Artist Spotlight focuses on interesting artists, upcoming exhibitions, and articles about art and those who love it or create it.

Discover new ways to stretch your imagination, be introduced to new artists, their exhibits, and books to read about them. Expect to excite your mind. Comments are very welcome! -- Rosemary Carstens

Friday, February 10, 2012

HAVANA 2012: Poetry from the Violet Island – Reina María Rodríguez

Reina Maria Rodriguez in her Havana rooftop garden. Photo by Andres Walliser
There are rare, shimmering moments in life when we connect with beauty in a way that moves us profoundly. It might happen when we first see a long-admired painting in person or hear the power of Beethoven’s 9th symphony performed with a full orchestra. I’ve experienced it during those dark nights when a few lines in a book suddenly reveal deep personal meaning. For each individual the event that might illuminate a life is unique, but the feeling is universal. Such a moment happened for me recently during a visit to the Havana apartment of acclaimed Cuban poet Reina María Rodríguez. From her rooftop garden, with the setting sun casting its golden glow over the slowly crumbling buildings behind her, she gathered together selections from her sensitive, exquisite poetry and released them like angels into the sky. I was moved beyond words when she concluded her reading by saying, “In this moment, I feel my poetry has some importance.”

As I traveled with a small group of professional researchers, visiting Reina’s welcoming Havana home to hear her discuss her work and then read for us was one of the unforgettable highlights of my first trip to the island. For many of us in the United States, Cuba only exists as a collage of images from pre-embargo days: Hemingway, Sinatra, Ava Gardner, fifties automobiles with big grills and flaring fins, primo cigars and highball glasses filled with molasses-colored rum consumed by wealthy people in fancy dress—and everywhere the syncopation of Afro-Caribbean music. As with stories of the legendary isle of Atlantis, if you haven’t been there it’s hard to separate reality from nostalgia.

From my perspective, while the iconic players have changed and the magical, pastel-hued city of Havana has aged less than gracefully, the vibrant culture of Cuba and its people’s warm welcome to visitors have not. The afternoon spent with Reina María Rodríguez is but one shining example.

Born in Havana in 1952, only 8 years before Fidel Castro’s revolution blew the country apart, Reina María grew up and developed her poetry amidst radical changes in the country’s social, political, and economic life. Her work, making use of an experimental style initially, is richly metaphorical and expresses not only her own erotic and personal life experiences but continues to question and comment on contemporary Cuban culture as a whole. Winner of the Casa de las Americas poetry prize, the UNEAC Prize, and the Julian del Casal prize, Rodriguez is recognized today as one of the most outstanding of Cuban writers.

One of Rodríguez’s most recent books, published by Green Integer (2004)  in the United States, is Violet Island and Other Poems, a collection in both Spanish and English, with translations by Kristin Dykstra and Nancy Gates Madsen. As expressed in this slim volume, “Rodríguez offers the freedoms of a revised vision, a revolutionary gaze that depends not on freezing the hands of time, but on embracing its motion. In her poetic testimonies, it is not any single moment of triumph that gives meaning to revolution, but the everyday, intimate, and ambivalent experiences that citizens share—even if they know heroes and history only from a distance.”

Reina María is a revolutionary within Cuba’s political evolution. Beyond the intellectual challenges of her work, for two decades her seven-story walk-up, informally known as la azotea de Reina, an intellectual salon, has provided a space for readings and discussions where writers and artists can depart from party lines and weave more textured self-expression. The stairwell leading to her front door is dark, the walls dilapidated and crumbling, the handrail leaning to one side. Perhaps it serves metaphorically to represent some of the poet’s journey. In contrast, as you enter her home you are surrounded by bright colors, rooms filled with light from the sky beyond her rooftop garden, collections of books and art, music, and the certainty that here ideas are rigorously embraced.

May we all be embraced and surrounded by such beautiful moments—
Rosemary Carstens
Editor, FEAST

Further resources:

To experience the full beauty and power of Reina María’s poetry, read “Memory of Water,” translated from the Spanish by Joel Brouwer and Jessica Stephenson, and published in the June 2011 issue of Poetry magazine. Be sure to check out the tab “About this poem” also: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/242092

For audio and video recordings of readings by the poet on various dates from 2000-2011, see: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Rodriguez.php

Recording of a reading by Reina María Rodríguez in Spanish and by Arizona public radio correspondent James Reel in English on Havana rooftop: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-kVwS4MtoU

Thursday, October 6, 2011

ROSETA SANTIAGO, Santa Fe’s rising star . . .

I recently had the marvelous privilege of interviewing painter ROSETA SANTIAGO in her Santa Fe home and studio. Her surroundings reflect her active curiosity and engagement with life, her love of history, of ancient artifacts, and people of all cultures. She is presently represented by Blue Rain Gallery and some of her work can be seen on their website at http://www.blueraingallery.com where she is one of their best-selling artists.

