Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Art of Tenaya Sims

Tenaya. Who?

You can't find much about him online, unless it pertains to his teaching at The  Georgetown Atelier in Seattle, a school he founded about seven years ago, tucked away in the corner of an old brick brewery building. No website, very little social media presence, very little press. So how on earth did I find this guy with the weird name? Glad you asked!

Let's hop in the DeLorean and time travel to 2007, where I am scoping out a potential studio space on the second floor of a historic building in the odd and wonderful neighborhood of Georgetown in south Seattle. As I'm looking at a space in the collective known as Georgetown Art Center, one of the studio doors pops open and this young, swaggering1 guy steps out. The GAC director introduces me to one of her art tenants, Tenaya Sims. "Go check out his work," she waves me into his space, "it's breathtaking". I walk in and am met with oil paintings of such pristine quality, I can't believe this guy actually painted them. He explains he recently graduated from the Juliette Aristides atelier, and I'm doubly impressed. After all, she literally wrote the books on atelier drawing and painting. I realized at that moment that this was the place I needed to be; all the art in this space was fantastically good, and I needed to be surrounded by really good works.
"Thistle", oil on canvas. I got to know Tenaya at about this time.
Not too long after that, Tenaya asked me if I'd consider modeling for a painting he was working on. It wasn't a nude gig so I agreed, and it was about this time we started to interact a little more than just saying hello. He was in his late 20s at the time, and a very confident realist painter, although he was still exploring the direction he wanted to go with his work. He was working as a part-time instructor at the Fall City Arts studio, something that he expanded into the Georgetown Atelier  a couple years later, taught by Tenaya other graduates from his full time program. He truly believed anyone with the will to study could learn classical technique in drawing and painting, and I wound up taking lessons from Tenaya, as I knew my own technique needed some updating.
"Maquette", oil on linen on board. I also modeled for this one, and actually worked on the painting while he was out of the country (he was putting it into the A/NT Gallery "Pain" show of 2014 but couldn't finish on time). Its signed by the both of us.
Soon after, he and I became friends. We have a funny friendship: we're both incredibly stubborn, so arguments, often heated, erupt on a regular basis. But like a tropical storm, it blows over quickly and within just a few minutes we'll interact as if nothing happened. Sometimes his playful natures extends into extreme pestering, in which case my bossy, older-sister side responds (think Linus and Lucy van Pelt). We both like to be right, but when it comes to painting and drawing, he most definitely knows what he's talking about, and I'll defer to him. The results in my current painting process speaks to this.

"The Birth of Venus", oil on linen. It's over 8 feet in width and took over a year to paint.
Okay, we'll hop back into the DeLorean and its 2015. Tenaya had been working out all the kinks in his first major oversized piece, The Birth of Venus, and began working on his next one, the current Semillas. I had just gotten back from Spectrum Fantastic Art Live in Kansas City, and I met up with Tenaya for coffee. I was gushing about how awesome the trip was and all the amazing people I met, and talked about the kinds of shows I wanted to book. Tenaya asked me if he could show with me; I was taken aback, mostly because Tenaya has always been a realist painter and I am hardly the typical classical establishment.  He quickly reminded me of his years working in the video game industry storyboarding and concepting, followed by a BFA at Carnegie Mellon (including working with Randy Pausch) before training under Jeff Watts and Juliette. Okay, okay, point taken!! I made him swear that he would be able to complete a body of work in time - he swore he would - and if so, he had a year to prepare.
"The Birth of Venus", detail
When Tenaya works on a major piece, regardless of size, he makes many many little studies, whether from a live model, photographic reference or a combination of the two. From these, he'll work on his values, creating several monochromatic drawings and paintings to gauge just the right set of values and tones for his work. He'll hunt out additional resource images -- a tree, a cloud, the ocean -- and with all these he starts to build up his composition, usually in Photoshop, first seaming together photographic reference, then digitally painting the composition,  working out color, temperature, and layout. He'll paint several color studies, working back and forth digitally to traditionally. From all of this, he'll then start on the actual painting process, which is quite academic in nature. All said, for his oversized works the process can take up to a year on a given painting, but the result is worth every minute.

Once Tenaya worked out the composition on a smaller scale, he could then tackle the final canvas
Women are predominant subjects for him; classically, the female figure, especially the nude, represents all that is beautiful. Tenaya takes particular influence from his ancestral Italy, with artists such as Caravaggio, Michelangelo and Botticelli fueling his imagination. He is also a great admirer of later artists, such as the Victorian painters Waterhouse and Bouguereau, whose sublime skintones move even the smallest of hearts. To render the female figure to her greatest attributes (which goes beyond her physical features) is the goal of all classically trained artists. She is powerful, serene, motherly, earth-shattering, impish, sexy, a goddess.  The nude, as opposed to a clothed model, is timeless; she is neither ancient nor contemporary.
William Bouguereau, "The Birth of Venus", 1879. Venus' skin reflects the pearlescence of the oyster shell. Bougureau defined English beauty during his lifetime.
 Working with Indo-European mythical themes, Tenaya's newest works reflect the various divine roles that women have played. With "Venus", its quite apparent; up rises Venus in the half shell, however, she is dark skinned, more somber. Below her in the foam are seemingly lifeless women; this new Venus replaces older and outdated definitions of what is beautiful and desirable. In "Semillas" (meaning "seed" in Spanish), Tenaya works with the power of the great goddess Kali, who is in a midpoint fall (or perhaps rise?). Hot, slag-like fiery sparks fall from the sky, each contained a tiny, perfect figure in a fetal position. She represents the destruction and rebirth that Kali is revered for, in dramatic, epic form.
"Semillas", oil and 23k gold leaf on panel. This piece is 72 x 101".
"Semillas", detail
Tenaya made the attempt to finish a third oversized painting, having to stop prior to completion due to the constraints of time. We are displaying it anyway, giving the visitor a rare peek at a painting in mid-process. As-yet unnamed, this third painting depicts a woman fighting an anthropomorphic lion, their manes flowing into one another and terminating into a tail of feathers. Does the lion represent the Nemean lion of Greek mythology, defeated by Hercules and eventually becoming the constellation Leo? I'm not really sure, but it does a respectful nod to Rubens' rendition of this mythic battle..
Working on the as-yet unnamed oversized painting
Peter Paul Rubens, "Hercules Strangling the Nemean Lion", 1639.
Tenaya has several smaller works, such as the modestly sized "Linea" (55 x 38.5") or the portrait "Huyen", and all of them are exquisite. I don't believe Tenaya is done with big paintings, though. In fact, I think they're going to get bigger, grander.
"Linea", oil on linen mounted on panel.
"Huyen", oil on linen mounted on panel.
You can tell he enjoys the process of working in larger scale. The brush strokes are a little looser as the size grows but no less mindful and exacting. To see his newest pieces is an experience; we've deliberately opened up the gallery floor to allow the visitor to step back at least fifteen feet and drink in the work.  Its very powerful, and I've had more than one visitor come back to the gallery with friends in tow, standing back to enjoy the looks their friends make when addressing these paintings.
Krab Jab Studio makes use of open space

He definitely rolled up his sleeves and went to work this last year, and his solo show of thirteen drawings and paintings is tight, beautifully painted, and exciting, which is the last adjective you'd consider for a realist painter of classical bend. He's taking on narratives, crossing that bridge between conservative realism to imaginative realism, a journey of which he's an enthusiastic participant. As his friend, I'm excited for him, and as his curator, I'm quite pleased.
So why isn't there a website for him, or much of an online presence? He doesn't like to think about those things; he finds the internet to be highly distracting, and if it weren't for his school's site, he would do without the web, with the exception of TED Talks, visual research or streaming radio. Getting him to do anything beyond teaching, eating or painting is sometimes a futile task (he will, however, take you up on a game of squash if asked).
~ Julie Baroh, June 2016

"The Art of Tenaya Sims" runs through July 2nd at Krab Jab Studio. For sales inquiries please contact Natalia Fedoruk.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Rituals: Cynthia Sheppard

Cynthia Sheppard has been a force to reckon with as an illustrator. For the last few years she has been putting out stunning works of art by anyone's standards, and her fan following has been growing in leaps and bounds. Add to this her role as an Art Director with Wizards of the Coast, and you've got one seriously busy lady.

Here's the catch: although well versed in traditional media, Cynthia has been working mostly digitally. Its the preferred method these days, allowing innumerable amounts of editing and cutting down drastically on the time to create a piece for publication. She is proficient in digital painting and her results are just as painterly as an actual oil painting. But, as many artists lament, "its just not the same". The ritual of oil painting is a multisensual, zen practice and I know more than just a few artists that pine for the Good Ol' Days of sitting at an easel, palette in hand, laying down dabs of paint on a springloaded brush.

The Ritual of Dreaming I

 When Cynthia signed on to do a show at Krab Jab, she knew she had a really intense year ahead of her. She knew she wanted to do a fully traditional show, and was excited to get down to business and create new works in oil. But as all oil painters know, the process of painting in oil can be time intensive. It takes time to set up your palette, prep your substrate, work an area of your piece (because of the way oil seams as it dries, you need to "patch in" an area so you don't wind up with seam ridges), then clean up. It can be messy and smelly, so you need to have ventilation and lots of rags or paper towels on hand. You have to work in optimal and unchanging lighting conditions: due to it's refractive quality, oil paintings can look really different in different lighting conditions. And of course, its not exactly portable and needs time to cure.

Working a full time job and oil painting was a challenge, but Cynthia rose up to it. The result is a body of work rich in metaphor, expertly executed, both simple in composition but complex in meaning.
The Ritual of Haunting
Her work is about the ritual of loss, of reflection on the things we no longer need and leaving them behind. Of letting go of the things that we cannot change. She addresses reflection in the piece "The  Ritual of Haunting" as a metaphor of insomniatic review of past regrets in which the female figure strides past two hulking stone figures, pausing to grasp the powerful hand of one of these guardians. Who really holds the power in this light?  In "The Ritual of Remembering", a figure wrapped in a dark cloak holds a winged mask on a staff, ravens (or black birds) gathering around her. It's unclear if they are attacking or protecting the figure, who is lost in a melancholic thought. She is still while the air swirls around her, indicating her frozen in time gone by.
The Ritual of Remembering
Her three still life paintings ("The Ritual of Keeping/Recording/Ending") are set up as momento mori, objects meant to recall the passing of time, of life. The dog skull took on a deeper meaning, as Cynthia's dog passed away during the time of painting this set (this isn't his skull). Her palette is limited and muted but the brush strokes are wonderfully full of life, perfectly encapsulating these moments in time and space.
The Ritual of Keeping
Cynthia proves herself a talented traditional painter in this body of work; no one can dispute that. But with hardly a whisper, she also pulls us into a dark, powerless place we've all found ourselves in at some point in our lives, haunted by our fears and regrets, loaded with a heavy remorse, almost completely missing the power of the light, be it a tiny spark or an inner glow brushed onto the surface with a little cadmium, a little white. Cynthia points the way to hope and redemption, and in the act of release through ritual, we are freed and can once again move through time.

"Rituals: The Art of Sara Winters and Cynthia Sheppard" runs through June 4th, 2016.

~Julie Baroh

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

On Terese Nielsen's "Vulture"

Back in December of 2014, we hosted a solo show of illustrator Terese Nielsen's paintings and drawings, which included a set of "Creatures of Spirit". These were small 10 x 10" paintings of animals derived from moments of meditation, much like a shamanistic totem animal arises from dreams.

These were quite popular with our visitors, who enjoyed seeing the personal side of Terese, who is best known for her game art (such as Magic: the Gathering). All the work was gold leafed and she often experimented with mediums in her pieces as well. The result made each animal painting a little jewel in its own way.

Terese Nielsen -Vulture, charcoal, oil, pencil on 23k gold
We still have two of those paintings, "Buffalo" and "Vulture". The vulture is hands-down my favorite of all the set. I was sure it would be a harder sell to the average collector; I mean, who wants a vulture perched on their wall? For most people, its a reminder of death and decay. It's bald and ugly and gross.
Headdress of the Upper Egypt region
People forget that for the Egyptians at least, the vulture transcended beyond the everyday. She represented the protection and strength of the mother and was represented the goddesses Mut and Nekbet, the mother of the pharoahs. Vulture was the herald of Upper Egypt and was worn prominently on the headdress of the pharoahs. There is a belief in Asia (I forgot exactly where) that you should never harm a vulture; as they feast on the dead, they carry with them the remains of the local people (who in that area leave their dead out for vultures to eat). They are considered the purifiers of the earth in many Native American tribes, as they clean away the putrefied flesh that could cause disease. They never kill prey, only scavenge what has been killed. They are social, they share with each other, and they are excellent parents.

They are bald for a reason: it keeps them clean (can you imagine trying to dig around a dead body with a head full of feathers? Gross). Otherwise, they have a stunning body of feathers, sleek, black and lustrous.

The one stab of blue in the feathers immediately adds depth, hatching points back to the head.
Terese renders her vulture with tight, detailed line work on the head that terminates to feathers that are rendered far more loosely.  The hatched lines in the feathers point back towards the head, which keeps the eye from wandering off the picture plane. You literally can't stop locking eyes with the vulture, which is a compositional win. I love the flush red of the head; in real life its pure and vibrant and jumps off the page. Ironically enough, it's the gold leaf that anchors the red back in place and keeps it from becoming too strong a pigment choice. The result is intense and rich with an air of restrained tension.

