Throughout the month of August 2014 the Broome County Public Library presents “Stillness and Motion,” a joint exhibit of still life and dance paintings by artists Glenda Blake and Mary Robertson.
Artist and designer Glenda Blake received a grant from the Community Foundation for South Central New York’s Artist Fund for the series Unlikely Dance, featured in “Stillness and Motion.” She began painting as a teenager, and, after a hiatus of thirty-plus years, resumed under the guidance of New England impressionist June Latti. Traditional dance is a frequent subject of her work in both oils and colored pencil. She has exhibited throughout the Northeast, and is currently teaching oil painting at Your Home Public Library in Johnson City, NY (July 28-August 25).
Taking up painting later in life, award-winning fine artist Mary Robertson has been painting for over thirty-five years now, studying locally with both William Grausgruber and the late Michael Tanzer, and teaching her own workshops on painting. Oils are her primary medium, along with watercolor and acrylic, and still life a favorite subject. Mary was Artist-in-Residence at Riverfront Antiques in Binghamton, NY.
Both artists have exhibited their work with the Fine Arts Society of the Southern Tier, at the Community Foundation for South Central New York, and at the Broome County Arts Council as well as in other regional venues. Their common ground is a love of clear colors and dramatic light.
After a wonderful closing reception on December 6, I’ve taken down Unlikely Dance at the Broome County Arts Council gallery space — leaving two studies that were sold — and the six paintings are back in my studio for a couple of weeks before going to Ithaca for
three months for a small-group show called “For the Joy of Dance,” at the Tompkins County Public Library. (The opening reception for that show will be in February, though it’ll be on view January through March.) It’s like having old friends come home, only to leave again.
Meanwhile, my smaller dance series is hanging, in part, in the lovely RiverRead Books shop in downtown Binghamton, That show includes a series of large heads of dancers wearing floral crowns, which I’ve never shown before. The opening was quiet, but the music of Idlewild was full of life.
The tree is up, in our front room, the cards are mailed, and shopping looms; as I did last year, I’ll go to Boscov’s, the local Pennsylvania-based old-fashioned department store which anchors Binghamton’s downtown shopping district, with possible side trips to RiverRead and Tom’s Coffee, Cards, and Gifts. And it looks like we’ll have a record number of family coming to our house for Christmas dinner 2013 — eighteen at last count!
Through entirely separate channels, my work is soon to be published in two different commercial venues.
The first is Vestal Life, a full-color ad-supported magazine put out by a Philadelphia-area publisher.
Their publication manager called the Broome County Arts Council, who suggested a story on my Unlikely Dance project and the exhibit in the gallery space there — so I’ve sent a write-up and photos to VL for the December issue. (What a great support system BCAC is for their members.)
Then the creative director for Dick Blick, my longtime favorite mail-order and web-based art supplier, emailed in response to some sort of survey form I’d filled out; in return for an endorsement of their house-brand oil paints (which I use, and ARE great — no problem with that endorsement) my words, artwork, name, and website address will be shown in conjunction with some of their products in their spring catalog supplement. (She requested specific images she’d found on my Fine Art America site.) How cool is THAT?! Very exciting!
In the days leading up to it, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, either artistically or socially. I had six large paintings to show for a year and a half of work, but they seemed dwarfed by even the smaller gallery at the Broome County Arts Council. Due to personnel changes at the BCAC I was hanging the show myself, but suddenly felt unequal to the task. Earlier there had been scheduling and communications misunderstandings. And I’m not good at schmoozing. In short, I succeeded in making myself crazy-anxious about November First Friday’s BCAC opening night of Unlikely Dance.
But now November 1 has come and gone, and the opening came off beautifully — well attended despite the many other Binghamton First Friday events happening all over town, fun, and yes, I believe I was reasonably socially adept. There were old friends, newer friends, Facebook followers, family members, the director of the funding foundation, and some simply interested people I’d never met before; there were dancers who’d been my models, dancers who knew my models, a high school friend/classmate I hadn’t seen since then, models I’ve drawn at the Windsor figure drawing sessions, supportive artist friends, and my GP doc. My husband Leo heeded my call for chips and salsa and showed up in the nick of time to save the day, keeping the food table from going bare (those incredible cookies from the Gallaghers went REALLY fast!).
That morning I’d managed to edit and upload high-res photos of each of the paintings so they were available as prints and cards on my Fine Art America site, and then to put together a handout flyer about myself and the grant, including a hard-copy order form for people not comfortable with shopping online. (I encourage you to order directly from Fine Art America.)
At the suggestion of BCAC director Sharon Ball, I’d matted, framed, and hung some studies for the paintings, and they not only filled out the space but seemed to truly interest onlookers, and sparked a lot of conversation. In fact, one of the small studies is already sold — to a morris dance and Facebook friend who’s been a great support throughout this process. And he made sure to tell me EXACTLY what he liked about each painting. In fact, I was surprised and pleased by the number of people who felt compelled to lead me to their favorite pieces and tell me just what they liked about them. I have always avoided the artists at solo openings — not sure why, but I think I’m afraid I’ll over-participate, or talk about myself rather than their shows — but from now on I’ll try not to draw back like that. I love talking about my work, and I must assume other artists do too.
And did I mention the ego/approval rush of the whole thing? And the ribbon-tied garlic bouquet? And the date-night out afterwards with my sweetie? Yeah, those were really good too.
Finally, I’ve finished the Unlikely Dance series — and what a journey it’s been: a year and a half of learn-as-you go planning and painting! Except for the first one I’ve started each piece with a growing sense of confidence, only to be waylaid by an obstacle or three in the form of illness, competing time demands, technical issues, composition, lighting, line…
In the case of Unlikely Dance: Roundabout, the first issue was naming; I didn’t have the piece finally composed when the call came for a list of exhibit information. Knowing at least what dance figures I was using, I called it “Unlikely Dance: Velveteen,” for the velveteen waistcoats the figures wear. But, unhappy with the provisional visual context, I decided to change from Cutler Gardens to a shoot in downtown Binghamton’s courthouse square, and settled on the new traffic circle as an unlikely — and visually interesting — dance site. The light was wonderful, and shot specifically to match the angle of the sun in the original photos of the figures. So I renamed it “Unlikely Dance: Roundabout,” for a nice dance-like reference. That caused some confusion about the exhibit name… but all is well now, and the show is scheduled to open on First Friday, November 1.
On the painting end of things, the primary challenge of this piece was the composition, which proved to be overly heavy on the right side. The angles of the figures #2 and #3, the mass of the neoclassical bank building on the right, and the unstable curved line of the traffic circle’s edge all conspired to rotate and lean in that direction; I actually found myself tilting my head when I looked at it. The darker buildings and the cloud formation on the left were meant to counterbalance that effect, but they seemed to be outweighed.
Fortunately, a darkening of left-hand elements, a lightening of the right-hand elements, a few added or revised stabilizing vertical elements (the bank window, the central figure’s spindle, the end of the cloud formation, a subtle color trail in the sky) worked pretty well without spoiling the dynamics. It’s all a lot easier to say than it was to do, but I’m happy with it now.
So: the exhibit! The culminating show of this grant-funded painting project will be in the gallery space at the Broome County Arts Council, 81 State St., Suite 501, in Binghamton. Along with the complete series of finished paintings, I’ll be showing studies and preparatory materials with each piece. Read more about it here!
Now I have to get all those smaller materials matted and framed — and in some cases, ready to show — and get print-quality photos of all the paintings in the series, to post for sale in my online shops in time for the show.
Here’s the progression of “Roundabout” as it went together: