Art Watch: Artists talk about their work

Sometimes the words behind the art is just as captivating

By Lele Galer, Columnist, The Times

UTColLogoGalerIf you have ever thought of hearing an artist discussion in a gallery or museum, but hesitated, perhaps this recounting of the most recent artist talk at Church Street Gallery will inspire you to take the plunge. These days most galleries, art associations and art shows have an hour or so dedicated to the artists talking about their work, and for me, it never fails to intrigue. What drives the artist to create? What is their inspiration? How did they do that? What were they thinking?

Last week the Church Street Gallery hosted an artist discussion with five of the artists featured in the Church Street Gallery’s Group Show: Maxine Manges, Robert Bohne, Sandra Severson, John Suplee, and Jessica Turgoose. The gallery was set up informally, with the artists chairs in the front and a slew of chairs for the audience, and wine provided by Galer Estate Winery in Kennett Square.

Artists talk about art during a session at Church Street Gallery.

Artists talk about art during a session at Church Street Gallery.

Maxine Manges, who exhibits a collection of abstract paintings, started of the discussion with the statement “There is nothing that an artist likes to do more than talk about their art!” adding that “the painting is the leader..” Her paintings range quite a lot from color patterning to broadly brushed, brightly colored plains of shape, floating in gesture. She clearly paints to whatever is the muse of the moment during her experience of painting. With so much bravado in her paint application, it is interesting that she calls art a “humbling experience.” For her, it is “all about color interaction and color relationships.”

Artist Robert Bohne, famed for his work as a plein air painter, was the very first artist chosen by Carol Giblin and John Suplee to show at the gallery two years ago. Robert paints every day, in every place, even while lunching with a friend, in a bar or on vacation. For him there is eating, sleeping, breathing and painting; not necessarily in that order. He said that Art is his “Mistress” and it has been known to interfere with his relationships. In the gallery, you see black and white cropped figures from a bar scene, to sublime tonal landscapes that bring to mind the hazy warmth of George Inness. Like Maxine, he paints what he feels like painting, in a manner that best speaks to his subject matter.

Pastel, multi media artist Jessica Turgoose spoke next. Her image of Cape May in the gallery was what John Suplee said was the best image he had ever seen of Cape May. Her pastel and painted works are filled with light and captured with great skill and authenticity. There wasn’t a person in the room who didn’t look twice or more and say to themselves, “how did she do that?” Artwork is almost always more intriguing when the artist is there to talk about it. Jessica immediately stresses her humble status as an artist, that she has been a bus driver for the Unionville Chadds Ford School District for many years and that “my artwork is not intellectual at all! It is emotional. It stems from the emotional plain within me” Being a bus driver allows her the freedom to work as an artist. She is a fantastic colorist, dissecting and promoting the myriad colors reflected on the surface from a ray of light. Asked about her colors, she explains simply, her eyes smiling “You know, even mushy greens and browns have 50,000 colors in them.”

'Steer' by Sandra Stevenson.

‘Steer’ by Sandra Severson.

Sandra Severson, who specializes in painting animals, is an “extremely poetic painter” interjects John Suplee with affection. Sandra laughed and responded “please notice, they are all nudes!” Nudity is a buzz word in local art galleries as our rather conservative area does not encourage the display of art that includes nudes… but in Sandra’s case the subject is nude animals. Of all the very interesting, thought provoking observations about art and being artists, Sandra’s observations were the most keenly felt by the room of art lovers and artists. She discussed her portrait of a steer, not how she painted it, but how she felt about him. “It was a rescue steer” she explained.”I get really close to the animals when I paint them.. I try to be as truthful as I can.. they have that life force and that is what I am interested in painting.” There are many many artists that do “pet portraits”, and frankly some of her early work on her website is of that genre.. but her newer works have personality and a soulfulness that is so moving that is really does transcend that milieu. Her animals have “that life force…that is what I am interested in painting.. the more I paint, the more truthful I become.” From deep to silly, she added honestly “my studio is like a petting zoo!”

The audience was very encouraging with Sandra to continue her discourse. You could tell that speaking so personally about her subjects and her art process was not something that was normal for her. She is a private person. In the audience, you felt that you were one on one with a friend, who was telling you something very important to them. She continued, ” When I paint a model, I fall in love.. luckily falling in love with these models is not too scandalous!” These are animals, remember. She told a poignant story where she was asked to paint a horse for a family that was going to sell it and upgrade it to a flashier model. She felt no connection to the animal.. this was a commission. It was just a horse, and then she heard the words speak to her “show them I am beautiful…show them I am wise”..and she looked for the beauty and wisdom in that horse. It was years later that she found that the horse owners, after seeing her painting, refused to sell the horse, kept it and revered it. They would never sell the horse, they said, now it was family. The story, simply told, put at least three people in tears this evening. Why? Every artist in the group wants to move their audience by showing the connection that they have to the subject matter, a mass of overgrown vines to, a sunny Cape May day, to a horse or steer that speaks to them. That is why they are artists. That is what drives them to create and offer their souls to the public… hoping that they make a connection that matters.

'Trumpet Vines' John Supplee.

‘Trumpet Vines’ John Supplee.

John Suplee, renowned local artist and co-curator of Church Street Gallery, ended the evening with a discussion of his work. He explained that ” there is always an element of temporality that can take decades to develop..or they are really fast and dirty.” He talked about his landscape of the Philadelphia airport and why he painted that, recalling the excitement he had as a youngster seeing the planes leave the airport… but closer to heart, he talked about the painting of trumpet vines. Over the years the vines overtook the sign on his street, sometimes cut down, other times left to their own devices.. after years living on the same street in West Chester the vines became personal symbols of beauty and struggle. He went to great lengths to stop the city from cutting them down. John drew and painted the vines since the early 1980s. Like other Suplee paintings, these are not just vines, these has a personal, culpable history with him, like his landscapes that he recalls from childhood or West Chester intersections that breathe time and change, they are part of the life that he reveres and celebrates in all of his paintings.

In closing, the most articulate of the artists, Maxine Manges, concludes that the strength of the artwork is “more about the dialogue that it has with you” and that art is ” a dance between it and me and winner takes all. The artist keeps harmony in the dance until it is good enough.”

What a wonderful way to spend an hour on another wise uneventful weekday afternoon. Next time there is an artist discussion at a gallery or museum, take the plunge, sit in the audience, and see what happens next.

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