Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Don’t Become an Isolated Griot!

Patricia Coleman Cobb & Ramona
Artists run the risk of isolation.  We can become trapped in our own creative minds and spaces.   Our studios are our sanctuaries, but sometimes they become our prisons.  We refuse to leave our safe creative space to venture into the world.  I heard an artist describe all artists as modern day griots.  Our art tells the story of a people, community, and nation.   But what good is a story if it is not heard?  What good is a griot who only tells stories to herself?
Patricia Cobb's fiber & clay dolls
We must open ourselves up to experience the creativity of other artists.  There are always art exhibits, openings and gatherings going on somewhere.  We must take the time to attend these events and talk to each other.  Online groups like Black Art in America  have helped begin this process.  As an art patron, I believed artists were reclusive, secretive, and mysterious.  I thought someone with such creativity couldn’t be easy to understand or befriend.  But then I realized, I was an artist and I’m none of those things.  In fact, I’m an open book with an ever changing story.  If this was my reality, then it must also be the same for other artists.
Danny Broadway & Ramona
At every art opening, street fair, or gallery show I’ve attended, I’ve encountered wonderful artists who fed my creativity with their energy.   A community grows as its members interact.  Sharing stories, asking questions, and cooperative dreaming is the fertilizer for its growth.  As a community of artists, we must seek out each other and challenge each other’s growth. We must not allow ourselves to become isolated islands.  Social networking is helping to bring us together but we must strive to expand our relationships into the real world.  

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Life is a Big Bowl of Questions

Dana Todd Pope & Ramona D Lindsey
My eight year old daughter explained that, "Life is a big bowl of questions."  (Of course, this was her response to my asking why she has so many questions for mommy.) But this young philosopher was correct.  Life does revolve around questions and our search for the answers.  Questions were my reason for attending Sisters and Friends Afrocentric Fine Art Show in Bloomington-Normal, Illinoison May 21st-22nd.  As an emerging artist, leaving over a decade of service as  a public school educator, I have many questions about the life and responsibilities of a professional artist.  I've attended many fine art shows as a patron, but never as an artist.  Hence, my first question, "How do artists prepare for a fine art show?"  

Abstracts by Dana Todd Pope
My husband, a social media network guru, introduced me to my newest artist friend and painter, Dana Todd Pope.  Dana was a featured artist at the Sisters and Friends show.  In a quest to find answers to my question, I volunteered to travel with Dana to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois to help her set-up for the show.  She quickly accepted my offer.  I learned the work begins weeks before the show.  First, an artist must handle logistics such as travel arrangements, hotel rooms,  and securing display panels.  Weeks prior to the show she spent an untold number of hours creating new works insuring she had a consistent body of work.

More work by Dana Todd Pope
After arriving at the show, Dana became a curator.  She considered the flow of the room, her art's story, and lighting to decide the placement of her work.  Then she became a foreman directing the actions of her laborers to build panels, display walls, and remount art work disassembled for travel.  Finally, she donned her fancy dress, stilettos, and glamour girl make-up to become a premier promoter of her work.  She greeted art patrons, told her story, and closed business deals.
Watching and supporting Dana was the best answer to my simple question.   I learned things from one day of volunteer work that I could have never gotten from a book.  My mother always said, "Experience is the best teacher and there are no dumb questions."   I’m glad I heeded my mom's advice.   My art career will be so much better because I took the time to ask questions and seek answers.  What questions are you asking?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sisters and Friends with a Passion for Art

What do you do when you are a professional, culturally inspired African-American woman in a community nearly void of cultural activities relevant to your ethnic experience? You simply call your sister friends.  This was the case in 1994 when 4 such women founded SisterFriends to introduce Bloomington-Normal, Illinois to culture relevant to the African Diaspora.  These 4 forward thinking women began hosting artist shows in their homes as a way to educate their community about artists of the African Diaspora and the impact of their art on the world.   

By 1999, SisterFriends evolved into a non-profit organization known as Sisters and Friends.  Their living room art shows transformed into an annual event  - The Afrocentric Fine Art Show - held at venues containing thousands of square feet to exhibit art works created by regional, national, and international artists. Sisters and Friends have partnered with numerous civic-minded and corporate entities to fulfill their mission which includes increasing awareness of African-American & African Diaspora art, enhance artist’s contributions to the community, advocate for youth expose to art, preserve the legacy of artists, and provide scholarships for African-American art students.

