"Myth and Image" at El Camino College Art Gallery

Now on view at the El Camino College Art Gallery Myth and Image is an exhibition that explores the relationship of traditional mythology to contemporary visual imagery. The exhibit was organized by ECC Gallery Director Susanna Meiers, who comments that the show is "aimed at getting the viewer to consider the mythological in terms of connection with the numinous within us all." The twenty-four participating Southern California artists offer their individual interpretations of myths ranging from Classical Greek and Roman to East Indian, Latin American and Iranian. Each visual image is accompanied by a retelling of the myth.

 Four of the exhibition's images, along with the retellings that accompany them are featured below:

Corey Sewelson, Crocus Messenger, Acrylic and oil on wood, 36 x 42 inches
Hermes, the trickster god of transitions and boundaries, and the human, Crocus were friends who often played discus. Hermes killed Crocus by accidentally hitting him in the head with the discus. He was so distraught that he transformed his friend's body into the Crocus flower we know today. 
This is not at all a literal illustration of this story. There is a mix of images from this Crocus story as well as some symbols of Hermes attributes and life. Hermes was the god of travelers, often shuttling back and forth between the two worlds of the gods and mortals. He was on the move so much of the time that I felt the image of the uprooted home helped convey that mobility. He was the messenger of the gods, primarily of Zeus, his father. Zeus often appeared in the form of an eagle, which in my painting shows him watching over Hermes. His typical attributes and symbols are shown- the winged sandals, pouch, cap, and caduceus staff. An abstract image of the crocus flower appears in the lower right. 
What appealed to me in the Crocus creation story was that Hermes demonstrated such devotion and humanity in wanting to memorialize his friend. He created a beautiful new species of flower so that mortals would enjoy the remembrance, and, since the crocus is a perennial, it will be renewed each year as a perpetual reminder.
- Corey Sewelson
Roxene Rockwell, Baucis and Philemon, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50 inches
In my work I often use trees to symbolize humans. For me trees metaphorically represent all of us, as we stand strong or physically frail, bending resiliently with life changes or succumbing to old age. 
I was drawn to the Greek myth about Baucis and Philemon for their great kindness and enduring love, and for how they turned into trees. This couple wished to die together and so doing would stay together forever. Because of their benevolence the Greek god Zeus granted their wish by turning them into trees standing side by side as their lives as humans ended. 
- Roxene Rockwell
Nancy Mozur, Phane, Gouache and oil crayon on paper, 6 5/16 x 7 3/16 inches
I like to wed various myths together with images that emerge from within my mind. The phoenix bird is a tale of regeneration. Its fate is to burn up and through its remains, rises to be born again. That renewal repeats itself symbolically as carbon ashes give way to the diamond as new life. Fire plays an important element in this tale. Heat throughout myths often results in change from destruction to creation. In the Orphic religion, the hot passion between the black-winged Night and the Wind produces the silver egg of Eros. Within the fiery depths of the Egyptian underworld, the serpent Apophis battles against the fist of Amun furthering the soul's journey towards a renewed Sun God. As my imagination, sputters, inflames and blazes, visions appear, waiting to be transformed.
- Nancy Mozur
Jim Morphesis, The Fall of Icarus, 1994, Oil on wood panel with wood frame, 42.5 x 28.5 inches
Ovid's story of Daedalus and Icarus is the tale of a loving father's loss of his son. It is also the story of youthful exuberance and the first mortal hero to fly god-like over land and sea. 
Daedalus was a great craftsman and inventor who had gone to Crete to construct the labyrinth for King Minos. When his task was completed, Daedalus petitioned the king for permission to return home, but Minos, not wanting the only man who knew the secret of the labyrinth to leave, refused the request. Minos possessed the earth and the sea, but not the sky. And so Daedalus planned to make his ill-omened escape by constructing wings of feathers, wax and linen for himself and his son, Icarus. 
With ease father and son took flight. Their dual shadows passed over Samos, the fields of Delos, the villages of Paros and out over the sea. The exhilaration of flight, and the experience of seeing the world as no other human had, compelled Icarus to disobey his father and soar higher. When Icarus reached the realm of Apollo and his chariot, the heat of the sun melted the wax, feathers slipped away and Icarus fell. 
Greek myths have a way of offering even the most tragic heroes the means for redemption. In my painting, with broken-hearted Daedalus looking down helplessly, foolish and courageous Icarus plummets toward an apocalyptic landscape and a final dive in the sea that will forever bare his name and render Icarus immortal. - Jim Morphesis
Myth and Image
A multi-cultural look at myths paired with contemporary images
El Camino College Art Gallery 16007 Crenshaw Blvd, Torrance, CA 90506
August 25 - September 18, 2014
Artist's Event with Lauren M. Kasmer, Tuesday, September 9, 1 p.m.