The Interview:

Q - To quote poet Mark Doty, “love is a gateway to the world, not an escape from it.” I find this true about art also, certainly of your paintings—they are a gateway into the heart of your subjects, whether an object or a figure. How do you achieve that sense of intimacy?

In my never-ending curiosity I had to research Mark Doty first! Examination is the way I look at things and people. I imagine the subject's life or circumstance as I paint. My comments are in paint, light, and composition. I try hard to isolate what I am seeing or hearing. All that we are as artists is what goes into the painting. It is the emotional component that I think makes my paintings interesting.
Q - Your mastery of chiaroscuro is especially profound. What started you on that path and what would you say are the characteristics that made it so appealing?
While sitting and watching the light change on white marble statues on my first trip to the Louvre in 1969, I was awestruck by how the light and shadows illuminated their beauty. I promised myself I would attempt to portray that light in my paintings someday. The subjects emerging from the shadows, the drama, and the "discovery" I was experiencing were all ingredients I hoped to capture with paint.
Q - There is richness and vibrancy about your use of color, which is, I think, part of what draws people to your work. In your figurative work, the faces glow in a distinctive way. How do you choose who you want to represent?
I always know when I see a face whether I want to paint it or not. It is mostly the translucency of the face and the character showing through.I am inspired by "interesting" rather than just classic perfection.
Q - Most of your paintings feature a center-stage focal point, yet the backgrounds are important also and can add or distract from an artwork’s effectiveness. Are there some specific effects or goals you have in mind as you work through the entire composition?
Sometimes an active background will work as a tapestry for a quiet subject in the foreground. I tend to enjoy a complex background if there are designs and objects the viewer can discover secondarily. These things expand the story of the main character. They are often clues to what the painting is about.
Q - There is an Asian sensibility about your work, in its simplicity and the serenity your paintings project. Where does this come from?
I am not painting for shock value or sensationalism. A painting of mine might have the same lasting effect, but it will be a quiet understanding. I want my paintings to have one simple message that lasts a lifetime.
Q - It seems that music is an important part of your life. Are there a half-dozen artists that you find yourself playing again and again as you work? How do they influence your mood at the time?
When I approach the easel, each day is different. I select music that feels right for a 10 hour session. In most cases those selections take me through a day's work. One day the studio is filled with Andres Segovia's Pictures at an Exhibition and perhaps Leonard Cohen. Another, I listen to Lisa Gerard, a masterful composer whose work includes musical scores for movies such as Gladiator. These musicians are translating feelings into music. I am interpreting with paint. It is a perfect pairing for me. Lately, Anour Braehem makes me feel like I am in a mysterious studio in Europe. Music transports me. It is like a musician holding my heart while I paint. It is inspiring. There is a secret language that creative people speak. 
Q - Your paintings hint at history, culture, a story emerging from the pages of time. That’s a strong part of their fascination. Is this intentional on your part?
I find that treasures are hidden everywhere. Some of the most precious are in museums; some simple but missed. I want to bring these into the light, share my fascination and the beauty I see. I am inspired by this life and all that is in it. I hope to inspire someone else with my work. I have my first bronze in the Shidoni foundry. It is entitled Ancestral Dreams. It is a contemplative face in a dreamtime state. When we wonder where some of the images come from in our dreams, I believe they are inherited.
THANK YOU, Roseta, for sharing your thoughts and your beautiful work with us!

--Rosemary Carstens

Endless Journey, oil, 63.5 x 83.5

Friday, June 17, 2011

TATTOO: Memoir on Skin

Recently a friend of mine who is an avid art collector purchased a life-size photograph by artist Eric Schwartz. Titled Chuco/Warrior, and shown here to the left, we see an unforgettable face, a body strikingly tattooed to reveal the narrative of the man’s life. As my friend says, when she shows it to friends, they either “love it or hate it—but I love it!” I loved it, too. Part of a project titled “L.A. in Black and Gray,” Schwartz has applied his considerable behind-the-lens talent to capture strong personalities of street warriors and the art they display on their bodies.

The subject of Chuco looks into the camera with a raised eyebrow and a measure of attitude that seems to say, “This is who I am, where I’ve been. Take it or leave it.” Few of us have the courage to put that out there. We hide behind manners, groomed appearances and smiles, and try to please, to fit in, to present ourselves in relation to those we are with. When someone presents themselves without those masks, it can be startling. When they have a body inked with images, it’s even more so.

Born in New York City, Schwartz grew up in Eastchester. He came out to Denver in 1957 and has been there ever since. He began his art career as a sculptor, creating projected light pieces. By the time he was 28 years old, he had work in four museums and had obtained a measure of recognition. He decided to publish an art magazine that would help artists find grants and fellowships. Ocular was aimed at visual artists and, according to Eric, “was the most widely read art publication in the country in the late 1970s.”

