FAE is excited to have five mixed media works on paper from the estate of one of Texas’ most interesting polymaths, Dr. Jean Andrews, The Pepper Lady. Jean Andrews (1923-2010), was enamored with the natural world, and when she saw something in nature that interested her, she would generally become expert enough in the field to write a scholarly monograph on the subject. And, in addition to researching and writing the book, she would often create her own expertly rendered paintings, graphite and gouache drawings, and/or photographs to illustrate them.
Although she authored books on The Texas Bluebonnet (UT Press, 1986), Seashells of the Texas Coast (UT Press, 1972), and American Wildflower Florilegium (University of North Texas [UNT] Press, 1992), she was best known for her books on Peppers. Her most successful being, Peppers, The Domesticated Capsicums, published by University of Texas (UT) Press in 1984. It was considered “THE” book on peppers because, in addition to carefully illustrating each pepper plant so it showed the life cycle of each type of pepper from flower bud to mature pepper, it included scientific, cultural, and historical information. The book was so popular, the publisher produced two subsequent editions. She became known by pepper aficionados as “The Pepper Lady”.
In the Summer of 2010, in issue 86 of the American Botanical Councils publication, HerbalGram, The Journal of the American Botanical Council, Kelly E. Lindner wrote a scholarly memorial to Dr. Jean Andrews, The Pepper Lady titled: Jean Andrews (1923-2010)
The following two illustrations were drawn for Dr. Andrew’s best known book: Peppers, The Domesticated Capsicums
UT Press, Austin
Plate 12 Floral Gem
The images above and below are details of Floral Gem. They show Dr. Andrews intention to show the development of the pepper from flower bud to fully developed pepper in a single illustration. All of the illustrations she made for this book convey this concept.
Below is the second illustration
Plate 29 Datil
A detail of Plate 29 Datil
The next three illustrations are from the book: American Wildflower Florilegium
Lee Baxter Davis was born in Bryan, Texas on October 20, 1939. He was raised by his grandparents who were devout Methodists, so going to church was an expectant family activity. When the sermons got a little too long for a five-year-old, his grandmother would offer him paper and pencil to hold his attention. So, from an early age, his drawings were informed by words about heaven and hell. What his grandmother could not have known at the time, was that the combination of the biblical stories he heard, and the drawing materials she had provided, sparked a lifelong expedition of discovery, introspection, and insights he would eventually pass on to generations of art students.
Growing up in rural East Texas towns, Lee’s art library and gallery were the racks of comic books and paper backs in the local drug store. From these, he taught himself rendering and began to create complex and portentous narrative drawings. The subjects of these works were drawn from his imagination and inspired by myth and the origin stories of Adam and Eve and Noah. These early drawings helped to shape the foundation of what was to become his artistic point of view. After graduating high school, he joined the regular army and worked as a medic in post cease-fire Korea where he developed the habit of keeping sketch book diaries.
College and Beyond
After his tour of duty, he attended Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Despite initially wanting to be a painter, he continued to focus his attention on drawing, and because of the innate graphic quality of his work, his art teachers urged him to explore printmaking instead of painting.
Upon graduating from Sam Houston State with a BS, Lee continued his education at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan where he received an MFA in printmaking. In 1969 Lee took a position at East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas to teach printmaking and quickly added a course in drawing to his teaching load. It was not easy teaching concepts of narrative representational art when the rest of the academic world seemed to revolve around Abstract Expressionism; but, over his teaching career, Lee seemed to have been a magnet for students who appreciated what and how he taught. By 1990, his personal interest in printmaking started to wain in favor of working with ink, pencil, watercolor, and acrylic, because these mediums allowed for more spontaneity and direct access to his, as he calls them, “Psychology Drama Drawings.”
Over time, Lee’s interest in symbolism and religious ritual directed him towards Catholicism. Many of the Biblical stories were the same but the sacramental rituals provided a more complex structure for his temperament and ultimately a more fertile mythology from which to draw inspiration. Having been, from early age, made aware of the protestant view of Heaven and Hell, the mythos of Catholic sacramentality provided a comprehensive visual construct. Lee retired from teaching as a full professor in 2003 to devote more time to his church and studio.