Participating Artists:

Melinda Smith Altshuler, Catherine Bennaton, Mark Clayton, Raoul De la Sota, Satoe Fukushima, Suvan Geer, Susan Hamidi, Zeal Harris, Brenda Hurst, Lauren M. Kasmer, Filip Kostic, Patricia Krebs, Peter Liashkov, Karena Massengill, Lynne McDaniel, John Montich, Jim Morphesis, Nancy Mozur, Stuart Rapeport, Annemarie Rawlinson, Thea Robertshaw, Roxene Rockwell, Cory Sewelson, Nancy Webber

Monday and Tuesday 10-4 Wednesday and Thursday 12-8
The ECC Art Gallery is closed Friday, Saturday and Sunday and selected Holidays.
Admission to El Camino College Art Gallery and to all related events is free and open to the public. On campus parking requires visitors to purchase a $3.00 permit.

Carolin Peters: "The Journey" at the Kwan Fong Gallery

 Carolin Peters, Under Days, Oil on Canvas, 48x36"

In her series The Journey, now on view at the Kwan Fong Gallery of Art and Culture at Cal Lutheran University, painter Carolin Peters has created an ambitious body of work that expresses the inner journey toward psychological individuation. Concerned with philosophical, spiritual and mystic phenomena, Peters creates narrative paintings that open up her ruminations on the nature of the true self.

I recently spoke with Peters and asked her about her background, and the imagery of The Journey.

John Seed in Conversation with Carolin Peters
Carolin Peters
Tell me about your childhood in Bavaria and how it shaped you.

I grew up in a pretty remote, rural town in lower Bavaria. It was a super idyllic place and I spent most of my time outdoors, either running through the forest with our dog Twiggy or later at the farm where we boarded two horses. By constantly riding, walking or biking through the surrounding fields and forests I formed a really deep bond to the landscape there. My parents also took us to the nearby Austrian mountains a lot and that whole region is my quintessential ideal place. I was a super shy and quiet kid and having close bonds with nature and animals kept me connected to the outer world. Otherwise I probably would have totally withdrawn since it was hard for me to relate and care about "normal" stuff like sports and fashion. Instead I've always been interested in magical worlds, legends and fairy tales. I'd see a fallen over tree trunk and imagine stories of gnomes living in its root system. So my imagination was constantly fueled by what I saw and I still draw heavily from that.

The Source, Oil on Canvas, 48x64"
Growing up in Europe, what kinds of art were you exposed to?

The first art I was exposed to were my great grandfather's paintings and sketchbooks. He traveled a lot and his paintings were in line with those of the Orientalists and Classicists. But he also had illustrations for children's stories, portraits of fellow soldiers and scientific illustrations of plants. When I first saw his sketchbooks I knew that I wanted to be able to draw like this. But whenever art was addressed in school I realized that I couldn't become an artist because I just had no interest in painting abstractly, making video art or creating installations. That's how contemporary art was defined to us in school anyways.

So I figured becoming an illustrator was the only way to go. As long as I got a hold of those skills. I had no idea until I came to Laguna that there were still people out there painting realistically. Luckily we went to Munich's art museums regularly with school. So I got pretty well-steeped in all the greats from the Renaissance to Expressionism. Other than that, only after spending my first year in the States did I realize how much the local architecture had imprinted me: specially all those Romanesque and Gothic churches and castles with their elaborate ornamentation that are literally everywhere. Coming to the U.S. gave me a whole new appreciation for the "old" heritage that I'd taken for granted up till then.

