Reflections on Stillness: How Dance Continues to Move Through the Pandemic
Stephanie Harris, who is on the faculty of the Dance program at the University of Kentucky, explores a paradox of our COVID era; how the stillness of our quarantined lives allows for the expression of deeper insights through movement. Using improvisational techniques that she has been studying and researching, Harris works with her students to explore and express deeper truths within themselves through dance.
Artist Tony Tasset standing next to his Mood Sculpture, installed near the Student Center, but relocated this past winter to the front of the UK Art Museum. Photograph by Alan Rideout
Stuart Horodner: The Art World After COVID
The Director of the University of Kentucky Art Museum misses the public interface that is so much a part of any museum’s life. After COVID, surviving arts organizations will face an environment that needs and demands clarification of relevance and mission, and that ascertains what can be accomplished with assurance and excellence when faced with new limits on resources.
KY Author Debut: Bobi Conn
An idyllic setting in Eastern Kentucky, but author Bobi Conn’s debut memoir recounts a harrowing childhood home with an abusive father, and her escape from that place filled with trauma and violence. Tom Martin interviews the author for WEKU’s Eastern Standard.
While we are all surely hoping for a breakthrough in both the development of treatments and vaccines, it is apparent that we are just in the first phase of dealing with this deadly virus. Despite noisy and threatening protests, polling consistently shows that most Americans understand this. How the arts and culture community is coping with the pandemic and its ravages is an important story we will continue to cover. Our ongoing series of brief essays, “The Art World After COVID”, is one way we are engaging in this needed conversation. Look for more of these provocative essays on our website and highlighted in future newsletters. We encourage you to send us your responses and feedback to these essays and more at UM@under-main.com. We will have other COVID-related coverage going forward, including interviews with folks in different roles in the arts sector.
Meanwhile, we have highlighted in past newsletters and on our website arts relief efforts emanating from Louisville and Lexington, and we encourage you to support those efforts. Watch for a big announcement this week from the Artist Relief Trust . UnderMain’s Christine Huskisson is an A.R.T. steering committee participant and says, “This initiative is exemplary as a broad-based coalition from across the state of Kentucky; arts advocates from multiple disciplines continue to raise funds for distribution to Kentucky artists and musicians and I am proud to call UnderMain a partner in the effort.” If you would like more information or are considering a donation, feel free to contact Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A shout-out to our friends at the Lexington-focused CivicLex. In addition to their COVID resource page, they have been holding an excellent series of well-attended online digital town halls, including one pertaining to the arts and culture sector. They are currently uploading the recordings of the town halls to their website.
Bobi Conn (With permission of the author)
Looking ahead, we are going to be increasing our book-related content. Tom Martin’s interview for WEKU’s Eastern Standard of author Bobi Conn is a terrific introduction to the kind of book coverage we hope to be able to offer. A pandemic is a perfect time to catch up on your reading. We will focus on books with a Kentucky-connection, due to authorship or Kentucky-relevant content.
Photo image: Musei Vaticani
Sorry about the cancellation of this summer’s trip to the continent. We know Italy was on the itinerary and surely a visit to the Vatican in Rome was on the schedule. The Vatican has one of the world’s great collections of art housed in several museums. You can take virtual tours of some of the museums on the Musei Vaticani website. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is, of course, a highlight of any visit to the Vatican. Here is a link to a decent tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.
Detail of Sistine Chapel
As we acclimate to our changed lives, take a moment to think about all those helping hands that are working to keep us healthy and safe. If you are able, consider donating to community relief efforts that are helping others. We are all in this together.
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In her artist’s statement, Lexington mixed media artist Helene Steene says she is intrigued by “the tension between forms, lines, and colors that ultimately can resolve in harmony.”She is also captivated by the resistance of the wood on which she works, to which she can apply multiple layers of glazed oils, attach strips of sanded metal, and into which she can hammer roofing nails if she pleases (and she does).She works boldly, never from a palette, mixing her colors directly on the prepared surface to create depth and to allow her medium to take her where it will.
Steene is tenacious and extremely sensitive in her approach to making art: “If my work can slow someone down to contemplate something within her or himself – if the work can add a moment of focus on their inner peace in this absurd world – then I have reached the viewer.We, the viewer and the mark maker, would be connected through that ephemeral magic that is all around, as I am convinced that one’s range of intellect is so trivial in the face of greater mysteries.”
Helene Steene with Work in Progress | Photo by Jim Fields
One of these “greater mysteries” is fully embodied in her Moon Sentinel I.I was smitten by its transcendental glow as I stood in her studio and gazed at it.Socrates was the first to insist that the moon is made of stone, and so is Steene’s—white marble, or marble dust to be exact, which gives it its pitted luminosity, creating a tranquil tension akin to the moon’s gravitational force on the earth’s tides.
Moon Sentinel I (7’ x 4’)
The magical effect of the marble dust and the peacefulness of the blues, turquoise, and greens stand in sharp contrast to the reflective pieces of metal symmetrically placed on each side of the moon, creating a gateway into the night sky. Even though night’s guardian stands guarded, it still has the power to stir our innermost spiritual natures, to “pull” us in.