Early on, Lee would devise ways to develop his memory, visual acuity, and drawing skills. Expressing his point of view regarding memory, he said, “It is remembering, not dismembering, that opens the door to collective memory, the source of all symbol and myth.”
With this construct in mind, he would often look at an object for several moments and then attempt to draw it from memory without reviewing it until he was finished, “to not become image bound.” Lee said that by drawing, “you are teaching your mind to think in contour and line. This allows you to work with your inner eye as well as your outer sight.”
Throughout the early part of his career, unsatisfied with drawing the ubiquitous still life or landscape, Lee would search for unusual ways to generate personal images. While teaching at East Texas State, he was invited to sit in on an English class where many types of unusual story-mapping techniques were discussed. As Lee described it, they talked about a way to generate a paragraph where one randomly chooses a noun, and then made a chart under the noun with 8 lines. On each line, was to be placed 8 randomly created words. Then all these words were to then be combined to create a paragraph. Lee further developed this technique to generate subject ideas for his work, narrative drawings of personally generated mythological events.
All surfaces should be activated into a dynamic, not just balanced composition. This is a fundamental aesthetic. Here in lies the energy of the piece that gives presence to the personal, place and event of the narrative. Dynamic composition makes the work more engaging than just recording of object.
Currently, Lee explores other techniques to manifest new subject ideas, such as his practice of visual meditation, a spiritual exercise of Jesuit origin. Lee explains, “My technique begins with a statement or title. Visualizing in my imagination and interpreting in a drawing provides an entry point into the pictorial space that creates a connection influenced by feelings, dreams, and reality. Inspired by this visualization, I begin by ‘disturbing the picture plane’.”
Lee will sometimes start by making a sketch or two of an idea, often to scale, and then move on to the mysterious part, disturbing the “pristine psychic window,” the clean white sheet of paper that is tacked to the drawing board on his easel. Once the drawing process is initiated, Lee lets the work take on a life of its own and his job is to “essentially follow it” wherever it may lead, “often moving away from the threshold sutra to the more elusive ‘psychological drama’ of the mythos. At this point further source material taken from sketch diaries may come into play.”
My drawings are compositions of recall. Remembering is putting together an act of imagination that’s origin is found in the architypes.
I asked Lee if he works on more than one drawing at a time. He responded that he is normally working on three; one on the easel and the most recent two tacked up on the wall in order of completion behind him. When he is satisfied with the last drawing of the three, it is removed and the second drawing is moved to the third-place position, and when the final touches are done to the one on the easel and it is judged finished, it is moved to the number two spot and a new “pristine psychic window” is tacked to his easel bound drawing board.
Today, Lee works on hot press BFK (Blanchet, Frères & Kiebler) Rives paper. He says it is not too absorbent so it will hold both an ink line and properly receive a watercolor or acrylic wash. He typically starts with a Black/Warm Universal ink and a graphite 2b pencil, and blenders. Then he will often apply watercolor, both palette and tube, and acrylic paint, mainly white and blue colors, because they can be opaque, and occasionally he will use watercolor pencils.
My art is never objective but always subject. I try to use objects (images) to reveal a subject.
Lee’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of Art, the Contemporary Museum of Art in Houston, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Art in Little Rock, and the Haas Private Museum and Gallery in Munich, Germany. In March of 2009, he was one of four artists representing the four major geographical areas of Texas in the Texas Biennial in Austin.
In the modern Western Teacher/Student relationship paradigm, it is normal for a teacher and those who know their relationship to think that the student will always live in the shadow of the teacher and will rarely be thought of as their equal or to have surpassed their ability. In ancient China, the Teacher/Student paradigm was almost exactly the opposite. A teacher was considered successful and was venerated when a student surpassed the teacher’s skill level and technical ability. They were expected to push the next generation of artists to exceed their abilities.
Judging by the success of many of Lee’s students, and the high regard they hold him in, years after they graduated, Lee’s impact on their careers has been more than measurable. Time and time again, they show their appreciation by testifying to Lee’s contribution to their ongoing success as artists. In an online announcement of an exhibition of Lee’s work at the Meadows Museum at Centenary College, posted February 6, 2017, there is a quote that reads, California artist Georganne Deen relates a time when a student argued with Davis over whether a work was “good enough.” The student challenged, “If it gets you on the cover of Art in America would it be good enough?” Davis responded, “Depends on whether your motive for making it was to be on the cover of an art magazine or to push the wheel of evolution.”
Amongst the literature that is available on the art and life of Donald Stanley Vogel, are numerous articles, reviews of shows, and even an autobiography titled Memories and Images published by the University of North Texas Press in 2000. There is, however, very little information about his philosophy and studio practice. As the middle child of three, I grew up watching him paint and listening to him talk about his work with other artists and friends. So, while his voice and actions still resonate, I though it wise to document what I saw and heard while watching him paint and listening in on his art-related conversations.
Anyone with a limited knowledge of art history can see that Donald’s style was highly influenced by the French Impressionists, the Post-Impressionists, and with a little more expertise, would include the Nabis and the School of Paris. As a young painter during the Depression, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago and practically lived in their Impressionist galleries. The country was in
the midst of what would later be called the Great Depression and most of his fellow students were painting subjects that reflected the difficult times around them. In contrast, he decided that the art he would produce from then on would lift people’s spirits like the Impressionist paintings he had grown to love.
Using His Imagination
For most of his career, unlike most of the Impressionists, he was a studio painter. He always started a painting with a direction in mind, often generated by a sketchy line drawing of a composition he thought would be challenging. After recreating the important elements of the drawing on a canvas or panel with a burnt umber or raw sienna thinned with turpentine, he would then brush in areas to establish a compositional structure before starting to paint freely with color. But like the subjects he chose, the colors used and how they were employed came from his imagination. Donald often said that he preferred working this way because once you set out to paint something that is in front of you, its presence immediately influences the direction your imagination will take.
When Donald stepped up to a new panel on his easel with brush in hand, his approach to painting was to solve a puzzle that had an infinite number of variables and an astonishing lack of rules. He considered the puzzle solved when the imaginary image that then covered his panel had become a “painting.” He defined a “painting” as a work in which the need for another brushstroke, or the removal of a brushstroke, would lessen the artwork’s overall quality. With or without that brushstroke, he said that to his way of thinking, the painting was just a “picture.”
The Figure as a Piece of the Puzzle
Although his paintings were of interiors, still-lifes, and landscapes, the figure, or a group of figures, was a ubiquitous element. To him the figure, as with all other elements, was only there as part of a composition, just another piece of the puzzle to help move your eye through the painting. He also intentionally clothed his figures in generic outfits so that the painting would appear timeless. When asked how he was able to put figures in his paintings without having a model to work from he would say that “after making thousands of drawings of the figure in my youth, it would be sad if I needed to work from life now.”
The Artist’s Palette
Donald derived his colors primarily by tinting white paint. Being right-handed, his white Formica covered palette sat on his right side. At the top of the palette, closest to the easel, was where his containers of brush wash (turpentine) and stand oil were located. Just below that was a heaping mound of white paint. He would drag a dollop of white out into the middle of his palette and then tint it by mixing in the color or colors that were laid out in a semi-circle around palette’s inner edge.
Donald created his own white paint by mixing equal parts of Lead, Zinc, and Titanium. Experience had taught him that each of these whites had positive and negative attributes and mixing them together would limit the negative aspects of each. Throughout his career, he was happy with the results.
Painting in a Frame
Often, especially with larger sizes, Donald would place a prepared Masonite panel in a frame before starting to paint. I learned over time that he normally did this for two reasons.
1. It visually separated the edge of the painting from the chaotic, painting covered wall that was opposite his easel.
2. It steadied the edge of the flexible prepared Masonite panel so it would not bounce back into his brushstroke.
For him, it made painting on panel in his studio easier. For the framer, the linen liners that he used in his frames had to be replaced often because they were usually adorned by errant brush strokes and it was not easy to convince a client that it was a plus that they were getting a free hand-painted liner with their Vogel.
Painting to the Beat
When Donald was painting, there was always classical music playing in the background. He would often talk about how music and the elements of traditional media like drawing, painting, and sculpture were similar. His brushwork was quick and direct and flowed without hesitation between his palette and painting, with a rhythm often in synch with the music that was playing. On numerous occasions he would say that if he had not become a painter, he would have liked to have been a symphony conductor.