After a stint working as a photographer for ad agencies, Schwartz found himself attracted to fine art photography—a natural progression to a medium where it’s all about using light and shadow to tell a story or express a point of view. As Eric puts it, “This is my way to express my feelings about life.”

Earlier this year, Denver’s Robischon Gallery presented its first solo exhibition of Eric’s photography, featuring seven, large-scale portraits of individuals boasting Chicano tattoos. It takes years to gain the trust of those in this particular LA subculture and Eric put in the time, slowly gaining enough trust to be allowed to carry out his project.

 This primarily monochromatic tattoo style, featuring brief color images such as a brilliant blue butterfly or a red lipstick kiss, originated in prison and sometimes bears symbolic gang affiliation markers. Yet, the roots of the symbolism run much deeper, referencing historical Aztec warrior imagery and religious icons such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, classic Hollywood beauties such as Marilyn Monroe, and men as action heroes alongside personal references and symbols. Each man’s choices make a point, reveal an individual history. Beyond their fierce, no-shit, gaze a viewer glimpses men who have played their way through a tough hand and are much more complex than a first, perhaps prejudicial, glance reveals.

For more about Eric Schwartz and his work

(Images: Top left, Chuco/Warrior, pigment print on canvas on DiBond aluminum, 52"x40"; above right, Joseph Rodriguez, East LA, pigment print on canvas on DiBond aluminum, 52"x40") 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist (Schiffer Publishing 2011)

So often throughout history accomplished artists have disappeared from sight as other artists’ popularity has risen or when no new work appears to remind us. Such might have been the case for the remarkable work of QUINCY TAHOMA, had not two women embarked on a more-than-a-decade search to uncover the mysteries of his life and work. The two, Vera Badertscher and Charnell Havens, long-time friends and colleagues, took on a gargantuan task to bring us this beautiful, annotated biography. They gathered oral histories from over 50 people, many of whom knew Tahoma personally, and spent untold hours up to their armpits in archival materials, piecing together ragged bits of information here and there, sifting fact from legend to create a record of the artist’s short life. Many of the book’s more than 260 full-color images have never before been shown publicly.

It all began with “Aunt Mary.” When Charnell Havens was 12, her aunt returned home from a visit to Santa Fe, NM, and brought with her five of Tahoma’s paintings. Charnell never grew tired of seeing “the Indian braves rounding up majestic wild horses and spearing buffalo so there would be meat,” and she “marveled at the beauty of the seemingly endless landscape and the animals that claimed it as their own.” Upon her aunt’s death many years later, her niece inherited those paintings and the earlier fascination they held for her drove her to dig into who the man was behind the art. She ultimately drew her good friend and sorority sister Vera Badertscher into the quest. The result is this very special volume about an artist whose brain raged with amazing images.

Until this publication came to my attention, I knew nothing of Quincy Tahoma or his art. As I studied the imagery in this volume, I was struck again and again by their detail and their symmetry. There are sophisticated aspects of his paintings that evoke art deco style—his repetitive use of stylized natural elements such as waves, clouds, even dust flying from the hooves of buffalo. He echoes shapes for emphasis and exaggerates or elongates figures and animals to create a distinctive personal style, and he employs perspective to show the vastness of the Western landscapes he loved.

I was amazed at the detail about the American Indian culture revealed in this artist’s body of work—clothing and adornment, the role of the hunter, the magnificence of horses and game, and groups’ communal activities. There is something about Tahoma’s art that reminds me of the famous “ledger” artists—Plains Indians who produced narrative drawings or paintings on paper or cloth. Tahoma’s work is alive, active—stories are told, and a history of a people unfolds within them. He draws the viewer into the tale. And, within each, is his unique signature with its “next chapter” of the action foretold in a few, spare lines.

Quincy Tahoma was a handsome young man, talented, swarmed after by the ladies, but ultimately tortured by his growing alcohol dependency. In his late thirties, his body gave out—but one can only image how brightly his mind would have continued to roam the hills and valleys of his compositions had he survived. Thanks to the determined efforts and persistence of Havens and Badertscher, his legacy has been revitalized.

For more information about Quincy Tahoma, the authors, the research journey, and interviewees’ personal memories: http://tahoma.info/ or Quincy Tahoma Blog: http://tahomablog.com

-- Rosemary Carstens

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Delicious Jewels to Whet the Appetite

Hemmerle, renowned jewelry designer, and acclaimed chef and cookery writer Tamasin Day-Lewis have combined their talents in this unusual but expressive, beautifully photographed book. Called the “vegetable collection,” Hemmerle presents 11 brooches and one pair of earrings inspired by mother earth’s bounty. As is always the case with Hemmerle, the best ingredients are combined with superb craftsmanship to create sparkling replicas of foods from the garden. Among the bounty: the sparkling “Red Pepper,” of copper, white gold, silver, and garnets; the artichoke’s intricate symmetry presented in copper, white gold, and purple sapphires; and the shimmering beauty of “Sweet Corn,” created in silver, yellow and white gold, oriental pearls, and white diamonds, to name just a few delights.