The artist’s orbs do no less. We usually don’t think of circles and squares as being necessarily complementary, (square peg in a round hole) but because they are considered traditional forms that most artist work with, Steene challenged herself to create a structural harmonious relationship between the two. Her mission was accomplished with her orb series which include Oculus 1 & 2.
Oculus 1 (48” x 48”)
Oculus 2 (48” x 48”)
They, like the moon sentinels, are also intriguing studies in symmetry and mystery. You may see an eye when you look at them or you may see a planet at the very core suspended in a square universe.Be what they may, the artist stays true to her philosophic intent by granting her viewer the latitude that frees the “ephemeral magic” to take precedence over “one’s range of intellect,” and to open the door to a more personal experience and connection with her art.
Steene’s finely-tuned process figures prominently into her success as an abstract impressionist.She applies thin layers of liquin oil, or glaze, which stay wet allowing for extended manipulation as she sprinkles on powdered pigments made from crushed minerals. The intense colors you see in Aegean Nine as well as Aegean Blue Fresco I are the result of building up the canvas with the desired mix of pigments and oil, glazing layer upon layer until the desired effect is achieved. Consequently, the word fresco appears in many of her titles.
Aegean Nine Beaufort (48”x42”)
She states, “If I go too dark, I can sand back between the layers of colors to get to the marble dust to bring out more of the luminosity. So a very blue piece may actually have 20 different layers of blues on it and because it is applied in different ways and sanded off in different ways, it glows. The light actually travels through and the translucence remains regardless of the number of layers.”She uniquely refers to this occurrence as “the linguistics of light.”
Aegean Blue Fresco I (48”x42”)
The Aegean paintings and Antiquity Dive I & II do not possess the symmetry of the moons and orbs. But they do demonstrate an impressionable delicate balance, vertically and horizontally, created by the irregular size and placement of the metal plates and strips on the canvases as well as the irregular lines (or horizons) that establish the spatial relationship between the striking combination and mixtures of brilliant colors.
You may even reel a little as you look at the Antiquity Dives and are pulled into the depths of their raw, natural beauty. The metal at the bottom of the composition is almost like a thin barrier reef protecting the viewer from these sometimes foreboding and potentially destructive elements but without creating a sense of detachment or alienation from the scene. The effect is a bit like snorkeling—where you are still able to safely breathe as you immerse yourself and become a part of what you see.
Antiquity Dive I (7’x4’)
Antiquity Dive II (7’x4’)
If you detect a slight Rothko feel in some of Steene’s art, you would not be wrong. She says she has recently come to appreciate the simplicity of his work and employs some of his techniques.Yet in that simplicity, there is a certain complexity that makes her work particularly expressive and engaging for her viewers. Other influences include Kenzo Okada, a Japanese/American painter who uses encaustic, a translucent wax, to lend a mysterious layering to his art.And she admires the paintings of contemporaries such as Richard Diebenkorn and Marsha Meyers in addition to the old masters like Titian and Vermeer because of their use of color and glazing.Her mastery, however, is guided by her intuition, training, personal life experiences, and observations of nature.
Steene was born in Sweden and lived in other parts of Europe (England, Germany, Spain, and Greece) before coming to the U.S. in 1976 where she received part of her art education at George Washington University in Washington, D. C., and then obtained her MFA from the University of Kentucky in 2004.
Although she has lived in Lexington since the early 80s and is enchanted by the beauty of the Bluegrass, Greece is her passion and has been her source of inspiration for the last thirty-two years. It’s the call of the Aegean—the wine red sea of Homer, and of Helios—the god of the sun who drives his chariot daily across the Grecian skies.It’s the call of Asclepius—the god of healing, and the call of her summer home on the island of Paros, known for its fine-grained, semi-translucent, pure white marble.
The Wine Red Sea, Paros (12”x12”)
In a portion of her statement for her Aegean Echoes exhibit at the Headley-Whitney Museum in the fall of 2013, Steene speaks of Paros as “A place where I have experienced great passion and a place where I asked for a divorce. A place where my child learned to swim like a fish and the place of utmost sadness when the sea took my best friend’s child. A place where I skinny dip in the golden sea when the rising morning sun comes flashing over the water . . . a sea that gives and takes with equal powers.”
The scene was captured by musician-composer Rusty Crutcher in music written specifically for the Aegean Echoes exhibit.
Crutcher, it turns out, was one of several Lexington artists who gravitated to Steene’s tribute to the Aegean. She recalls how it all came together.
Steene’s triptych, Archilochus’ View crisscrosses and etches into her viewers’ hearts and minds an emotionally mixed empathic sense of place.