Even though the figure was a constant compositional element in most of Donald’s work, in 1969, a distinct change occurred in how his figures were portrayed. That year, he and his wife Peggy delivered a show of his paintings to the Mobile Art Gallery in Mobile, Alabama. After Donald finished helping install, he asked Peggy if she would like to preview the show alone. After walking through the galleries, she called Donald in to join her and asked him to look around and tell her what was common to all the figures in his paintings. Since it was obvious that he did not see what she had observed, she pointed out that the figures portrayed in each painting were not doing anything, they were just either standing or sitting and idle. From that moment on, all the figures in his paintings portrayed an action.
The Greenhouse as Muse
In about 1976, Donald started to explore a subject that was not unique, but one under-utilized by other artists, and as it turned out, perfectly suited his temperament. As a young boy, he worked on an estate outside of Cary, Illinois that had a greenhouse on it. Remembering this unusual light filled space, he executed an imaginary painting of the interior of a greenhouse. He thought it such an interesting subject that he immediately painted several more. This subject provided him with an endless opportunity to investigate the lighting effects the interior of a greenhouse affords. He could explore not only the color and shapes of the blooming plants, but also the light filtering through the whitewashed windows and the visual weight of the moist air proliferating through the space. He could contrast the interior cool light he created with the warm light seen through an open door or window revealing the atmospheric juncture between two worlds. It also afforded compositional opportunities with the architectural structures he imagined that made up the enclosures. The greenhouse became a theme to which he would often return.
One is Not Enough
Donald’s painting career spanned well over 60 years. He was incredibly lucky as a painter because he worked in a style and direction totally of his own choosing and did not have to divert from this path to be successful. The greatest compliment to his legacy is how much his collectors enjoyed living with one of his paintings, often enough to have acquired a second.
If asked by another artist how he handled creating what he considered an unsuccessful painting, he would say, “Never be afraid to paint a bad painting, you learn as much from a bad painting as one that was successful.” He would then say that if he considered a work unsuccessful, it would never leave his studio.
Preparing a Support
Until 1945, most of Donald’s early work was painted on canvas. Between 1945 and 1975, he slowly shifted from using canvas as a support to painting on Masonite panels. From then on, most of his paintings from the 48 x 60-inch size size and smaller were painted on panel. With only a few exceptions, larger works were painted on canvas for practical reasons.
He liked working on Masonite because it was a hard surface to work against and it was easy to handle, store and was puncture resistant. Since Masonite is dark in color, he liked the idea of working from dark to light rather than light to dark as is often done when painting on a primed canvas. He even incorporated the dark of the Masonite into his paintings on occasion.
After cutting a Standard Masonite panel to size, he would sand the smooth side of the panel with #80 grit sandpaper in a vertical, and then horizontal direction cutting into its surface to give it a tooth that would hold the paint. (He would never use Tempered Masonite because it was soaked in oil as part of the tempering process, and from experience he had discovered that oil paint would not adhere as well.) He would then seal the panel with Orange Shellac thinned with Methanol by approximately 50-60%. This would keep the oil in the paint from absorbing into the panel and turning the pigment matte. The Shellac would dry quickly, and the panel was ready to go in an hour. (I would personally also recommend shellacking the back side of the panel. This would slow down the panel’s absorption of humidity that could make it sensitive to warping.)
Masonite comes in 4 x 8 sheets and Donald would cut the sheets into the optimum number of sizes to maximize using an entire sheet. To this end, the sizes he chose to use were standardized into 8 x 10, 10 x 12, 16 x 20, 20 x 24, on up to 48 x 60 inches. By using a size standard that suited his work, he was able to reuse frames whenever he wanted.
Cheryl McClure has always enjoyed the advantages abstract painting allows. Instead of being bound by the confines plein air landscape painting imposes, she is much happier letting the memory and feel of a place inform the direction her abstract paintings ultimately take. She is interested in the formal elements of surface, color relationships, and the design aspects of a painted surface rather than just rendering her version of reality. By following this path, Cheryl has truly found freedom through abstraction.