Episteme, Oil on canvas, 49.5 x 45.5"
What did it feel like to come to the U.S. and study in Laguna? Who were your mentors at LCAD?

Coming to Laguna was amazing. I had struggled a lot in high school and been made to feel academically inadequate. Finally I was at a place where I wanted to learn everything that was offered to me and excelled at it. Luckily I had a few friends that I knew already from earlier student exchanges, including my husband and then boyfriend Ben and so I never felt alone. But the community around LCAD became my family and home away from home. After seeing an eye-opening faculty show that included a breath-taking portrait by Stephen Douglas I quickly changed my major from illustration to fine art and my course was set right then and there. Stephen later became my mentor during the MFA program and so did F. Scott Hess. I had numerous inspiring teachers that had a huge impact on me including Sharon Allicotti, Darlene Campbell, Ron Brown and many more: I owe so much to them.

Counsel, Oil on panel, 13x24"
Tell me about your series "The Journey." How did it come about and how has it developed?

When I graduated with my MFA degree I had a really tough time starting to paint in my new studio. I would spend days "organizing" the place and "preparing" stuff when finally my therapist at the time ordered me to "just push paint around" on a scrap surface and to do that religiously for the next few weeks without any expectations and demands of creating "serious" work. So I would pick my favorite pigment of the day and smear it around without any purpose other than enjoying paint-smearing (a terribly hard thing to do for someone brought up in a no-nonsense, everything-needs-a-function kind of environment). Inevitably I would always start to see something within the abstract marks and eventually excavate the image I was seeing.

 After I had done this for a month I laid all the scrap pieces of canvas out next to each other and realized that there was a narrative connecting all these seemingly random images. That's how the series got started. It got put on hiatus off and on and the images changed over the years but I wouldn't allow myself to sell off any of the pieces until I hadn't shown the completed thing as a whole first. I think it is very fitting and telling that the series is about an archetypal figure on a journey to himself since it spanned the time in my life in which I had to figure out who I was as an adult and as an artist.

Beginning, Oil on canvas, diptych, 74x62"
Can you tell me about one image from "The Journey" in some depth? 

  I don't like to dissect the meaning of a painting for the viewer because that would imply that there is a right and a wrong way of looking at art. For me the exciting thing about art is that regardless of my motivation to create an image anyone can walk up to it and experience their own reaction to it. I think we can benefit from art by listening to how it makes us feel and to what it brings up in us, not because the oh-so-wise artist imparted some mind-blowing insight to the lowly onlooker. Of course I have my own narrative in my head as I craft a piece and I work very hard to have my composition, color scheme and paint application support it. But the goal is to make a good image, not to make everyone agree with me.

But I will gladly tell you about the creative process now that I stepped off my soap box. As I said earlier, I started with this accumulation of over 30 painted sketches, which I then whittled down to 20 final ones. Before I started every new piece I would spend some time on finding better compositions and figuring out color schemes. About a year ago I got really burnt out and I was ready to give up on the whole thing. My interests had shifted and the series felt like a piece of led on my leg. I was tired of some of the earlier characters and only really wanted to work on animals. I felt like I was just rendering out earlier images that didn't mean that much to me anymore. Luckily Ben reminded me of the fact that I am painting about somebody's journey and that I should have the right to change course on my own. So I chucked a lot of the ideas that didn't resonate anymore and either started brand new ones or recycled the initial idea.

Audience with the Coat Bearer, Oil on Canvas, triptych, 36x80"
Audience with the Coat Bearer, for example, is the same format as the sketch but the original sketch had the protagonist bowing in front of an old crone on a mountain pass with a castle in the distance and the scene was flipped the other way. I still think it would have made for an interesting image but I wasn't in that frame of mind anymore.

Open Field, Oil on panel, 17.5 x 12"
Tell me about how you see your situation as a representational artist making serious work at a time when Postmodernism seems to dominate.

