2008 Experimental/Abstract Winners

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First Place
Robert Johnston

Il Mimo (oil, 26×30)

When played in stereo, music emanates from two or more channels, combined in our minds as a realistic sound. Similarly, our eyes grasp a multiple image united in the brain as a single image. Enter Robert Johnston’s painting technique, which he’s coined “stereo realism” (www.stereorealism.blogspot.com).

“We see two images fused in the mind as one, but everything else in our peripheral vision remains doubled. My paintings are intended to appear as if you’re not really looking at them,” Johnston explains. “I like the idea of showing people what they’ve been missing.”

The result is a sense of vibration, like sound waves—no coincidence, as Johnston is also a composer and guitar teacher. Originally from Cullman, Alabama, he began studying art in the studio of Jon Sachs and later apprenticed with the artists Fred Nall Hollis in Vence, France, an experience he considers invaluable. He went on to perfect his skills at the Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy, and at the Academy of Realist Art in Toronto, Canada.

For his first-place winning work, Il Mimo (Italian for “The Mime”), Johnston rendered a street performer he encountered in Florence. Posing as Napoleon, the mime stands in front of a statue of Leonardo grasping a notebook. As viewers, our inability to make eye contact with the subject both intrigues and disturbs.

Johnston’s technique began as a casual observation about the nature of sight, jotted down in a sketchbook and nearly forgotten. “It wasn’t until several years later, after studying academic drawing and painting and realizing something was missing, that I went back to it,” he says. Reactions to the style—ranging from “oddly familiar” and “eye opening” to “somewhat schizophrenic”—please the artist.

While the initial inspiration for his paintings comes lightning quick, the execution is for Johnston a labor of love. A painting like Il Mimo may take the artist nearly three months to complete. “I ask myself, Does the painting need no explanation, and has it taken on a life of its own? When the answer is yes, that’s when I put the brushes down, but not before.”

Second Place
Christian Faur
Just Paper (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) (collage, 48×78)

Without the title of Christian Faur’s work, the viewer knows only that the landscape evinces a plane that’s uneven, unsettling. One sees a hint of a fence and a looming watchtower—structures bent on keeping one group out and another within. The setting is the United States-operated military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—a haunting depiction made all the more ominous by a stark, documentary-like quality.

An example of the cyclical nature of inspiration, the collage’s impetus comes from a photograph taken by Paolo Pellegrin for Magnum Photos, the international photo cooperative that chronicles world events. Using the photo as a guide, Faur painstakingly cut and assembled 12,000 strips of paper, each typed with text from the Constitution. A closer look reveals words set in different fonts, making the process even more tedious—and the result even more profound.

Just Paper is unabashed political commentary, but its purpose is two-fold: The work speaks to the ephemeral nature of the artist’s material (paper), and it points out the malleable nature of words, which can be manipulated both physically and metaphorically. For better or worse, language is interpreted to suit the needs of those who use it—or abuse it. Without bombarding us with images of struggle or supplying an answer, Faur poses a thought and leaves us to ponder.

At Denison University in Granville, Ohio, Faur is Director of Collaborative Technologies in the Fine and Performing Arts, where he teaches interactive media and animation courses while overseeing the technology for the program. His work at the university has led to several successful collaborative art projects in the United States and Europe. To see more of Faur’s work, go to www.christianfaur.com.

Third Place
Patsy Smith
Enchanting Perception (mixed media, 22×30)

Enchanting Perception yields a riot of colors and shapes assembled by Nebraska artist Patsy Smith (www.patsysmithart.com). Bordered on both sides by transparent, mellow gold washes, a central column of boldly colored shapes crowned in a halo of pure white rises into the dark upper-third of the composition. The image resembles an inverted cross-section of a plant bursting forth from the earth.

A long-time workshop instructor as well as professional artist, Smith is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to genre and materials. Yet, her first love is water-based media, which allows for the incorporation of anything from acrylics to watercolor pencils. Symbolist Gustav Klimt is a strong source of inspiration with his elongated, linear figures and his blocks of rich color. “His work contains all the elements I love about art,” says Smith. And just as Klimt did, Smith makes frequent use of gold leaf.

Enthralled by the effect colors have on one another, Smith lets her intuition run rampant, usually beginning a painting by moving color around on the surface. “At first, chaos rules,” she states. “From this mélange of color and shapes, amazing things develop.” That’s not to say that contemplation isn’t involved. Smith spends a lot of time studying a painting before proceeding to the next step. For example, Enchanting Perception took three days of on-and-off work to complete.

Smith employs a process of elimination, saving what works and subtracting what does not by subduing or “ghosting” areas with thin layers of paint. “I’m aware all the while that I must bring this chaos to good composition; it’s like looking at clouds and finding forms that are meaningful to me. When creating in this way, the sky’s the limit.”

Honorable Mention
Susan Grace
Sea Chant (watercolor, 45×32)

Interlacing a background of marching figures with a foreground of still life, Susan Grace’s Sea Chant is a densely packed arrangement of the delicate and geometrical. The idea for the stained-glass-like painting germinated during a time the artist spent living in Greece. “I had the opportunity to participate in various festivities there and would often sketch people as I observed them,” she says.

Grace begins each painting with a drawing, working either from life, or from imagination and memory. Her portfolio comprises mainly landscapes but, in the last few years, her talents have been focused on the figure. Favoring rich, deep colors in oil, she occasionally tries her hand at watercolor, as with Sea Chant, completed in one month while she worked on other paintings. She’s pleased with the way the various images overlap and the fact that she could achieve transparency while still maintaining a recognizable image.

Honorable Mention
Paul Jackson
Scotch on the Rocks (watercolor, 36×22)

The intoxicating perspective in Scotch on the Rocks was influenced by the inspiring manner in which light hit the surface of the glass. As an abstract take on still life, Scotch on the Rocks began simply with a line and a circle and evolved continuously through the painting process. The finished work is slightly dizzying, as the viewer attempts to discern which end is up.

No novice when it comes to painting, Paul Jackson (www.pauljackson.com) is a workshop instructor and the author of Painting Spectacular Light Effects in Watercolor (North Light Books, 2000). A graduate of Mississippi State University and the University of Missouri, where he earned a master of fine arts degree, Jackson holds many honors. His works, which have appeared on the covers of books and magazines, hang in esteemed collections and museums around the country.

Honorable Mention
Carol Staub
Checkmate (collage, 36×36)

Carol Staub (www.carolstaub.com) began making her purely nonobjective art a decade ago, following a 26-year career in the airline industry. While illustrating proper adhesion techniques at a collage workshop, Staub began Checkmate as a challenge to create a strictly black-and-white painting. The project would prove to be quite a trial.

After prepainting the canvas black and painting the collage pieces on watercolor paper, Staub tried to use white paint directly on the canvas in the negative space left by the papers. She soon realized that matching the white paint with the white watercolor papers was impossible. The artist prefers to think of the error as “a step on the ladder of learning.” Forced to change tactics, she took on the much more challenging task of tucking white watercolor paper in and out of her composition, as opposed to simply painting certain areas.

Lisa Wurster is a freelance writer living in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Denise Athanas
Mt. Pleasant SC

Anne Bagby
Estill Springs TN

Leslie Banta
Staunton VA

Mel Brunau
Berea OH

Chica Brunsvold
Falls Church VA

Maryna Butenko
Woodland Hills CA

George M. Clark
Washington Boro PA

Sally Cooper
Parkland FL

Iosif Derecichei
Windsor ON

Pat Dews
Hobe Sound FL

Christian J. Faur
Granville OH

Kevin Feary
Batavia NY

Jennifer Gardner
North Venice FL

Susan Grace
Lawrence KS

Deb Grisé
Penetanguishene ON

Paul Jackson
Columbia MO

Robert Johnston
Toronto ON

Jutta Kaiser
Vancouver BC

J. Lynn Kelly
Hurst TX

Dusanka Kralj
Crescent City CA

Lorraine Lawson
Campbell CA

Richard Lopez
Long Beach CA

Sandra Phipps MacDiarmid
San Jose CA

Robert Mazur
Bowling Green OH

Bill McEnroe
Tumwater WA

Jackie Myers
San Diego CA

Roye Jan Myers
Fairview TX

Chauncey S. Nelson
Orlando FL

Mary Pichette
Carson CA

Stephen JW Reid
Powell OH

Ester Roi
San Juan Capistrano CA

Fred Samuelson
Rockledge FL

Karen Scharer
Lyons CO

Marc Schimsky
Commack NY

Marie Shell
Jacksonville FL

Shin-Young An
West New York NJ

Carol Staub
Port St Lucie FL

Jen Trute
Carlsbad CA

Rosa Ines Vera
Bethesda MD

Donna Watson
Camano Island WA

Zoran Zelic
New York NY

Dolores Ziegler
Whiting NJ

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