Arts Council Show
By: Jan Morgan-Swegle
What is it about a beautiful painting or piece of art that makes us stand before and admire it? Is it the subject that draws on a distant memory? Is it the colors that blend in harmony but also shout out their own melody? Or is it just the fact that many of us, personally, cannot duplicate this talent? While we each have abilities and traits that make us singularly ourselves, there is something special about being able to translate what you see with your eyes or your mind’s eye into something beautiful. I got the chance to admire some incredibly beautiful and creative pieces when the Brunswick Art Council hosted its annual art show and awards ceremony at the Leland Cultural Arts Center last month. I also learned more about the creative process and how a judge can sort through all of the amazing submissions to find the winning piece.
The show was judged by Sharon Wozniak-Spencer — an artist, art professor at Cape Fear Community College, teaching artist for the Cameron Art Museum, and advocate for the homeless and disadvantaged people. Sharon and I agreed that with so many different media, techniques and styles, judging was anything but easy.
“There was so much variety of artistry in this show, that I wish we could have expanded the categories to reflect how diverse this show really was. If you entered a show of this caliber, you are already a winner,” she said.
I was still baffled by how she could judge so many different pieces in so many different categories and how she explained her judging rationale to the artists. “Each artist got the opportunity to get feedback on their work and how what they entered stood up against other pieces,” she explained. “To be an artist, you have to be willing to stretch yourself, your technique and your eye, to improve your work once you get feedback or instruction. For example, any art can be overstimulating. We all have a level of sensory awareness from 1-10. What might be overstimulation for a viewer's eyes might be different for someone else. One important tip that I give as advice to artists in any style, create a place for the eyes to rest, so that way the viewer's eyes can visually move around the piece. This helps us to have that experience of wanting to look more at an art piece. We might be attracted to the piece and really love it and not know why. We become then intrigued with little areas that can recede back, with areas of higher contrast that creates an area of focus. This is something I am really passionate about--helping artists see how to improve their work in any style, but also using the ‘Elements and Principles of Art,’ which can really help bring an artwork to that next level.”
The Elements of Art, or, line, shape, form, value, space, color and texture, offer the judge a good framework for leveling the playing field. Texture, for example, is an element that refers to the way things feel or look as if they might feel if they were touched. On the other hand, space is an element of art where positive and negative areas are defined or a sense of depth is achieved.
Sharon stressed that judging a piece is never meant to discourage an artist—although she knows that “art is a personal thing” and showing it to others is a very personal venture. “The beauty of art is a personal event to each person looking at your work.,” she said. “They will either like it or they won’t. But they should always try to understand it even if they don’t like it or want it hanging on their walls. Appreciate the effort.”
Sharon selected “Ibis In Flight,” as Best in Show and while I agreed with her, I still wanted to know why. “Well,” she began, “The technical difficulty on this piece was immense. The artist created many layers within the painting. There were so many things he got right. He created peaceful movement throughout the work. When you look at each bird, the eyes and beaks were perfect, and that is very difficult to do. He is showing flight in the shadows he created and in the movement of the wings. His color theory was really good.”
Color theory, or the rules and guidelines for using appealing color combinations in art dates back to Sir Isaac Newton. Color theory takes primary, second and tertiary colors into consideration as well as hue, chroma, or purity of color and lighting, and how each is used in the piece.
It was interesting learning from the judge’s insight, and it was just as interesting getting the insight of the artist—Stephen Sullivan. I asked Stephen how he came to paint the winning submission and he said, “It was all piecemeal, really. There is very little in the background of the painting, but I saw the three colors that I used in other work and outside as I walked around Sunset Beach where I live and I knew they would work well together. The blue in the sky is complimented by the color of the leaves and it blends into the darkness of the bottom. You see Ibis a lot in Sunset Beach. One day, I was out walking and happened to have my camera with me. I saw the birds just flittering around in the water. I started to take pictures of them while trying to get as close as I could. All of a sudden, they just started to fly away and I snapped a picture. It was just a group of things that all came together and gave me a wonderful idea for a painting.”
Sometimes, even if you are recognized for your work there is something you would change. I asked Stephen if he could start over, what would he change in the painting. “Well,” he said, “I really like the way it turned out, but if I was going to change something, I would make the large bird on the right side of the painting less detailed. I would let the viewer’s imagination take over. You don’t always have to show every detail of an object to make it stand out in the painting.”
Stephen has shown his work before, even this painting. He laughed about it not even getting an honorable mention. “So, you knew you had something special in this piece,” I asked? “I thought I had something special,” he explained, “but you never know. There were a lot of great pieces in this show. The first-place winner in the Two-Dimensional category was really good—it was ‘Flower Girls’ by Ann Hair; she did an excellent job.”
Stephen has been working in oil paints since he was in the fifth grade. Although he never had formal instruction, he has also worked successfully in clay—building and firing pieces, “from the ground up,” and also in bronze, although he said that working in this medium was very expensive.
I asked Stephen what advice he has for young artists, just starting out. “Paint, paint, paint,” he said. “Learn from your mistakes and keep painting. What you have on the canvas on day one will be different from what you see on day five. Keep at it; one day, it will all come together.”
The show and all of the works of art were indeed beautiful, but the Brunswick Art Council added one more element that captured my eye. Hanging above the tables of artwork was a chain of life-sized paper dolls. There were no awards of merit, no artists names, just these happy figures watching the activities from up above. I spoke with Jamie Lynn Robinson, BAC Board Member, and asked how this fit into the show.
“This was done through our ‘Art in the Park Program’ in conjunction with the Peace Day celebration in Southport,” Jamie Lynn said. “Lois Gandy read a children’s book called ‘All Are Welcome.’ The book talks about diversity and accepting everyone. We laid out life-sized paper dolls and material for the kids to decorate them. But we found that the best part of this program was watching the parents interact with their children. The parents started out just watching on the sidelines and then they were on the ground helping their kids decorate dolls and talking about the story. They had the opportunity to create something with their children — a piece of art and the message of acceptance. We hung it up because it’s a beautiful piece of artwork in more ways than one.”
“The minute the children came into the park, they were engaged,” Lois said. “They sat and listened and really took in the message of the story. When it came time to work on the paper dolls—which were self-portraits—you could see how serious they were about creating something. They worked with their heads down, sometimes with their tongues sticking out and always with an eye to using different colors. It was amazing to witness how they saw themselves. One little girl gave her self portrait purple hair. When she finished the paper doll, she looked at it and said, “It looks just like me.” Lois added, “The kids were excited to know that their artwork was going to be displayed at an art show. They knew that people would be looking at what they created, but we promised to give them back! I think that as we grow up, we tend to not try things because we don’t want to make mistakes. Adults tend to lose a lot of their creativity. When it comes to art, we should be like the kids, experiment with color, don’t be afraid to try new things and be happy with the outcome of your efforts.”
Mary Beth Livers, Executive Director at the Brunswick Art Council, added, “Brunswick Arts Council encourages everyone--young and old to find your art…whether you create, support, appreciate, as a hobby, therapy, recreation, or lifestyle. Brunswick communities offer many ways to celebrate the arts! The BAC annual fall art show evolves in response to the art in our community. In 2023, we will continue to support our new category of visual arts created by teens and veterans as well as offering new prize categories to reflect the growth in mixed media materials and 3-dimensional art.”
So, it seems like Stephen Sullivan, Sharon Wozniak-Spencer and The Brunswick Art Council were all sending the same message with this art show — you can create something beautiful even if you have never had an art lesson. Just create and try and learn from your mistakes. Take pride in what you create, who you are and the artist that you might become.