Archilochus’ View (78”x48”)
The following lines of this great poet who lived on the island of Paros in 7th century BCE echo and illuminate her reflections on her home away from home: “Take the joy and bear the sorrow, looking past your hopes and fears: / learn to recognize the measured dance that orders all our years” (Archilochus: To His Soul). Also, the quality of light that bathes Paros holds special interest for Steene as it spills from Helios’ chariot into the sea and is reflected back onto the landscape from the waters of the Aegean—an ever-changing horizon that appears in most of her paintings.
Steene’s art is not only concerned with the language of light, but also the language of the heart. Her Visual Poetry is a series of collages on paper—a collaboration with a friend who writes the poetry and she then chooses the words that represent the essence of what the poem means to her.It’s a two-way street between the artist and her viewer as well: “If I gave you myself in an unguarded moment . . . would we leave our marks on one another’s hearts? ”I think we know the answer to this question.
If I Gave You Myself (34”x30”)
Steene has participated in over 200 exhibitions worldwide in the last thirty-five years and has exhibited her work in most of the major galleries in the Lexington area and throughout the state. She is gaining more national and international attention as well. With her concentration on nature and the healing effect of art, private collectors, corporations, and medical institutions are beginning to show an increased interest in purchasing and installing her work. They, along with Steene, recognize the truth in Aristotle’s words that “In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous.” Visit her website (www.helenesteene.com) to see her CV and portfolios.
Currently, Steene is an award-winning participant in this year’s Art Santa Fe Expo (A Spectrum Art Show—July 13-17) which will include some of her new work as well as pieces from Aegean Echoes. She also received the honor of having her painting, Mesimeri, selected for the event’s full-page ad running in the July issue of American Art Collector.
This fall in Lexington, Steene will be exhibiting new work, such as Oculus 3, in a duo show with sculptor Julie Warren-Conn at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center at 141 East Main Street. The opening reception for the show, Complex Simplicities, will be on October 6th from 5-8:00 p.m. with a Gallery Hop reception on November 17th from 5-8:00 p.m. The exhibit runs through December 3rd and the hours for the City Gallery are as follows: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.You may contact the gallery by phone (859-425-2562) or email (email@example.com).The eye of the universe is upon you. Catch the glow—go see the show.
Oculus 3 (oil, marble dust, and metal on wood 48”x48”)
(Images of all artwork are courtesy of the artist.)
“Well whether we’re fancy or not we’ll be dressed fancy,” said Kentucky-based interdisciplinary artist Melissa Vandenberg as she prepared new pieces for the Lexington Art League’s Art Gala, an annual formal fundraiser.
Guests to the Saturday Art Gala can expect to see the historic Loudoun House transformed into a fully interactive symbiosis of art forms, incorporating video installations, soft sculpture and musical compositions by regional, national and international artists. International artist collective Expanded Draught and Vandenberg—both familiar faces at LAL—will be exhibiting fresh work while 21c Museum Hotel artists will be making their debut into the Lexington art community at this event.
These media will converge to create a fully experimental call and response between the individual art forms, ultimately building an augmented environment in which guests are encouraged to actively experience the art instead of simply looking at it on a wall.
The floor of Vandenberg’s studio in Richmond, where she serves as assistant professor of art at EKU, is obscured by an intricate weave of tobacco cloth, while piles of shredded paper sprout from the floors and tables like stalagmites. Pieces from Victory Without Fanfare, a culminating exhibition after Vandenberg’s summer 2014 residency at LAL, hang proudly on the walls.
Vandenberg is preparing a series of soft sculptures that incorporate iconography that have become motifs in her work, but with a new twist. Instead of neatly sewn and precisely quilted artwork, she is experimenting with super slouchy, under-stuffed forms. Vandenberg is purposefully using materials that are not precious, in hopes that the sculptures may ‘self destruct’ as guests and gallery-goers engage with them. Many of these pieces can be picked up, worn, and even thrown across the room. Placed strategically with video installations by 21c Museum Hotel artists Robert Pettena, Robin Rhode and Miguel Angel Rios, these sculptures are part of a conversation meant to evoke emotion in viewers that will move them to leave their mark on the gallery space.
“Working with white and transparent materials was something proposed by LAL,” Vandenberg said. She said the only stipulation given was to things ample but light, so as not to upstage or distract from the other pieces. There is a definite factor of unpredictability when you put three different types of artists in a show together and say, “go,” but this is the type of creative experimentation LAL knows all too well.
The opportunity for artists from different places and backgrounds to converge to form one cohesive body of work is rare. LAL as a major staple in the rising art community of Lexington is something worth promoting and celebrating in our community, and Art Gala allows guests to do just that.
“LAL is not only dedicated to promoting and serving the arts in the community,” Vandenberg said, “they are also dedicated to serving the artists in the community.”
“The Art Gala will be an unforgettable celebration of contemporary art from Lexington and beyond,” LAL Executive Director Stephanie Harris said.
Kicking and throwing sculptures around a gallery is probably not what comes to mind when one thinks of formal fundraisers, but the Lexington Art League’s upcoming Art Gala is certainly not your typical fundraiser.
The Art Gala will take place Saturday, January 17, 2015 from 7pm-11pm at the Loudoun House. Tickets on sale now here.