Terese captures the strength of this bird in such a way that it appears as a shamanic creature, fiercely intelligent, ancient and wise. It embodies the archetype of the Wise Grandmother, the elder of the community the demands the respect of her people. She sees past the veil, she knows all, and she understands the cycle of the seasons. Her feathers are her shroud, and she appears hideous only to the uninitiated.

Disgusting carrion eaters? Ugly? Perhaps they don't live up to our standards of beauty, but Terese saw past the superficial connotations and drafted a stunning and regal piece of work. I personally think this is a really beautiful depiction of a vulture, and certainly the best I've ever seen of one.

"Vulture" and "Bison" are both on view at Krab Jab Studio and available for purchase.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sara Winters: Rituals

Sara Winters (nee Betsy) is a relatively new artist on the scene. She illustrates in the gaming industry, and although proficient with digital painting, the girl can paint traditionally like an old hand. Recently established as a coordinator for the local salon-styled artist cafe The Conservatory, she runs their life drawing sessions and is often among the packed house of artists, drawing and painting to her hearts content.
"Innocence - I", oil on board
Sara and Cynthia Sheppard are close friends and it seemed a no-brainer to have them come up with a two-woman show. They chose the theme of "rituals" and went to work on a series of personal pieces in traditional medium for this show. What emerged from both is a body of work that is dark, mysterious, and in many ways deeply mythological in terms of the feminine mystique.

For Sara, she chose the path of the ritual of the hidden. Her model is nude, exposed, and raw, with nothing but a white veil and a silver necklace. The figure is clearly struggling internally, her body and face twisting, searching, and although she does address the viewer, the viewer is more like a voyeur in her transformation. We are only given hints of the narrative, leaving us to figure out what is happening as the series of images play out before us.
"Escape - V", oil on board
Sara played out her series much like a storyboard, but deliberately leaves out conclusive connectors. We are left to our own devices of imagination, which plays out as either redemption or resolve. The veil represents that which is tucked away from the human ego, forcing us (or perhaps the figure) to seek out the truth of our existence, be it ugly or liberating. Much like the tarot's High Priestess (who sits in front of the veil of truth), there is a mythological thread that runs underneath Sara's work, an esoteric and magical reality that we often ignore in our everyday existence. If we could only see what is really behind the veil, we can see the real truth of ourselves.
Possession, graphite on paper
Sara is clearly a talented and skilled painter and her drawing skills are top notch. In that regard, she sits comfortably with many other skilled painters I come across. What pulls her ahead is her use of tension in her work, and her fearlessness of addressing the part of the feminine experience that isn't exactly a beautiful thing. It's dark without being overly literal, and there is a slice of hope in the darkness, the possibility of release. This kind of narrative is difficult to achieve, especially for a young artist. Sara nails it out of the gate.

"Rituals" opens Saturday, May 14th and runs through June 4th. Sara will be in attendance at the opening, along with Cynthia Sheppard. The online catalog goes live the evening of May 14th.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Studio Visit with Tenaya Sims

It's not often I get to stop in to visit an artist while they're working on a show for me, so I took up the offer to come by and take photos of Tenaya Sims while he worked on one of his oversized paintings.
"Lysandra", oil and gold leaf
Tenaya is both an old hat and a rising talent. Inspired by his time with Jeff Watts (it seems that all of Jeff's young students move on to big careers!), Tenaya packed up his car and traveled from California to Washington to train under Juliette Aristides in her newly established atelier at Gage Academy. He quickly became a protege of hers - he even has examples of his work in her Drawing Atelier book - and soon after graduating her atelier, he struck out on his own and built up his successful school, the Georgetown Atelier, which takes up most of his time. The fact that he's been able to work on his monumental paintings, run workshops, AND teach classical drawing and painting is pretty amazing, but he's lamented that all this activity caused his pursuit with gallery work to come to a virtual standstill.
In his studio
I totally get it. Being an artist myself, I have to sacrifice my painting and drawing to keep running the gallery. When I get home, after I feed dogs, feed myself, interact with the husband, walk dogs, clean up some kind of doggie mess, go through mail, check messages...honestly I have little energy left to do my creative work. I'm spent, and as I grow older, I have less of that spontaneous up-all-night-painting energy I had when I was younger. Tenaya is younger and far more energetic, but he's also very devoted to his students and their education in the arts and willingly sacrifices his time to ensure they get good training. The resulting effect is twofold: his students are out-of-the-box engaged in their professional pursuits (many have proven solid in the art world), but he hasn't had a show in nearly ten years.
"Maquette", oil on panel
That's about to change for him.  He's actually shown with us a couple of times (his "Maquette" painting was part of our 2014 Pain show) and received a really positive response, but this show is a landmark solo show and he's put everything out there for it. He wants to prove that he's more than a good instructor, that he's more than just "talented" or skilled as a realist painter. He wants to prove he's more than just a realist painter, that he also has that genius qualifier called "vision". It's not just that his paintings are big and grand, that he can render out a beautiful figure, that he fully understands the science of composition; there are lots of painters out there that can do the same. In this show, he examines his own relationship with the feminine through the mythological looking glass, opening himself up in the process. The results are beautiful, and in some ways very raw and vulnerable.
Working on his newest painting. The painting transfer is at the left.
These are dangerous times for artists with vision. With public shaming at an all-time high and a make-it-or-break-it attitude of the general populous, it can be a career-killer for an artist to express themselves to society in an honest and authentic way. Being a male artist, and expressing oneself using the nude female figure in context, is even more daunting. Many realist painters go the safe route: they do figure studies in classical style, avoiding as much connotation as possible. Tenaya can whip those puppies out in a heartbeat, mostly because its a technical drawing from a live nude model, and he works alongside his students on a regular basis. While you can clearly see he enjoys the process and addresses the figure with respect and love, it's not his vision, just an exercise.

