite naturally to me. The process of designing, sawing, shaping and soldering metal is very meditative by nature. I spent hours sitting at my bench totally in the zone practicing various techniques to achieve my desired results.

Mixed Metal Copper/Silver Resin

I started creating small wearable sculptures as pendants and earrings using copper, silver and pigmented resin. They were hollow forms that were inspired by seed pods. They started out as flat sheets of metal that were textured or embossed using various methods, then shaped using forming tools and pierced with a hand saw. Silver accents were sometimes added to them and back set with pigmented resin over silver leaf, a self-taught technique that I still use today.

Symbols Bracelet

While growing up in India I was exposed to many religions. I was raised Roman Catholic, but my friends were Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Jains, etc. I was curious about other faiths and always kept an open mind. To me religions were cultural, like ethnic food, and India offered a smorgasbord. They basically all had the same message . . . just be nice, and try to get along. It doesn't matter what discipline you subscribe to, as long as it makes you a better person. 
In that spirit and an interest in numerology, I designed a collection of symbol pieces that evoke messages of love, peace, and tolerance.

Rustic Wedding Bands

Over the years I have received many custom requests, including wedding bands. One particular request was for a men's mixed metal rustic style wedding band. Since I was already working with mixed metals and I love textures, I combined them to make my first rustic band. 
I was quite pleased with the outcome, and began designing a collection of them. These rings are not mass-produced, but are completely hand-fabricated and start with strips of contrasting metals. The lining is sterling silver, and the textured insert is copper, or gold. I have recently started offering copper and bronze with surgical stainless steel linings for those who are sensitive to silver. 
The majority of my customers are quite happy with the textures I offer, but some request something more personalized. For example, I received a request from a firefighter who liked the overall look of the ring but wanted flames around the band, and a personalized message engraved inside. I feel truly honored to create something so meaningful that symbolizes the love shared by two people. They are available in custom widths and combinations of non precious and precious metals including rose, yellow and white gold.

Enameled Pendant

What I love about the jewelry industry is how multi-faceted it is. There are so many areas to explore and processes and techniques to learn, that you're almost guaranteed to find your niche somewhere. About a year and a half ago, I met a talented enamel artist in town. Her beautiful work was inspiring, and I found myself  purchasing her video tutorial, equipment and supplies. I was subsequently off on a journey of fusing glass to metal and discovering the joy and frustration of enamelling. It was challenging, addictive, and very satisfying. 
Suddenly my color palette had exploded, and now offered over a hundred and fifty colors of powdered glass to play with. By combining familiar colors that I was exposed to in India, I could now express texture and design in color. Being a metal smith has some advantages. I can cut and shape metal before applying enamel to it, fabricate settings for focal pieces, and compliment them with stones. 
All stages in the process of enamelling are exciting, from design to preparation of the metal, applying layers of powdered glass, to watching it melt and fuse. One big lesson learned is that it's extremely important to write down and follow every step of the process to recreate a specific look. For some of the textured pieces, the techniques I use only give me about seventy-five percent of control over the final outcome, the rest is in the hands of the enamel gods, who can be quite temperamental. 
Just a few seconds in time, and a few degrees in temperature can also make a big difference in the result, which can only be seen after it is removed from the kiln and cooled. This can be very exciting and suspenseful . . . perhaps another reason why I'm drawn to enameling.

Carved Inlaid Stone

In my years as a metal smith, I have set many stones in silver, most of them were bezel set. I was playing with the idea of reversing those roles . . . setting metal in stones. That meant carving the stones and inlaying them with metal. I started with a river rock, and a piece of textured brass that I had sawed out in the shape of a splash. I added a small Malachite stone for contrast then carved the rock so the splash fit perfectly. I liked the look and feel of it, but wanted more contrast between the metal and the rock. The next one was carved deeper with the silver splash sitting below the surface of the tear drop shaped Bloodstone, and was accented with a Ruby.

Modern Vintage Ring

I originally designed the Modern Vintage rings in mixed metals of aluminum, and brass, copper or bronze. They were adjustable cuff rings made of a thick gauge (food grade) aluminum, but were extremely lightweight. I also offer them in silver and stainless steel as cuff or closed rings with contrasting metals.

MFA Egyptian Show
It was my honor to participate in the Museum of Fine Arts Egyptian Erotica show in St. Petersburg, Florida. Using an image from a Nineteenth Dynasty Turin Papyrus, I created a bronze and leather adjustable bracelet that was featured on one of the models.
I work out of my home studio in Gulfport, Florida, and sell online through my website and Etsy store.
I should be content with where I am, but there's currently a new piece of equipment sitting in my studio to cut and shape stones . . . so stay tuned!
This is Week 26 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Doug's story today. To connect with Doug and see more of his work, please visit the following links: