The artist Carolyn Lavender
At the conception of this collaborative project, two artist are clearly in mind. Carolyn Lavender is the first artist I meet and speak with. I’ve admired Carolyn’s art work for a long time. She’s one of Eye Lounge‘s founding members. We met last October, when her work The Woods, was up at Modified. In fact, it had just come down. It was in her car. She brought it out so I could look at it. We took it into eye lounge and then proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon talking…about the work, art, drawing, teaching…politics, religion…stuff. Carolyn’s direct, she’s intelligent and open, and had plenty to say. Shortly there-after, she invited me to her studio. I assumed it would be a quick visit but again, we spend the entire afternoon talking about her art and art making. She’s generous and patient with my curiosity.
The Studio Upon arriving, I walk through her National Wildlife certified wildlife habitat (did i write that right?) front yard. She’s in a regular city neighborhood and her yard is a declared wildlife habitat. Cool! As I move through the garden, I observe the attention to detail. Unstructured structure, abundant variety, beautiful,desert…fun. Unusual in this area. I meet her cats and her dog.
I enter the studio… I’m going to skip the part about the first art work I see…I’ll get back to it later …
A slow 180 degree turn, to take it in. Then another.
Flashback: To a few years back: I’d love an exhibition opportunity with [some specific] artists I haven’t shown with. Lavender.
Flashback, but come more forward: In her studio, hearing about her process and looking at her stuff, the work… I want to work with this artist.
Flashback: To various points in time, I’m waiting, for an invitation to exhibit with specific artists (here in the valley). It’s bound to come. Curator? Gallery Director? Waiting…waiting….patiently waiting…
Flash forward: To one afternoon when I have lunch with Ted Decker. I share my thoughts with him. He says something like, Why are you waiting? Do it! Create the exhibit…all of you. Call them.
Flash: Call, I do. Carolyn agrees to participate and to help make it happen. She’s the one who will eventually contact Modified Arts and propose our idea.
back to The Studio I’ve said this before, an artist studio is sacred space. I don’t take the opportunity to visit one for granted. I’m fascinated by the variety of objects that surround us. Her shelves remind me of carefully laid out still life’s. A scientist laboratory comes to mind, as do Joseph Cornell’s boxes. Eventually she brings out her personal journals and bags of collage cut outs (photo below), the bits and pieces…of her process. It’s private, it’s her own, it’s magic and as fascinating as the finished works. She cuts out and files photos, magazines, invitation images…you name it. These become reference for work and some go into journals. It’s this particular memory that will eventually bring the Process element, into the exhibition plan. She brings a journal to write in, and she doodles, at most every meeting we’ve had. Like her yard…I see this as unstructured structure.
The Work Entering her studio I first make (eye) contact with a tacked to the wall canvas that has on it a gridded composite of small, graphite rendered, animal heads. Hypnotizing.
We sit at her drawing table. I look at cut outs, they’re sort of hypnotizing too. I ask about the canvas, does it have a name?
She calls it Portrait. She says in a matter of fact manner, It will be a grid comprised of 200 4” portraits of animals, each of which is making eye contact with the viewer. (I noted that when I stood in front of it) In my mind they are the equivalent of human “head and shoulders” framed portraits. The drawing resembles yearbook photos, but of animals. When I decided on this piece I had, for years, been doing series of self-portraits. At one point I set animal heads on top of my portraits (image below). For me animals have an equal importance in the world and it seemed that this visual arrangement helped illustrate that. The animals were more interesting because they were paired with my images and my images were more interesting because they each had an animal head. Finishing her thought, she says “Portrait” is my attempt to draw attention to animals, in a piece that has only animals in it.
Media: Gouache, Graphite, Acrylic on Rag Board
33″ x 22″
Media: Gouache, Graphite, Acrylic on Rag Board.
33″ x 22″
Meticulous detail, is one quality that draws me into Lavender’s work. Is that graphite? 4B? 6B? The line work is so clean. I am using 2H and F [graphite pencils]. I’m surprised. I am able to get darks because the graphite reacts differently to the modeling paste/gel medium ground. I’m familiar with modeling paste, I use it, but not with pencil. I’m also struck by a sense, or connection to time, the marking of it, the passing of it. As I look, I wonder out loud, How long will it take to complete Portrait? I complete one head per day. I’m not surprised, I say to her. You’re not? Oh good, I think I’m slow.
I teach drawing, carefully observing and carefully rendering, requires time. The work, each head, is striking. 200…! Two Hundred brilliantly rendered animal heads.
Speaking of time, Portrait already has a story and it’s not even complete.
Carolyn tells me that Portrait was conceived of, and started, in 2006. I have never started and set aside a piece of art the way I have this one. I started it in my Tempe studio, but then I drove it to Illinois, planning to finish it during a 2-month residency. But I could not draw fast enough to complete it for the residency. Eventually she returns to AZ and moves out of her (Tempe) studio. She then doesn’t have a wall large enough to pin it to. In the meantime she builds her studio. It wasn’t until May 2009 that I decided to finish it for the October show (at Modified, when I meet her). But after a few months of working it was clear that I would not finish in time. So “Portrait” may be the most satisfying piece to finish that I have ever done.
The Showing I’m jazzed to announce Portrait will make its much awaited debut, in our collaborative exhibition…
The working plan for all of us, is to show one large major work, and smaller supporting works, that led to it either in content or form. You’ll see a few of Carolyn’s self portraits, as supporting works for the larger piece. Many details have yet to be made.
Yesterday, as we talk about things, we come to the conclusion that our exhibition is a project. A Collaborative Project. We move along.
Stay tuned. Anther artist coming soon!
You can see one of Carolyn’s drawings, at a group exhibit, this month, May 7th – 21st. 21 Days: Group Drawing Show, now at Pravus Gallery, in downtown Phoenix.