Bloomington-Normal, Illinois is home to the corporate headquarters of State Farm.  It is no surprise that this highly respected organization is a major supporter of Sisters and Friends’ Afrocentric Fine Art Show.  The weekend of May 21st and 22nd, 2011, marked the sixteenth year for the show.  It was formerly billed as Art Couture.  Art Couture featured such artists as Patricia Coleman-Cobb, Danny Broadway, Paul Branton, Joyce Lomax, and Dana Todd Pope. Gallery Guichard, a prominent Chicago gallery, also presented works from several of its highly talented artists. In the spirit of their mission, Sisters & Friends hosted each artist with the royal treatment, which included an invitation only dinner on the first night of the show.

Even though their numbers are small, their influence is far reaching.  Visitors to the sixteenth annual show came from locations throughout the Midwest, including St. Louis and Chicago.  These fearless, passionate, and devoted women are cultural leaders in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. By filling a void, they have transcended racial and ethnic barriers to unite a community around the beauty of art.  On behalf of artists everywhere, I salute your efforts.

Sisters and Friends Officers                                                      
Glenda Masingale Manson, President
Johnene Adams, Fund Development
Wilma Bates, Marketing Director/Scholarships
Carol Milling Cruz, Creative Director/Webmaster
Angela Davenport, Artist Events
Beverly Reid, Secretary/Treasurer
Stephanie Woodard, Volunteers

Friday, May 13, 2011

How Am I Doing?

Embrace (2011) Art quilt with mixed-media collage
Embrace(2011) is my latest creation as a professional mixed media artist. It is a collaboration of my favorite mediums and techniques - collage, fabric, and sculpture.   I enjoy combining small bits of this and that to create something new and exciting.   Collage and quilting do just that.   As a youth, I enjoyed giving family and friends unique gifts from my heart and hands.  I always had little money for art supplies, but my mother was an elementary school teacher who always had construction paper, crayons, and glue.  I would raid her stash of old magazines, kitchen cabinets, and jewelry drawers for things I could use in my art creations.  These early exploits began my foray into the world of collage.  

Soft Sculpture saxophone detail
My mother was also an amateur seamstress.  She never let me on her sewing machine, but she gave me needle, thread, and fabric scraps.   I loved the feel of the needle passing through the fabric.  Working with the needle and thread was calming.  It allowed my mind to escape the cares of the world.  As I grew, I realized making clothes was not my thing.  Instead, I'd rather use fabric to create beauty I could hang on walls for all to see.  

Bas Relief Singer detail
After watching, Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg, I convinced my mother to buy me a mini-pottery wheel.  I never mastered that thing.  Even after taking classes, I really disliked throwing clay.  But someone suggested I try hand building.  Now, that was my speed.  I appreciated the feel of the clay and my ability to mold it into something special.  However working with clay is expensive.  So I reached back into my fabric stash and began experimenting with fabric sculpture.

Hand stitched ribbon detail
Embrace(2011) marks more than the beginning of a spirit led art career. It signifies the merging of all of my artistic passions into one piece. I randomly cut warm colored fabric shapes from repurposed clothes and curtains.  I used fabric fusing techniques to collage these pieces to create a vibrant art quilt focal point.   Then I used fabric sculpture techniques to mold a 3-D saxophone and bas relief singer.   The gold ribbons leaping from the instrument were hand stitched to the art quilt symbolizing music's embrace over every aspect of a community.  Next, I collaged a stretched canvas with layers of sheet music containing old jazz standards, acrylic paint, tulle, and gel medium.  I'm inspired by language and the sheet music represents the language of music.  Finally, I hand stitched the art quilt to the sheet music to complete the story.
Screen-printed homes detail
I am a self-taught artist transforming a creative hobby into a professional career. Many artists believe extraordinary art is determined by a work's design composition (balance, proportion, rhythm, emphasis, unity) and artistic elements (line, shape, form, space, color, value, texture).  As creative individuals, we can grow from each other's feedback.   How well do you think Embrace addresses design composition and artistic elements?  I would love to read your honest and informed comments to further my development as an artist.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Slave to Markets vs. Free to Create

Embrace (2011), R. D. Lindsey
We often become slaves because we decide to let outside forces dictate the direction for our lives instead of allowing a well-fed spirit to guide us.  At the start of my professional journey as an artist, I decided the art market and collector’s tastes would influence my creations.  I thought, “This is the best strategy for success!  If no one wants your work, how else can you make money?”  After visiting several art exhibits, I noticed that many African-American artists used music as their primary subject.   I wanted to set myself apart, so I refused to create any work dealing with music.  What a series of stupid decisions!