Working from reference, Tenaya makes his first pass on the painting of a lion-man
You can really feel his love for the craft in his work, but even more so, you can feel a deep love for the female figure. He really connects the viewer to the subject and it would be slightly uncomfortable result were it not for his incredible talent with the brush. He works very gingerly, mindfully, and engaged, each brush stroke thoughtfully applied. His figures are rendered with strength and while sexually alluring, they are not just bodies placed in space for decorative effect or titillation. He's telling their story and does it well, and he knows he could be scrutinized over it, especially by a female audience. He and I have talked about that many times over the years, about him walking that fine line. My advice is always to do what you love, the love will shine through. Sure, someone might toss the "objectifying the female" comment out there, but good art transcends, and folks, this is good art.
"Semillas", in the studio
"Semillas", oil on panel
I'm honored that he let me stop by and take pictures, that he lets me in to his thoughts on his work. I hope I can make this a habit with more artists in the future!
Poppy the cat approves
Tenaya will be showing his new paintings at Krab Jab Studio in June 2016, and will be lecturing on his process at a ticketed artist talk/reception June 10th (our website/social media will roll out more info on that in the next week).


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

It's a New World...

I haven't posted in a while... I got really sick late last year, and anything not crucial to basic function was dropped for a while, including my posts. It took about four months to recover from the illness, and with a lot of help I was able to keep things running.

One of my personal issues is perfection; I like to do everything a certain way. The major problem with that is that nothing actually gets finished. I can't tell you how many abandoned posts I've made because I couldn't think of the perfect thing to say, or the perfect image to add. I hit deadline and I either abandon ship or push out a rushed article that I'm not happy with.

The reality is that nothing is perfect, and I'm certainly nowhere near perfection myself. People don't read my posts because they're looking for an example of perfection, right? No, I think people read what I have to say because they're looking for the method behind the madness. No amount of eloquence can upsell that.
Allen Williams - "The Warded Man", from Dream Covers
We just finished up a spectacular group show called "Dream Covers", curated by book designer Lauren Panepinto. It's a hard show to follow up, the work is so good. Cynthia Sheppard and Sara Winters are opening up this next show called "Rituals", in which both have created very personal oil paintings and graphite drawings. They dropped off their work today, and we lined it up along a wall and stood back and talked over the work. It was fascinating to look at, with all their art there. It reads like a surreal storyboard, something kind of fantastic and sci-fi in nature, very Stanley Kubrick. My eyes kept swatting left-right, left-right, my brain trying to make sense of it all. Its a very different feel from "Dream Covers": each piece in D.C. is perfection, a full statement on its own, but Rituals is like an exquisite corpse between two women, one story morphing into the next, not yet fully formed. The viewer has to figure out where it goes and what it really means.
Sara Winters

Cynthia Sheppard

I think rather than blather on and on about why this is a fabulous show in one perfect little blog post, I'm going to post more regularly, and make smaller, less perfect posts. Messy, thoughtful, possibly silly, but more true to form. I can handle that. I think the artists won't mind, either.

"Rituals" will open up on May 14 and run through June 4th. Sara and Cynthia will be at the opening reception from  6 - 9 pm. 

~ Julie Baroh