Mixed in with this unique jewelry collection, again using only the best ingredients combined with her own chefly artistry, Day-Lewis provides recipes for making the most of the garden’s offerings. “Vegetables,” she says, “are the jewels of the earth.” She speaks lovingly of her grandmother’s garden where vegetables were “brought up to the house every morning . . . heaps of small, sweet carrots like waxy, whiskery orange candles; tiny pebbles of new potatoes; slim, shiny broad bean pods, firm-flowered caulis” and so much more. In this volume, she complements Hemmerle’s creations with those from her kitchen.

There is no doubt that Delicious Jewels (Prestel 2011 ) appeals to both our heavenly and earthly longings—no need to wait for Happy Hour to indulge!

For more about Hemmerle

For More about Tamasin Day-Lewis

Enjoy the feast . . . 

-- Rosemary Carstens

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

April 5 - Native American eBay Art Auction Benefits Japanese Disaster Relief

In a moving act of empathy, this first-of-its-kind event will offer top quality work by prominent Native American artists, with all proceeds going to disaster relief for Japan. The first of a series of eBay auctions is slated to begin April 5th, 2011.

Raymond C. Yazzie, award-winning Navajo jewelry artist, has many friends and customers in Japan. As the disaster unfolded before his eyes on television and the Internet, Yazzie felt a deep need to reach out. He and fellow artists Darryl Dean Begay and Lyndon Tsosie got together and Native American Artists for Japan (NAAJ) was born. All monies raised will be donated to the Red Cross effort in Japan.

Within 24 hours of announcing their idea on Facebook, commitments of amazing pieces of art flowed in from across New Mexico, Arizona, and beyond. Over 100 artists including Tony Abeyta, Michael Roanhorse, and Darryl Dean Begay have pledged some of their best pieces for the EBay auction, and additional pledges continue to pour in from such artists as Verma Nequatewa (Sonwai), Perry Shorty, McKee Platero and Lyndon Tsosie.

“Our mission is to inspire fellow Native artists to give back to our brothers and sisters abroad,” says Yazzie. Lyndon Tsosie, adds, ”Native American Artists for Japan has turned into a gigantic bubble of love and help, reaching out to those affected by this disaster.”

A website has been established at http://www.nativeamericanartistsforjapan.com, where links to ongoing eBay auctions will be posted. You can also view information about fund-raising progress, a list of contributors, and videos from artists who have joined the effort. The first in the auction series will include as many 15 pieces of art. This auction will last for 7 days, then NAAJ will post more art the following week.

The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) has joined forces with the founders to handle monetary donations. Checks can be made out to: SWAIA c/o Native American Artists for Japan and sent to: SWAIA, c/o of Native American Artists for Japan, POB 969, Santa Fe, NM 87504-0969.

This is a fantastic way to add to your Native American art collection and benefit people in deep need at the same time. I hope you’ll participate!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mastering the “Business Side” of Art . . .

Almost every artist I know struggles with the business requirements that can make the difference in their search for success and recognition. And not just visual artists—it’s true for writers as well, and probably anyone in the “small business” category. There seems to never be enough time to attend to networking, marketing, or building an Internet presence. Yet, today, it’s a huge road block to your career if you don’t do them. Oh, I know, you’d “rather be in the studio”—but few of us can afford that luxury. We either have to get out there and market, or we have to hire someone who will do it for us.

ALYSON B. STANFIELD has published a fantastic roadmap that is geared toward artists in particular, but that I find to be a great guide to marketing for any small business owner. I’d Rather Be in the Studio: The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion (Pentas Press). An experienced artist advocate, workshop leader, and art-marketing consultant, Stanfield knows all about self-promotion and has written a book crammed with checklists, tips, and resources to help her readers benefit from her experiences. It’s the kind of book you want to keep on your desk at all times. Got a minute? Pick it up, do one or two things, and you are on your way.

Of course, there are some essential basics that every creative person who wants to make a living at their craft must accomplish—like having a website, for example. But Stanfield breaks this down into manageable, understandable steps to prevent intimidation overload, and the same is true for the wealth of other materials in this book.

I’ve already placed post-its on a couple of passages I need to work on myself. Wishing you a successful year of moving forward with your marketing plans!

Alyson Stanfield’s website: http://www.artbizcoach.com/
Author’s blog: http://www.artbizblog.com/
Book website: http://idratherbeinthestudio.com/