I'm not sure. Being an artist is hard either way. Whether you are in line with current trends or not. As long as you are doing the hard work of confronting yourself and listening inward there are always going to be challenges. I didn't get into this because I wanted to be sanctioned by the higher echelons of the art world as valid. I paint because I love images and the silent stories they tell. I don't really care if they are categorized as art or illustration or neither. I care that I paint well and that people get to see my work. At times it seems hard to find spaces to show my work with but I can't obsess over if it has to do with my not adhering to postmodern criteria. That just ends up frustrating me and cutting into my painting time.  

What are your interests outside of art?

I love animals and being in nature. I almost decided to become a horse trainer but my parents thought that it wouldn't make for a very lucrative career. So I decided to take the safe route of being an artist. But seriously, I need the quiet and solitude of nature to recharge and the companionship of animals to find my center. I think animals really show us who we are because they don't take your masks for real. Being able to commune with them as equals is one of the most rewarding things ever. Other than that I started experimenting with dissection and taxidermy of fresh road kill. I've been teaching artistic anatomy for a few semesters and that has been so enriched by this practice. Nature is amazing at how inventive and efficient it is. Everything is built in perfect order. It's truly awe-inspiring. It's also sobering to reveal during a dissection the trauma inflicted on these animals by our cars.  

Who are some living artists that you admire?

Ruprecht von Kaufman, Paul Fenniak, Aaron Wiesenfeld, Jenny Saville, Julie Heffernan and Odd Nerdrum.

Carolin Peters
Kwan Fong Gallery of Art and Culture
Cal Lutheran University
Artist's reception: Saturday, September 6, 2014 7:00 PM
Exhibit closes: Thursday, October 2, 2014

Conor Walton: Contemplating Higher Things

Conor Walton, Self-Portrait, Oil on linen, 2014

Conor Walton, one of Ireland's leading representational painters, strives to create paintings that go beyond mere technical competence. One of his stated goals is to endow his works with high, shared ideals so that his images will carry some of the cultural importance that religious art carried in earlier eras.

I recently interviewed Walton, who will be exhibiting eight recent still life paintings in San Francisco this month, and asked him about his background ideas and interests.

John Seed in Conversation with Conor Walton

Veiled, Oil on linen, 18 x 20 inches

Tell me a bit about your childhood: were you always an artist?

No! I was an astronaut, a commando and a zoologist first, as far as I remember. But I always drew pictures. I probably spent most of my childhood lying on the floor drawing and painting. I was quite shy and a bit of a loner. Drawing allowed me to escape into a world of my own making. But it was also my primary means of relating to the real world. I built my world out of pictures.

Saturnalia, Oil on Panel, 18 x 24 inches

Was Ireland a good place to receive artistic training? Tell me about your studies in Ireland and also in Italy.

The Ireland I grew up in was still a very traditional, conservative, Catholic country. It was largely untouched by the destruction and upheavals of the two World Wars that completely changed the cultural landscape in the rest of Europe. The teaching in the art colleges was very conservative up until the late sixties, when there was a sort of Cultural Revolution and the Modernists burst in and started shaking things up. As a result, when I went to NCAD in 1989, there were still some 'Ancien Regime' teachers left who were trying to teach painting as a craft according to "academic" principles. 

But there were also Abstractionists, Neo-Expressionists, Pop Artists, Postmodernists and Conceptualists. All the major strands of twentieth-century art were represented by the teaching staff when I was there. They all seemed to secretly despise each other, and disagreed in their teaching about absolutely everything, and I found the whole experience extremely disorientating, but I think I learned a lot, from all of them in different ways. In terms of the cultural power-politics of the time, the 'academics' and 'traditionalists' were a waning force, but they were still there. They are gone now. 

My time in Italy was in many ways the opposite experience. When I studied painting in Dublin, my interest in the craft and tradition of painting was seen as deeply reactionary. I was denounced for painting 'salon pictures', for producing a sort of wanna-be authoritarian or fascist art. But when I went to study with Charles Cecil in Florence, I was made to feel like an apostate of tradition - a Modernist! A Relativist! Charles avowedly hated the Twentieth Century, and his teaching seemed designed to produce a sort of simulacrum of the art of an earlier age, in which all evidence of Modernity, of NOW, was to be ruthlessly repressed.

