Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Endless Surrender

Arkansas Democrat Gazette • January 22, 2012

 “I saw your name in the paper this morning.” my friend said.

I stared at her blankly. “Really?” was all I could come up with.

“Your work is in the new oncology center in Rogers.”

“Oh, right, yes, yes, it is.”

Last year, Interior designer, Julie Wait Fryauf asked me to submit some photographs of my work to be considered for inclusion in a new cancer center being built by Highlands Oncology Group in Rogers, Arkansas. After a review by the doctors, Julie told me they were focusing on representational work but they liked the comforting aspect of my pieces that include botanicals.

Ashley Batchelor wrote in her article about the project in the The Art Of Healing, in the January 22nd Arkansas Democrat Gazette:

“Julie Wait Fryauf of Julie Wait Designs, interior designer for the project, says her whole concept was to "create a calming, less stressful environment for people who are in a very stressful situation in their lives," and she felt the artwork would help generate that ambiance.

The collection also gives the public more access to works of art and helps support local artists, she says.

The 140 pieces by some 20 artists - most from northwest Arkansas and a few from southern Missouri—were installed throughout the 55,000-square-foot, two-story building. The art includes landscapes and still-life paintings, prints, photographs, fabric art, fiber art, hand-painted bowls and giclées, which are fine art digital prints.

Fryauf said there was quite a bit of sentiment among doctors at the practice that they wanted to build a collection of art by local artists rather than purchasing mass-produced images.

Dr. Dan Bradford, who has been with Highlands Oncology Group for 21 years, said he and other doctors wanted local art because most cancer patients receive their care locally. He said the building and artwork inside it are part of the healing process and comprehensive care.

"It makes it a much more homelike and nurturing place," he said.

Fryauf said she wanted to choose scenes familiar to residents of northwest Arkansas, so she picked quite a few landscapes and paintings with nature motifs.

"Nature is the best art for healing environments." She said she also wanted to emphasize water and its "healing aspects." Because of this, there are a lot of waterfall images, she said.”

I was commissioned to create two 34” x 34” textile paintings to be placed in a sub waiting room on the second floor. This is a place “for families who need more privacy,” Julie explained.

The burden of responsibility to create work that would calm and encourage people going through such a difficult time was heavy. Unlike they way I usually experience creativity this project felt stressful. I procrastinated. When I finally summoned enough courage to begin I already had an agenda. I’d figured it out.

You can probably guess what happened next.

Longtime Sun • 34" x 34" • Cloth, Dye • ©2011 Jennifer Libby Fay

Things did not go as planned.

Thinking that soft, muted colors would be calming I chose the fabric and started painting. After years of working with these dyes, I know pretty well how they are going to react and what the results will be. Not this time. Bright colors kept appearing and insisting on their presence in the pieces. Over and over again my thinking didn’t match the art that I was making. Finally I decided to surrender, to stop thinking. I just got out of my own way and let the work happen.

Endless Surrender • 34" x 34" • Cloth, Dye • ©2011 Jennifer Libby Fay

The result is Endless Surrender and Longtime Sun pictured here in the waiting room at the Highlands Oncology Center.

Highlands Oncology Group sub-waiting room • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

This quote, which was featured in the newspaper article, let me know I had done the right thing.

The effect on sickness of beautiful objects, of variety of objects and especially brilliancy of color is hardly at all appreciated. People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body, too. Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by color and light, we do know this, they have an actual physical effect. Variety of form and brilliancy of color in the objects presented to patients are actual means of recovery.

Florence Nightingale

Friday, February 3, 2012

Beautiful Words

Fig. 1 • Tell Me Again • Dye, Cloth • 28" x 15" • © 2010 Jennifer Libby Fay
I have been suffering from a wicked case of writer's block.

There, I said it.

I've been fussing and worrying and and wrangling with it for months now. My friends are tired of hearing about it and I suspect you've grown tired of waiting for me to show up here. I apologize.

Meanwhile in the past few weeks a number of other people have written about my work so I'm going to share their words with you in an effort to get things moving. Sort of like priming the pump, as they say.

The first is Maddie Layton, an honors Art History student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She wrote to me requesting that she might interview me for a paper she was writing for class. The assignment was to choose a local artist and interview that artist about a certain piece of work. I was honored that Ms Layton chose my piece, Tell Me Again, and agreed to answer her questions.  What follows are her words and experience. If I had the words, I would tell you how absolutely grateful I am for her gentle treatment of my process, and willingness to be open and allow herself to look at and feel art (not just mine). It is an extraordinary gift. I hope she keeps writing about and making art!

