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Artmaking: The How and the Why

By Laurie Lamont Murray RADNOR NEWS · SUMMER 2023

As an artist who exhibits fairly often, I have discovered that most art lovers are interested in knowing more about what they are seeing. What was the artist thinking? Why was that particular approach chosen to convey their idea? And how was the artwork made?

With a world full of art makers and styles, the answers are obviously not simple. In fact, the best answer may be a question! You've heard this before, because it's true: the art you purchase is a piece of the artist's soul. And what it means to you, what you see in it, only makes it more interesting and valuable in the truest sense of the word. We might all agree that abstract art allows a broad brush of interpretation—quite possibly no two people will see things in exactly the same way. Yet a very realistic, beautifully rendered still life may remind you of your great aunt's house, while someone else looking at the same painting will have very different memories of their own to add. So, many artists may be just as interested in what you see in their work as in what sparked their inspiration!

In our beautiful Tri-state countryside I know many artists who love to paint plein air, carrying their easel and supplies out to an old farmhouse or riverbank where the light is true and the weather is mild. They will tell you that it's a gift to be able to paint outdoors for so many months of the year, and their intent may be nothing more or less than conveying unspoiled beauty, or as landscape painter Sue Stefanski puts it, giving people a feeling of peace.

There are artists for whom art sales are their livelihood and others who wouldn't dream of selling their “children”. Either way, it is a balancing act for artists who exhibit their work: New pieces are always needed. Do I build upon an existing work to continue the story, or branch out in a new direction? I am guilty of the latter approach: There is always something new to try. My fellow ARTsister Barbara Dirnbach is another artist who always seems to be trying something new, and very skillfully.

Whether you go to a museum or gallery, an art fair or visit an artist's studio, there is every conceivable form of art to see and enjoy:

You'll find encaustic art, which combines wax with paint for added texture and interest (no it won't melt when you take it home), printmaking of every kind and drawings. Knowing how to draw makes a huge difference in the quality of a work of art. By the age of 9, Picasso's drawings were flawless. Although he abandoned realism for cubism and abstraction, his knowledge of line quality and his sense of design never left him. (You may have another favorite artist who learned to draw before “breaking the rules”—there are many.)

Landscapes and nature will never lose their stature in our region but there is room for other approaches. You'll find art with conviction, which asks you, the viewer, to think about a local or global problem and possibly act upon it. On a larger scale, there is installation art, which is designed to take you inside the artist's thought process. If you have a chance to see Francis Beaty's very thought-provoking work, by all means go. Installation artists are particularly interesting because they are not creating something that can be sold. The experience they offer comes straight from the heart and mind.

Some artists make intricate collages; others affix bits of paper and found objects to a painting for added texture and interest. You might find yourself wondering how and why this was done. Many artists will welcome your questions. Linnie Greenberg is one of the best collage artists locally. Her wit is delicious and her workshops are not to be missed. In New York, look for Denise Adler, whose luscious collaged paintings come from a feminist commitment. Find her at Pictor Gallery in Chelsea, which she and I started two years ago.

Sculpture keeps getting more interesting: Artists who venture into 3-D literally have the world at their fingertips: You should see Helen Mason's amazing work created from black rubber, Lele Galer's gorgeous hearts, formed from steel and love, Bob Hakun's incredibly funny and fun How-on-earth-did- he-think-of-that assemblages, and of course sculpture by the venerable Stan Smokler, who taught every one of us who works in metal. Some of Stan's work is still available for purchase, and you'll be glad you tracked it down. Then there's Jill Beech, whose travels to some of the world's least well known corners have informed her very unique and beautiful sculptures. You'll want to spend time with her to hear about the cooking, layering, hammering and burning that are part of her fascinating process.Like Jill, Terri Fraser sometimes begins with a wire framework, adding natural elements from her beloved New Jersey countryside in unpredictable, wildly creative ways. Find her at the Hunterdon Museum or at her studio nearby.

Who have I left out? Maybe you! A fair number of the people who follow my work are taking a class somewhere and loving it. It doesn't matter whether they are “serious” about a particular medium or style, or whether they are “any good” (whatever that means.) It's the process of making art that can be a relaxing stress reliever. The same is true for music, dance, theatre, reading a really good book, a walk somewhere beautiful. There are volumes of research suggesting that taking time to enjoy things that are beautiful, interesting and creative every day will keep you sane and happy. So here's to you, I hope you have a wonderful relaxing summer!



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