I thought this was utterly pointless, and I ended up having as many arguments with Charles as I had with the Modernists back in Dublin. In fact they were even more bitter. I was almost banned from Charles' studio. The only thing that kept me in was that I knew my art history. Charles had a great way of quoting Leonardo, or Rubens, or Joshua Reynolds, like they were still alive and he'd just been talking with them over a drink in the bar next door. I'd studied all the sources he was quoting, and could answer back, and even correct him occasionally. Even while this annoyed him and challenged him, it thrilled him. No-one else answered Charles back. So he never kicked me out. And I did learn a lot from him, though not always what he wanted to teach me. I even respect the depth of his hatred for Modernity. I've absorbed it in my own way.

Ceci n'est pas une Blague, Oil on linen, 24 x 30 inches

You have a degree in Art History: when did you make the switch and make painting your main priority?

Painting was always my main priority. But NCAD ran a joint honours degree in art history, and those with brains to spare were encouraged to sign up and get two degrees for the price of one. At the time, hardly anyone in Ireland was making a living from art; you were expected to support yourself principally by teaching when you left college. Because my work aroused the hostility of the Modernists I was constantly in danger of crashing out of the painting department, and I couldn't see myself getting a teaching position there in the face of such opposition, so teaching art history seemed like a reasonable alternative. I was even allowed to write my thesis on abstract art and received a prize for it, despite my saying things in the thesis that were highly critical of the whole notion of abstract art. It seemed to me that art history was still a true 'academic' discipline with objective standards, whereas in the painting department any notion of academic discipline and objectivity had collapsed. But the art history department in my art college was unusually liberal.

When I went on to do a masters in art history in England intending, again, to focus on Modernist art from a highly critical perspective, I found my path blocked. I found that the specialists in Modernism I sought out to supervise my thesis wouldn't even entertain my ideas and refused to cooperate. Their hostility showed me that art history isn't such an objective discipline after all!

The Enemies of Progress, Oil on linen, 24 x 48 inches

Basically, those who make their academic careers out of studying an artist or movement become cheerleaders for their subject. They can become so wedded to the values and narrative on which the high reputation of their subject depends that they won't see them challenged. This is why the broad history of art in the twentieth century has become such a conventional, well-established orthodoxy. So I ended up doing my thesis on an episode in seventeenth-century cultural politics called "The Battle of the Ancients and the Moderns". I was still attacking the precepts of Modernism, but this time from behind! Which was fine. My supervisor said it was one of the best dissertations in the history of the department, and I was awarded my degree with Distinction.

In the end I found I didn't need to teach art history; I could earn a living from painting. But I owe a great deal to those studies. A grasp of past styles, iconography, symbolism has enriched my work in pretty obvious ways. But the drive behind my inquiry was my sense of cultural disorientation. Why did I feel so at odds with the ideas that were being taught at art college? Why did I find it so hard to admire or even respect so much contemporary art? These were puzzles that I could only solve by a period of intense study and deep reflection. And this was what I achieved while (supposedly) studying art history. So I managed to reorientate myself, and my world-view gained depth and maturity.

Still Life with Judgement, Oil on linen 24 x 18 inches

You have a feeling for allegory. Tell me about one of your allegorical paintings.

My Still life with Judgement is an allegory of aesthetic judgement. Modern notions of aesthetic judgement are derived from Immanuel Kant, whose Critique of Judgement is one of the books in the painting. The basic idea is that Art affords us an extremely pure pleasure, unmixed by any self-interest, because Art is useless. Now this idea is total crap. Art is extremely useful. Those who make a big deal about it demonstrate their refinement, their class and (if they have it) their wealth for all to see. It has huge social and cultural utility. But all these vested interests hide behind the common lie that, in matters of Art, good judgement is disinterested. And in this painting I've tried to make an image that articulates some of my feelings about the subject.