Art for the Artist’s Sake
by Maddie Layton

At times, art is a difficult concept to understand for an analytical, left-brained, everything-in-its-place type of person like me.  Could a simple spot of color on a page really have a specific, underlying meaning?  I was never so sure.  Needless to say, I was surprised when I found myself intrigued by a piece of art that would normally make no sense to me at all.  I looked at it for a long while, trying to figure out what it was telling me, because I felt there was something more to it.  What was it about this piece that captured my attention like few works ever had before?  I suppose at first it was the quiet drama of the piece.  Lines seem to be irrelevant, as brushstrokes of color in every shape, size, and direction cover the canvas. The strokes are not deep in the space of the painting; instead they appear very close.  A rainbow of colors swirls in circles beneath a blanket of lines that seem muted yet vibrant at the same time.  How is that possible?  Overlapping areas of color create shadows in the center of the piece, which is devoid of any light.  A calmer array of cool blues and greens is separated from a more intense section of color by a column of black blocks that, at first glance, reminds me of camera film.  The bottom of the work has a misty blue effect that provides a different emotion, which is both calming and harried at the same time.  The spots are almost in a frenzy, yet this area of the painting seems to be much clearer than the rest, as if a light were shining on it and illuminating it with realization.  I was surprised at all the conflicting emotions that came from the piece at once.  It seemed to take me through an entire spectrum of feeling; excitement from the colorful left side followed by a disturbing calm on the right and ending with relief from it all on the bottom. While I wasn’t sure if there was a specific story the piece was telling me, I felt that it was reflecting some of my own past experiences.  I was compelled by the divider in the work. Though it severed part of the “emotions,” it didn’t separate them in their entirety, leading me to believe that I cannot ever truly separate them in my own life either.

This piece that so intensely captured my attention is a textile painting by artist Jennifer Libby Fay entitled, Tell Me Again (Fig. 1).  Fay is a graphic designer turned textile artist currently living in Fayetteville, AR.  Her studio is held and her work is displayed in the Fayetteville Underground, a local, non-profit visual arts gallery. (This paper was written in October 2011, before the closing of the Fayetteville Underground in December.)  Tell Me Again is done on polyester cloth using Disperse dyes, which are the artist’s favorite mediums to work with.  Fay appreciates the detail and color she can obtain with these materials, which she finds to be their most advantageous aspect.  In a recent interview, the artist revealed, “I have tried other things, but I feel most comfortable expressing myself in this way.”

A heat press or an iron is used to set the dye.  Fay’s preference for textiles stems from a love of cloth that she has had ever since childhood.  Tell Me Again was completed in 2010 and is 28”x15”, which is consistent with the size of painting she normally works with.  It currently resides in the artist’s personal collection, but it was first created to be a part of Reconciliation, Fay’s very first solo exhibition.  All of the works in this collection express a small part of the overall theme: that in all aspects and stages of life, knowledge is presented to us, and our lives change because of it.  Though I always thought I was unable to see the deeper meaning of an abstract work of art, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my thought process after viewing the painting was not too far off from what Fay was attempting to express.  Any time we gain knowledge by being told something, “we have the opportunity to change what we think about it,” according to Fay.  If the news is not what we expect or want, we can find the positive in it and “thereby reconcile ourselves to what comes next.”  Any sort of news or knowledge, regardless of its content, stirs an emotional journey within us, just as the painting portrays.  These emotions can change and intertwine as they do in the painting.  Tell me something once, and I may find my life spun into a frenzy.  Tell me again, and I might find the calm in the storm.

The first time I looked at this piece, one name immediately came to mind: Kandinsky.  I see so much of his influence in Fay’s paintings and in the way that color and shape are used to form something that is so confusing, yet so clear.  In Kandinsky’s life, “art was a matter of rhythmic lines, colors, and shapes, rather than narrative.”

Fig. 2 • Vassily Kandinski, Panel for Edwin R. Campbell No. 4 (formerly Painting No. 201, Winter) 1914 • Oil on Canvas • 5' 4.5" x 4' • Museum of Modern Art, New York

I thought of Kandinsky’s Winter in particular (Fig.2).  It is an incredibly complex piece of art, and regrettably, I once considered it to be completely random and lacking in meaning.  After gaining insight into the mind of an artist from Fay, who considers Kandinsky to be one of her favorite artists and an influencer of her work, I was better able to understand the creative process of a master such as Kandinsky.  Though I find these pieces to be so similar, I was able to more easily relate to Fay’s piece than Kandinsky’s.  I find Tell Me Again to be much softer and more fragile than Winter.  Though it is likely no one can ever quite comprehend the meaning of Winter in its entirety, I have come to believe that this is true for every work of art.  This makes it easier to appreciate abstract works such as those of Kandinsky and Fay, because I realize that the work was not created for the purposes of my understanding, but rather my interpretation.  A part of the artist is expressed in each piece, which no viewer can wholly understand, and each viewer takes something different from the piece, which the artist can never wholly know either.  The relationship between the artist, the viewer, and the piece is one of mutual respect, discovery, and the acknowledgement of the possibility that just maybe, art in its true form was never meant to be fully understood by anyone.

Tell Me Again brings forth a feeling, a message, that has no form in its original state, yet can be expressed by the artist’s interpretation.  It is in this type of art that shape is given to the invisible.  I find that Fay’s process for creating art is about releasing vulnerability and paradoxically putting forth something mysterious to shed light on a person’s innermost revelations. 

The creation of art is an exploratory journey for Fay.  Even the slightest spark of an idea can be the catalyst to bring forth something from nothing.  She builds on this creation as she goes, seeking to gain knowledge through research, modern culture, and advice from others. Her exhibitions build off of an original theme whose origin she cannot always explain, but that she can feel and be guided by.  In her process to procure knowledge for creation, Fay holds strong to the idea of taking what she needs, and leaving the rest. By doing so, she only allows herself to retain the necessities in order to complete her work. This beautifully simplistic attitude toward art is also a refreshing way to look at life itself, which might explain the calming, straightforward quality of many of her pieces.  Life is a highly unique, personal story for every human being throughout time, yet it is intertwined in ways that we could never understand nor survive without.  Fay’s belief, that the most personal things in life can also be the most universal, resonated strongly with me.  Just as I was confused by how Tell Me Again could bring forth such contradictory emotions, I also questioned at first how such an intensely personal and expressive process could ever make sense to someone outside her vision.  Each brushstroke of Tell Me Again conceals the deeper meaning Fay intended to convey to the world.  Her exploration into a small piece of the process of reconciliation was a personal expression, unique to the experiences of her own life.  Even so, someone who has never actually met her, someone who merely viewed her personal expression of an idea, was able to understand and take something out of it.  Someone like me.

So what is the purpose of creating something that could so easily be rejected by a world that can’t comprehend its message?  For Fay, the creation of art is not something that is done for the purposes or pleasure of others, although that is certainly a joyous benefit.  Instead, it is a way to gain insight, both of herself and of the world, for her.  Her mentor once told her that it makes no difference whether or not other people understand or even appreciate her art, because it was not created to gain their acceptance.  Its existence is to explore the deeper meaning of the world and of herself.  Fay understands that someone might love one of her pieces and dislike another, but that is to be expected.  It all has to do with the experiences and the perspectives of individual people.

For most, a “play day” would consist of spending time away from work.  Not for Fay.  As a professional artist, she never lets herself get too comfortable.  Exploring and experimenting with new ways to create her art are an important part of her growth as a person and as a professional.  This exploration is achieved through scheduled “play days,” where she takes time to learn and work with new materials and techniques for making art.  On these days, she allows herself to be a blank slate, with no expectations of what the day might produce.   After speaking with Fay, I have gained a sense of her work ethic.  I used to sometimes picture the life of a professional artist to mimic that of what I picture (thanks to pop culture) the life of a professional writer to be: sitting around, gazing out a window with a cup of coffee, until a lightbulb appears and an idea hits.  In reality, however, there is no window gazing for Jennifer Fay!  She believes that professional artists cannot simply wait for inspiration, and she works in her studio four or five days a week.  Artists cannot always wait for an idea to come in its own time.  Sometimes it takes a little persistence and exploration to inspire a lightbulb.

Fig. 3 • Maddie Layton, Collage of Forms • 8.5" x 11" • 2011 • Collage on Paper

 For my personal art project, I found inspiration from both my interview with Jennifer Fay and Tell Me Again.  Fay works with textiles because she has had a love for them ever since childhood.  Just as she works with a medium she has always loved, I decided to do the same.  Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved making collages.  My room used to be covered with collages of pictures that I cut from my mom’s magazines I found around the house.  I love how I can create colorful, sometimes poetic mixtures of things I enjoy in a collage.  When creating my 8”x11” piece (Fig.3), I took cues from Fay, who “begins with an idea and then builds on it by thinking and doing.”  The strong flashes of light in the collage stir a strong emotion of power, and were inspired by the strong emotion I felt when looking at Tell Me Again.  Once I started building the collage, I couldn’t help but add images for no reason other than I liked looking at them.  Some were feminine and pretty, and others had bold patterns or colors.  I didn’t have a concrete plan from the beginning, but I feel that the piece came together on its own.  Fay creates her work for herself and for her own reasons, and I did the same with my piece.  It might be a jumble of images to some, but I enjoy looking at it, and I think others can create their own story from it.  The images in the picture cover an array of textures, lights, and colors.  I think each image elicits a certain emotion.  Tell Me Again inspired this collage to be abstract, and to move from one train of thought to another.

After exploring art through my interview with Jennifer Fay, I now relate it to the tale of the sword in the stone.  The harder you strain to remove the sword, the less success you have.  However, when you barely pull, the sword springs free.  I believe this concept applies to art as well.  The harder I tried to make sense of confusing pieces of abstract art, the less I understood and appreciated them, but when I stood back and allowed myself to simply view a piece without any expectations, the easier it was to gain insight from it.  Fay helped me come to this realization with Tell Me Again.  I now see art through a different set of eyes, and it is more beautiful than ever before.