Ceramics & paint
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado On a visual level, the studios belonging to Ellen Woods and Diane Kenney are two vastly different experiences. In Woods Missouri Heights space, theres a large printing press, surrounded by big, bright, textured paintings in various stages of completion. In Kenneys outbuilding near Carbondale, a small gallery section gives way to a large work area, filled with wall-to-wall ceramics. If you ever go visit these women, its hard to imagine them being anything but friendly and open, warmly excited about their work. At least that was the experience a few days ago, as they spoke about their newest pieces, set to be displayed together in Glenwood. Though each used words of her own, the gals seemed to be saying the same thing.This really matters. Art, that is.
Just because people in this valley know, love and buy her work, didnt mean Kenney couldnt make a radical shift with it.I just wanted a change, she said, smiling. Yeah, its not always rational.There were two big, divergent ideas going on in Kenneys studio at once. At one end were the pieces shes known for the usable, thrown porcelain works in earthy, gentle hues, as well as the red clay pieces, painted in white and decorated with flowers. And then there was the new stuff. Near her work space were large, colorful vases made of red clay. They were covered in loose, sketchy designs and standing as if in formation. Accompanying their womanly shape, many had decidedly girlie faces, looking out into the studio. They seemed vital and spontaneous and happy.Thats one of the things I remembered to tell myself is to have fun, she said. Creating this way has gotten me to integrate parts of myself.As she described it, she recently put herself through a self-imposed art camp. She holed herself up in her studio and experimented with different textures and colors and shapes. Shes not sure how long this took, but she showed off a shoe box full of dozens of clay chips, proving the journey. Along with these new vases, she ended up with upbeat, decorated plates and pots, as well as three-dimensional tiles adorned with animals and poetry and such. Its all so much looser and painterly than her old work and until tonight, hardly anyone will have seen it. But she didnt seem that nervous.It feels good, she said. Change is invigorating. It gives me all kinds of places to go from here.When it comes to her art, Kenneys story is a long, fascinating one. Her father was a sign painter, but it wasnt until she was an adult that she ever thought of him as an artist. She said that growing up, she always figured art was for other people, not her. It wasnt until she was 27, after having joined and left a convent and begun getting involved in community activism, that she ever even saw someone throw a pot. She was instantly enthralled. The description of how and why she went from the Kansas City Art Institute to helping found the Carbondale Clay Center and becoming one of the most visible ceramists in the valley could be explained in pages upon pages.Or she could give her own description much more succinctly.I just dont feel right unless Im making something, she said. To me, art and humor are about the only things that make sense.Of course she cant know what kind of a difference her throwing pots makes in the world, she went on, but she knows in her heart it must affect people. When she sees a certain piece of artwork that touches her or hears a song she likes, she feels that power herself. I do believe that hand-made objects feed our soul, she said. I do.She looked content as the words rolled off her tongue and also hungry to create more.
Some painters paint what they see. Others paint straight from their mind. And then there is Woods work.I hope Im capturing a sense of imagination and also being affected by the natural world, she said. I think where those two places meet is where spirituality comes in.And its that space her work lives in. Around her studio were some of the pieces from the new show big, textured things depicting nature, kind of. Painted on handmade paper, the oil works looked more like shapes and lines, abstract images with just the slightest feel of calm landscapes. Her monotype prints had a similar, hard-to-pin-down feel.Im interested in letting my work lead me, she said, instead of representing exactly what I see.Surrounded by her pieces, she seemed about as free and happy as that description. She explained how the work comes about, how she goes out into the woods or fields or other natural areas around and sketches whats in front of her. As she said before, shes not looking for true likeness of the landscape, but an impression, maybe just the essence of a natural formation. When she brings the drawings into her studio, she never knows exactly what theyll turn into.She looked gleeful about that.This has been a really, really fun series for me, she said, of her latest pieces. Its been very freeing and energetic.Though shes been an artist since she can remember, this still feels new for her. For years, she struggled to make a living at it (even graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in fine art from Goddard College in Vermont), until finally deciding to go back to school to become a psychotherapist in her late 20s. While she has always continued to create art, it wasnt until about six years ago, when she built her studio, that it started to really flow once more. These new paintings are continuing the direction the pieces have always gone liberated and non-representational. Though she talked with admiration of her paying job, she describes creativity like she was head over heals.I cant not make art, she said.Basically, this work has saved my life. Its gotten me through some really, really hard, tragic times. I feel like its really been the core of my life.Like Kenney, she cant know the impact her pieces have on others. But she was fairly certain it was there. After all, for her, the work means so much. Its about facing herself creatively, about taking risks and working hard. Its about having a window into another reality.In her words, I think its really like my spiritual practice. Its a way of being expressive and inspired but also authentic.How could that much magic not affect others?
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