Arguably the most famous sky in the art world is Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night (1889), which depicts the view outside the artist's sanatorium window at Saint-Remy. With its crackling cypresses and spiral constellations, its sun-like moon and whirling clouds, this world-renowned image is an ecstatic expression of country skies as "purer than the suburbs or bars of Paris," (in the artist's words).
JWM Turner is renowned for his skies. His late skyscapes in particular, generally painted at sunrise, often on the spot, are very nearly abstract and utterly sublime.
It is never a sunny day in John Constable country, who never met a cloud he did not like. And Constable painted clouds so accurately awed meteorologists can sometimes calculate the season, even the hour, from these images, which the artist famously described as "the chief organ of sentiment" in any landscape.
Picking up that thread from Constable and the other greats, the sky was the muse that triggered the artist's inner will to form in the in the latest group show at Slate Gray, up through the month of January. Aptly titled Sky High, the featured artists include Mark Bowles, Gordon Brown, Jill Holland, Angela Okajima-Kempinas (or AOK), Molly Perrault, Marketa Sivek, Maggie Taylor, and Jerry Uelsmann.
"Whether I am working with a still life, the human figure, or landscape, what fascinates me, compels me to paint, is texture, form and color, which I use in expressing how I feel about what I am seeing…My heart is always pushing my work to find a new language to express what I see and how I feel about that. The result therefore is not just an intellectual exercise, it is being involved in the Now, open for change and challenge, always evolving."
In other words, Bowles' acrylics do not record. They evoke. Which means his paintings accurately describe the emotions certain special places stirred in the artist. (And soon, in you.)
Brown never tires of the view from his converted barn/studio in Ridgway, a place that allows him to observe firsthand the various moods and palettes of the changing seasons and skies.
Over the years, Brown has continued to show his appreciation for the subtleties and drama created by changing light, the through-line of his work, which depicts an idealized, somewhat (or entirely) abstracted, natural world.
Angela Okajima-Kempinas (or AOK):
Japan is home to the oldest known ceramics in the world. But the country is a long long way from Long Island City, Queens, New York, the location of Japanese-American artist Angela Okajima-Kempinas's studio. There AOK (as she signs her wall art) does her part to hold up the millennia-old artistic tradition. But AOK is doing that discipline her way. Which is AOK.
AOK defines her creations as dimensional paintings: biomorphic forms that refer to and/or evoke living forms such as plants or the human body - like the work of Arp, Miro, Klee for three examples.
Why is the work included in "Sky High?"
In the words of Slate Gray artistic director Allison Cannella: We included "Shiro Petals" in the show because of the way the petals seem to float on the wind. In a way, the gallery is the sky and her petals are passing through on a breeze."
Perrault's process is cyclical: nature is the source of the paper on which the magazines are printed, then used again to represent nature, underlining acts of destruction and reconstruction.
Marketa Sivek's paintings of houses and skies produce powerful emotions in the viewer, their narratives deeply rooted in her childhood growing up in the authoritarian regime of communist Czechoslovakia. And Sivek's desire for color, lots of it, underlines her childhood story.
Amid grey apartment buildings where color was sparse and sense of safety absent, structures and houses are metaphors for shelters, as well as circumstances that can change on a dime. Lost in the infinity of the vast sky as clear as sapphire, grounded by a moon or planet, complexity meets simplicity when the heavy layers of paint harmonize with finely graded brushstrokes. The self-taught artist has lived and worked in Chicago for past 25 years.
Over the years, the artist has produced a body of work that infuses the ordinary and mundane with a sense of magic and mystery, her skies often serving as a watchful eye over magical story lines.
In her studio, Taylor has drawers and shelves filled with all kinds of objects and pieces of text, plus Daguerreotype or Tin Type portraits of unknown subjects from the 19th century. The artist choreographs the detritus of her life indoors before taking the items outside into her yard to photograph them with an old-view camera in natural light. An avid gardener, Taylor also finds inspiration as well as actual material to scan when outside. She then builds stories around those images by combining her own photographs and scanned objects to create digital collages in Photoshop, in the end creating the final product from as many as 200 layers.
Fact: The dearly departed Jerry Uelsmann and the aforementioned Maggie Taylor are (or were in his case) photography world royalty. The work of these widely collected image-makers hangs in major museums around the globe, including New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art, New York; The National Gallery of Art,Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum; the Royal Photographic Society and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
A virtuoso in the darkroom, Uelsmann pioneered and perfected new developing techniques. On three or more of the eight enlargers in his Florida darkroom, he combined parts of all of two or more negatives, which he burned and dodged (exposed sections to more or less light) to make his final, seamless black-and-white, now legendary prints.
As is the case with Maggie Taylor, Uelmann's skies serve as benign witnesses to the surreal storylines that populate his work.
Susan is Telluride Inside… and Out’s founder and editor-in-chief, the visionary on the team, in charge of content, concept and development. Susan has covered Telluride’s cultural economy, which includes non-profits and special events, since 1993. Much of her writing features high-profile individuals in the arts, entertainment, business, and politics. She is a former Citibank executive specializing in strategic planning and new business development, and a certified Viniyoga instructor.