Over the past several months, I have exposed myself to true artists - artists who see their work as a spiritual connection with the world’s inhabitants.  True artists base their success on more than dollars gained from sales.  Success is based on their ability to touch hearts, souls, and minds.  Their work is the deepest form of human sharing.  I have learned my creative expression is a gift from God.  He has given me a story to tell through my hands’ creations.  Now,  I need to tell the story of resiliency.  I am a black artist who must not be ashamed to embrace my heritage and resiliency.   

Fabric sculpted saxophone
Why do so many African-American artist use music as a subject? Because it is so much a part of our people.  Music embraces every part of our being.  On Sunday morning’s it ushers in our worship.  Saturday evenings it cosigns our stories around the card table.  Melodies from living room concerts float out windows to entertain the entire neighborhood.   Music sets the mood for lip locking passion. And regardless of our economic condition, many of us lace our music with a little libation to lift our spirit and dull our pain.  But if we want to really be honest, music does this for every inhabitant of God’s Earth.  Music is a universal embrace.
I have struggled for months to create an image that represents me as an artist.  Nothing seemed to fit until an acquaintance approached me about a commission representing her family’s passion for music.  I started playing around with ideas and felt my spirit soar as I worked on a practice piece.  Since then the commission has died but my spirit has resurrected with the creation of my latest piece, Embrace.  Embrace marks the beginning of a spirit led art career.  With this new beginning, comes  my declaration of  freedom to embrace God’s purpose for my life as an artist.  My way is not crystal clear, but I’m daring to depend on the power of my well feed spirit to light the way.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I Can Play, Too!

Mono-print on cotton with ProChemical Inks
Children have the most unusual ideas about appropriate activities for their parents. Our children always have busy weekends.  Last weekend, as a gesture of feinted concern, my son asked, "What are you doing today?" 

I proudly responded, "I have a play date."
He scrunched his nose, bucked his eyes, and with raised brows declared, "You are too old for a play date!"

Every artist should make time to play with their friends.  You may wonder what is an artist's "play date".  It is an opportunity for like minded artists to come together to share ideas, techniques, and processes.   A play date is an opportunity to explore possibilities with the support of others who aren't afraid to try something new.   It is an chance to expand your artistic process.

Play dates are especially important in a depressed economy.  When an artist is having difficulty selling their work funds are limited for intensive workshops and professional development.  Without these opportunities, an artist runs the risk of becoming stagnant.  Play dates allow the artist to learn from other artists working in the same media.

Mono-print on cotton with Setacolor paints
How does a play date work?  It's very simple.  You get together some friends. Bring some toys to their studio. And after playing for hours you eat together.   In my case, my friends were 5 members of Professional Art Quilters Alliance (PAQA), which is based in Illinois.  We decided before hand to play with mono-printing on fabric.  So our toys were inks, paints, fabrics, and tools from our personal stashes. During my younger play dates, we always tired of the game we came to play and thought of something new to do.  This is also the case today.  We soon tired of mono-printing and began exploring stamping.  Finally, the youngest member of the group anxiously announced, "I have an hour before I have to pick-up my kids!"

That was the signal for the best part of the play date - LUNCH!  Each person brought something to share.  Like most health conscious artists we had a balanced lunch of fresh, organic salad made with lettuce from our hostess's garden accompanied with homemade bread and followed by three different decadent desserts. (OK, you're right! The meal wasn't really balanced.)  But it allowed us to ruminate about life the way only a bunch of creative ladies know how.

I hope you are in no way like my son.  Don't ever think you are too old to play!  I know I can't wait until our next  4 hours of artistic fun. Who are you going to call to schedule a  play date?