The old Krups weighing scales performs two functions in the painting. With a cast of a human face atop, it becomes a metaphor for the coldly calculating brain behind the face -- backed up by books of art theory, history and criticism -- weighing, measuring, judging 'disinterestedly'. The face is turned resolutely away from the earth and the fruity pleasures at the base, contemplating 'higher' things. But the face on the scales also invokes the symbolism of the Last Judgement and Weighing of Souls. So maybe the 'disinterested' aesthetic judge is also up for judgement. These echoes of Christian iconography also help to amplify the religious, apocalyptic feel of the picture, making it akin to a sacrificial alter or shrine. The fruit at the base are a sort of natural, earthy counterpoint to the strange, artificial construction above. Painted with the brightest, purest colours and most alluring textures I can muster, I want the whole picture to appeal to your sense of touch, to your appetites, to your fascination with illusions, to your covetousness, to every pleasure which is physical, earthy and NOT disinterested.

Overall, I hope the painting maintains a sort of equilibrium between the elements. Although I intend my paintings to honour Nature and appeal frankly to the senses, to pleasure and passion, in my demand for rigorous formal order and intellectual content, I know I'm also inside this painting's coolly calculating intellect.

Fat Tails, Oil on linen, 15 x 36 inches

What is it about the still life genre that interests you?

To begin with I was not really interested in the genre: my principal interest has always been painting people and 'living nature' rather than 'nature mort', but live models are expensive and I paint slowly, and still life seemed like a good way of producing small saleable works that I could paint from life and develop my eye and technique at the same time. But the deadness of objects, their lack of energy or any psychological presence has always been an obstacle to me, something to overcome. I'm not at all happy with still life as an exercise in pure objectivity or pure form. So I end up trying to treat the painting as a miniature drama, a microcosm. I use objects that have meaning for me and try to get the whole painting to make a statement, to express an attitude. And because still life is an art of objects -- of deadness -- attitudes like objectivity, materialism, fatalism, nihilism, are easily accessible through the genre. It's a battleground for me: a way of waging small-scale war against modernity.

Illusionism still has great artistic potential because reality is still something we find difficult and threatening. I've heard it said that people can avoid facing reality, but they can't avoid the consequences of not facing reality. I think my work is very much bound up with these issues; with naturalism at one remove, with fantasy and disillusionment. In our culture, to an historically unprecedented extent, affluence and industrial might have become weapons in a general war against reality, against nature. But Nature's still going to win.

I suppose fundamentally I think of myself as at odds with the still life genre and most of its 'default settings'. But in some ways it's a good position to be in: everything I do in still life is done tactically, strategically, self-consciously; my dissatisfaction with and to some extent contempt for the genre is what allows me to push it around, to use it purely as a means to my ends. Every once-in-a-while I get very frustrated with painting objects and feel like I'm close to exhausting its possibilities for me, but it usually doesn't last long. Right now I'm flying along. It's a great time to be a cultural pessimist!

Here be Monsters, Oil on Linen, 15 x 24 inches

What will be showing in San Francisco? 

I'll have about eight paintings in a still-life exhibition at CK Contemporary along with eight really brilliant painters from right around the world: Jay Mercado, David de Biasio, Dianne Gall, Hollis Dunlap, K Henderson, Ottorino de Lucchi, James Neil Hollingsworth and José Basso. You can see an online catalogue of the exhibition here.

Earth-Moon Distance, Oil on linen, 18 x 30 inches

What are your interests outside of art?

Any chance I get -- which is not too often these days -- I try to get some time in the wilderness, in something approximating Nature. I'm lucky to be living beside the sea, with long cliff walks nearby, and near the Wicklow mountains, where you can go off-track and not meet another soul for a day if you want to.

I like to read. I'm interested in philosophy and history and science. More recently, in order to fathom how our crazy world really works, I've taken to reading books on economics and scanning the financial papers.

But these days, raising my three young children is my main interest when I'm not painting. My eldest beats me at chess now, so things are getting very interesting indeed!

Contemporary Still Life Painting
Opening Reception: September 6, 6-9 PM
CK Contemporary
357 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA