Art Talk with Erik Swanson

crowd shot
Crowds mingle throughout the building, and down into the Firehall Cafe while listening to Steve Rudy perform in the adjacent piano lounge.
On the evening of February 4, pianist Steve Rudy filled the piano lounge with at the Jansen Art Center with music,  as over 125 artists and guests mingled nearby. Music flowed through the hallways past the browsing patrons, into the fine arts gallery and down the steps into the Firehall Café. It filled the spaces in between the chatter of visitors sipping wine and beer from the bar. If one were to add up all the hours of work put into the art displayed on the walls that night, it would be over a lifetime. Children spent three weeks in the Ceramics studio to create new species of animals out of clay, Rea Ellen Lee displayed work next to that of her teacher, Lorna Libert and Eric Michaels exhibited a room full of vibrant scenes of nature painted over the course of this past year.
Linda Calkins
Artist Linda Calkins explains that she got the idea for her painting, Feathers in Her Hat (seen behind), after seeing a magazine photo of a smug model in a hat and thought she should paint that model, but add a bird in her hat. Pictured here with Exhibit Director, Karen Bacon.
The evening marked the opening of the Winter Into Spring Juried Exhibit, the opening of The Paintings of Eric Michaels in the Fine Arts Gallery, the J Student Exhibit and special Falling Out of the Box Jewelry Exhibit. The Winter Into Spring Juried Exhibit, The Paintings of Eric Michaels and the Falling Out of the Box Jewelry Exhibit will be on display until April 1 and the J Students Exhibit is open until February 27. Among the first artists to arrive were the young artists from Trisha Coggin’s Clay Creations class for kids, who are part of the J Students show, which features work of students who have taken classes at the J.
creature clay students
Trisha Coggin’s Clay Creations class meet at the opening reception to show off their clay creatures.
The students started the class by drawing three different animals, and then worked with clay to make a creature that displayed characteristics of all the animals by using a subtraction method – pulling clay away from the starting block to form their image (as opposed to molding pieces and adding them together). Coggins said that this technique is important to learn because it creates less air pockets in the clay, but that for these young students, this process can be challenging. Also on display in the J Student Exhibit were the popular Justin Beaver ceramics piece by Carol Peacock and Disjointed, by Barbara Keily. Both of these artists were on hand and talked about how much fun it is to work in the ceramics open studio at the J. There are four open studio times each week, and for an artist like Keily, it is still not enough time to finish all the ideas she has for things she wants to make.
Carol Peacock
Ceramic artist Carol Peacock pictured here with “Justin Beaver,” a ceramic beaver, who holds a microphone and sports the hair cut of the popular Canadian pop sensation it is named after.
Jansen bookkeeper, Cindy Wadkins and her husband Tom were impressed by the watercolors of Eva Wojnar, saying that the talent displayed made them want to take a watercolor class by Deborah Haggman. They weren’t the only ones impressed by the teaching staff at the J, artist Howard Apollonio, who has a wonderful photograph of a spinning wheel on exhibit in the show, praised his instructor, Mark Bergsma. I had the opportunity to talk to artist Eric Michaels during the reception. He said when he wakes up he often pinches himself to see if he is dreaming or if he really gets to go play with paint all day for his job. “I was an overnight success…after 8 years,” he said. Michaels described being an artist as a sort of priesthood. It’s a lot of fun, but a lot of work. About forty percent of what he does are things that he has to do, the rest are things he loves to do. He said one of his most influential mentors in his early years breaking into the field was Bettina Steinke, a world renowned artist who Michaels idolized.
eric michaels with bonnie patterson
Featured artist Eric Michaels works on a watercolor demonstration in the Fine Arts Gallery while graphite and charcoal artist Bonnie Patterson asks hims questions.
He decided to bring an armload of his art to her home one day. She took a look at his art and said, cigarette sticking out of the side of her mouth, “go learn how to draw.” Devastated, he worked on his drawing skills for a year and returned to her home. “Okay, we can work with this,” she then said. Artists and families browsed the artwork of Michaels and the many others featured as he painted a watercolor scene of a Pacific Northwest beach. Colleen Hoffenbacker was overjoyed to be breaking out of her studio by exhibiting four pieces in a series of seven that she painted in 2014. She teaches out of her studio and has a passion for helping artists reach their goals. Hoffenbacker stands by a method called the Atelier System in which you focus on really learning how to draw well. From there, she says, the possibilities are endless. She pursued an education and career in graphic design in college but over the past eight years has delved back into her passion for art. She is adamant that anyone who wants to be an artist should follow their desire. Rea Ellen Lee has decided to follow her desire for art and, like most artists, puts a lot of herself into her work. She recently made her third move back to Bellingham, this time from Utah. One of her pieces displayed at the J is titled, “Fruiting Bodies” and features berries local to Utah where she spent a lot of time hiking and enjoying the sun. She often starts a piece by pasting paper onto her canvas to create a texture to work off of. She says it takes the fear factor out of the start of a painting because it creates a pattern to work off of. Her teacher, Lorna Libert, displayed several dramatic paintings in the piano lounge. One features a commercial ship anchored in stormy seas. Many of her works have dark greys and blues and a sense of movement. She says she likes to paint dramatic scenes because it draws attention to the featured subject.
Jojannes Kunst
Artist Johannes Kunst stands by his 5 acrylic paintings that were accepted into the Winter into Spring Juried Exhibit.
Rea Ellen Lee isn’t the only artist just relocating to the area, graphite and charcoal artist Bonnie Patterson just moved to Lynden after having lived in Nebraska and Colorado. She said that she was looking for a community where she could find employement that afforded her time to spend in the studio, and was able to do that here in Whatcom County. Her beautiful drawings depict horses and rodeo scenes and definitely catch your eye as you go up the main stairwell in the J. Cynthia French, the Marketing Director at the Jansen, spoke with artist Johannes Kunst after his granddaughter told Cynthia that her grandpa’s art was her favorite in the show. Kunst works primarily in acrylics, and has images such as submarines, plus signs and clocks that reappear in many of his pieces. Kunst told her that these images keep showing up because the things they represent haven’t been resolved yet. He doesn’t necessarily start out to paint a submarine, but it just shows up in the process, and he lets it be there. Most of the artwork on display is for sale. Purchasing artwork is a great way to help support the continued work of these talented artists, while also supporting the exhibits programs at the Jansen Art Center. Purchases can be made through our Gallery Shop.   You can visit the exhibits at the Jansen Art Center Tuesday through Saturday from 9am until 5pm (until 7pm on Thursdays). If you would like to submit your artwork for consideration for our next juried exhibit, submissions will be open later this week.   The next exhibit reception will be on Thursday, March 3 from 5:30-7:00pm for the Promising Futures High School Exhibit.  The next juried exhibit will open on Thursday, April 7.