Solo Exhibit: Life is Fragile – Handle with Care

I dropped off the blogosphere during the last year and a half, but I’m back, and hopefully with more regular posts. After having been awarded a solo exhibit at the Art League Gallery in Alexandria, VA for April 2022, I spent all my spare time and energy since Autumn 2020 on creating works of art. Some of the pieces were large, mixed media paintings with sculptural elements (the largest measuring 40×48 inches) and others were delicately painted chicken and duck eggshells, of which I spent a minimum of 5 hours on each painting. The way I installed the exhibit turned out to be installation art in itself. The following is a documentation of my artist statement, a few samples of my work, and how I installed it in the gallery. In the coming weeks I will share more detailed accounts of my artistic process and inspiration for individual pieces.

Sea of Plastic, 36×48 inches

The beauty and fragility of life on Earth is the inspiration for this series of paintings and assemblages. In Genesis God gave man a commandment, “Be fruitful, multiply and subdue the Earth.” “Subdue” in this context means to “bring under control”, but humanity has gone farther than bringing nature under control and, like a tyrant king, through greed and sloth, is destroying the very ecosystem in which he/she lives. In this exhibit I explore the ways in which human beings are connected to ecology: how we pollute the earth, destroy it, and how this destruction ultimately affects us. This series highlights the ugliness of that destruction juxtaposed with the beauty and fragility of the natural world.  

I have incorporated found objects, which would have otherwise been thrown away, into the large acrylics on canvas and board. Sometimes, in order to incorporate the objects into the piece, I sculpted the foreground out of wire and papier mâché and covered this in gesso and paint to make a transition between the 2- and 3-Dimensional portions of the artwork. Juxtaposed with these large, foreboding paintings are tiny, delicate eggshells painted with living creatures. There are a handful of eggshells that are intentionally broken, representing extinct or endangered life. In the paintings as well as on the eggshells you will find humans, there to represent our presence in the environment and the fragility of human life. Humans are stewards of creation, and the choices that we make not only affect the non-sentient life around us, but other human lives and the lives of the next generation as well. This series focuses on the destruction that greed and carelessness have on the ecosystem, but there are layers of meaning hidden within this tiny cosmos of paintings, waiting to be uncovered.

Above is a sampling of how I chose to exhibit the works. Photography, unfortunately, fails to exhibit how 3-Dimensional the artwork actually is. The works on canvas and board were hung traditionally, while at least half the number of eggshells were hung from wires strung across the ceiling. The centerpiece of one arrangement of coral reef life was a sculpture of bleached coral made from papier mâché, gesso and eggshells. The rest of the eggshells I displayed on egg stands set on pedestals.

These are two of the arrangements that pull my artist statement together, which is that human life is as dependent upon and as fragile as the rest of the environment. The oysters in the sculpture/painting on the left were sculpted with wire, papier mâché, and gesso. This work represents the toxins that can enter food sources through improper water treatment, crop fertilization, or manure runoff. The egg carton on the right is symbolic of the safety and protection of the mother’s womb, but of which all sorts of toxins and threats can penetrate. I will write more about these works in the future.

If you wish to see more of these works, check out my portfolio page:

“Out to Sea”: Creating a Painting with Assemblage

“Out to Sea” was an experimental piece of artwork. The beauty of nature is what inspires me to paint, but I thought for a change I’d attempt to illustrate humanity’s precarious relationship with the natural world, and how our carelessness, greed, or reckless behavior can destroy life and beauty. This is the first piece in an in depth study of this sort of subject matter. The following is a bit of my thought processes and techniques of this new medium I discovered.

After hearing how the plastics we were sending overseas for “recycling” were being dumped into the waterways, I knew I wanted to create a piece about the plastics polluting our oceans. I started planning a limited palette watercolor painting featuring plastic milk jugs and a disposable water bottle along with some sea life. I collected plastic milk jugs for my reference material and began my painting. I sketched in my design and began laying in the initial washes. Everything was going fine, but the painting just was not speaking to me. I left it for awhile and walked away, ruminating how I could make it different.

Then I had an idea! A Max Ernst piece (Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale), which combined painting and wood elements, gave me the idea to combine acrylic painting with 3-Dimensional objects. Why not use my subject matter as part of my painting? The next painting session I spent cutting up my jug and trying out ways to arrange it on canvas. Two jugs later I had my composition. I cut one in half vertically and used the bottom half of the other. I glued them onto the canvas using E6000, the strongest glue I knew existed.

Then I had a problem. How was I going to make the plastic look like it’s floating in water? I remembered seeing wire mesh, so I purchased Amaco WireForm® contour mesh and had it shipped to my door. (I have three young children, so I don’t have time to run to the store.) Using the wire mesh, I “sculpted” wave-like forms around the bottles and pinned the mesh onto the back of the frame. Then I took heavy gesso and coated the wire mesh. I let this dry overnight before spreading on another layer of gesso with a palette knife. During the second coat of gesso, I sculpted ridges and swells to make the sculpture seem more wave-like.

After this second coat of gesso, I could paint the seascape. I worked the painting dark to light, like I would any other acrylic painting. When I felt I was nearing the completion of the painting, I mixed gel and white paint together to paint the foam on the crests of the waves using a palette knife. I’m pretty happy with the result of this little experiment and am in the process of trying a new composition. I’m using the wire mesh again but this time added papier maché to the outside of the wire mesh before I gessoed it. I hope to share that one with you when I am finished.

Although this new process has been exciting and challenging, beauty and symbolism keep calling to me. We’ll have to wait and see how these various themes all end up working together.