Yvonne Henry is the genius behind the Ekphrasis show, which continues at the Calistoga Art Center through Saturday, April 20th, from 1 to 5 p.m each day. Her idea - what would happen if you combined a photographer with someone working in another medium, and the second artist began with a photograph from the first artist as the inspiration to create something new? Hence, Sharolyn Townsend's wonderful drawing, using Michelangelo as inspiration (one work of art begets another)....
Yvonne presented the idea at the Calistoga Camera Club show late last year, and artists and photographers began pairing up. I was absolutely blessed to be able to work with Wes Thollander, whose photography I have long admired.
But in my case the inspiration works in multiple ways....
Long before I met Wes, I knew of his father, artist Earl Thollander. Wes's and my grandparents were friends – Swedes in Cloverdale, a small Sonoma County town with a reasonably good-sized Swedish community. After my grandparents moved to Santa Rosa, Wes's grandparents would visit whenever they came down to Santa Rosa, and Earl would drive them. My grandmother would tell me about Earl, and he autographed a copy of Bug Haiku for me.
I loved the way he drew - with a freshness of vision, originality, and humor that inspired me. I was a drawer, too (it was many years before I thought of myself as a painter), and I was enchanted by his work. Such beautiful lines! (Oh, what he could do with a bamboo pen!) When Back Roads of California, and later Barns of California came out, I loved looking through them.
Wes, as it turned out, was accompanying his father on some of those sketching trips, and photographing the scenes they found – the beginnings of his photographic career.
It was not easy to choose only one of Wes's photographs as my inspiration – his work is profoundly beautiful. I narrowed it down to two images, but kept leaning to the one you see on the left, Mund Road. The trees twisting their way up to find the light, and the light streaming down to the forest floor, create a magical scene.
I wanted to give a sense of those trees nearly dancing in their places, and the light filtering in between them. I used to live in a forest – Wes and his family live in one, too – and there is something about it that feels magical and reverential.
I wanted to begin with Wes's composition, which required subtle shifts to make the painting work, because the canvas's proportions were different. Some people might have found that direction too literal, but that was part of what I so loved about it. I wanted to work with the image in black and white, so the painting could find its own color. It feels to me that it still wants more color – so I may see where else it may want to take me after the show. But I love the dancing of the trees – I think we caught them behaving as though unobserved, celebrating? – perhaps conversing? - in the circle of the light.
I am absolutely honored to have Wes's photograph as my inspiration for this show, just as his father's drawings have inspired me for so many years. There's a wonderful circularity about it, even though I never got to meet Earl. I just know my grandmother is up there smiling....
Last December, I spent a wonderful afternoon in the company of two remarkable artists who'd lived bohemian lives in New York during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, post-WWII and into the fifties and sixties. Willard Bond, the father of my friend Gretchen, and Jean Maggrett, whom I've known since I moved back into this area ten years ago, had never met, but had much in common. They shared memories and stories over coffee and cookies, and I listened with rapt attention.
In the months that followed, Willard's health declined. He was able to move out here from upstate New York, to the California Veteran's Home in Yountville, where he was given the best of care, and where Gretchen was able to spend every day with him.
On Saturday, May 19th, in Gretchen's words, Willard "cast off for the final time and set sail for his voyage into the mysterious unknown. He departed this realm under calm seas and a gentle wind." Words well suited for a sailor and marine painter, whose paintings of racing sailboats are unexcelled.... I'm very glad I got to meet him.
You can see some of his work online at http://www.annapolismarineart.com/WillardBond.html
You can also read about our visit in December here (scroll down to read the first post).
A little addendum on June 10th: Willard Bond's obituary was published in today's New York Times (mmm - actually, it looks like tomorrow's), with a good summary of his life and artwork. You can read it at Willard Bond, Vivid Artist of Yachting, Dies at 85. The photo of Willard on his sailboat comes from the article.
Last week, I spent a wonderful afternoon with Jean Steubing Maggrett, whom I've known for something over nine years, and Willard Bond, the father of my friend Gretchen. They met for the first time last week, but both of them lived and painted in the heady creative days of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side in the late 1940s, 50s, and early 60s, and Gretchen and I got to listen to them share memories.
Jean lived in the Village, in a loft studio on East 9th Street, opposite the building that became the site of the 9th Street Show, which introduced the work of the New York School to the world. Jean, a member of the Art Club, and a student of Hans Hofmann's, suggested the space, and collected the money to rent it, and on opening night a floodlight from her studio lit up an enormous canvas sign Franz Kline had painted to announce the exhibit, which hung from an upper floor above the show.
Willard Bond lived and worked in an old synagogue in the Lower East Side, where he painted large contemporary nudes and created painted ceramic murals, including the one at the entrance of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. He played the drums too, often with other jazz musicians, and Gretchen shared with us a photo of him playing onstage in the production of a Bertolt Brecht play.
Today, Willard is known for his marine paintings, which you can see at http://www.annapolismarineart.com/WillardBond.html, and which you see in the book on the table in front of them.
What wonderful stories I got to hear, from two people who lived hearty creative lives, and who still live life heartily and creatively! I'll post more later....
I drove to Monterey for a quick trip this weekend, and saw the show of a friend of mine, Mari Kloeppel, at the Monterey Museum of Art. In the museum building on Pacific Street, in Monterey, California, it is a wonderful show. It's rare to see so many of Mari's paintings together in one place, because each one takes her months to complete, and they are generally sold soon after.
Her paintings are reminiscent of old master paintings. Her subjects, all animals, glow with a quality of light and attention to detail that only comes after many layers of thin washes, painted with tiny, tiny brushes.
If you're in or near Monterey between now and July 10th, when the show closes, it's well worth a stop. If you'd like to see and learn more about Mari's work, or read an inspiring story of art, determination, and miracles, you can find Ben Bamsey's article, "Mari Kloeppel," at http://artworksmagazine.com/2009/03/mari-kloeppel/.
For more information about the show, you can go to http://www.montereyart.org/current-exhibitions/montereynow-mari-kloeppel/, the website of the Monterey Museum of Art. It's a wonderful exhibit!