In 1945, Cheryl D. McClure was born in the small town of Hugo, Oklahoma, located just across the Red River from Paris, Texas. As opposed to many children who become artists, she did not spend all her spare time drawing or even showing much interest in art as a young child. However, when art did start to interest her, she remembered that from a very early age, she was oddly more interested in the shapes and colors that formed the subject of an artwork, than the actual subject itself.
At the age of 8, she decided that she would like to try her hand at painting, so her father signed her up for the only art class in town. He bought her the required artist materials, and she joined the class. To her utter disappointment, she discovered that the only painting taught in this class was how to paint my number.
Finding One’s Passion:
In her early 20’s she moved to Longview, Texas and started to involve herself as a volunteer at the Longview Museum of Fine Arts. She also started attending lectures and demonstrations sponsored by the East Texas Fine Arts Association. Cheryl said of this period that she learned a great deal about art and artists, and this interaction inspired her to attend a watercolor class associated with ETFAA. She found watercolor tedious because to do it well required a lot of compositional preplanning, but it also showed her the importance of negative space.
Developing a Studio Practice:
On her own, she explored working in other mediums like charcoal and pastel. The medium she ultimately gravitated to was acrylic. This medium allowed her to quickly layer and texture the paint on a support without having to wait the long periods between applications, that oil paint would often require. This allowed her to be more gestural and spontaneous with her paint application, an approach better suited to her preferred studio practice.
When Cheryl paints with acrylic on canvas, she does so quickly, allowing her feelings to be expressed with determined gestural strokes. After reaching a point of indecision, she will stop and spend time studying where the painting stands and determining what is needed next to advance it towards completion. She then repeats this process until the elements of color, texture, and their relationships harmonize.
In 2005, she discovered Encaustic. Cheryl was excited by how quickly a layer of wax would cool and harden, allowing her to quickly apply another translucent wax layer of color and add texture. Although it was not as freeing as using acrylic pigments, it provided another medium that was sympathetic to her preferred working method. This became another compatible medium for her to use in her quest to find freedom through abstraction.
She became well known as an artist and arts patron in Longview, ultimately living there for 41 years. As her reputation grew, she developed long-term relationships with 5 galleries around the country. In addition to an extensive exhibition history, she is asked to teach painting workshops and her work is often used to illustrate books.
I asked Cheryl what things she was most proud of in her artistic career to date. She quickly listed three things:
One of the books that was most influential on her as an artist was, A Fine Artist’s guide to Expanding Your Creativity. She was thrilled when one of her paintings was chosen to be on the cover of its updated edition titled, The New Creative Artist, Revised, Expanded Edition, a Guide to Developing your Creative Spirit.
The Poet Theodore Worozbyt asked Cheryl to collaborate on a book of his poetry titled Smaller Than Death, published by Knut House Press in 2015. In addition to the book’s cover, 15 of her graphic wax resin paintings were illustrated in color. They were from a series of paintings she did titled Johnson Creek Field Notes, inspired by walking along a creek that runs through her property.
In 2011, she was a finalist for the Hunting Art Prize, an annual event to award $50,000 to a Texas artist for excellence in drawing and painting.
For the past 12 years, she has lived on a farm located just outside New London, a little town Southeast of Tyler, Texas. Her three room second floor studio has a room set up for painting and a dedicated well-ventilated room set up for her to work in Encaustic when she wants a change. She works most every day either producing or thinking about producing her next adventure into her world of abstraction.
FAE is pleased to offer artworks by Dallas artist Ellen Soderquist. Ellen has been working as an artist since 1973, and has been teaching life drawing classes since 1979. Highly respected as an artist and educator, Ellen is known for her exquisitely rendered and highly developed graphite drawings of the nude figure. She teaches life drawing and lectures on the nude as a form of art explored by artists throughout history.
Ellen Soderquist was raised in Texarkana, TX, where she showed an artistic inclination from a young age. Because Ellen’s father was a photographer, there was always art on the walls of their home while she was growing up. Along with his photographs, there were also drawings and watercolors by other artists, and they had artbooks in their library. However, her favorite book was not an artbook, it was her mother’s copy of Gregg Shorthand. She told me she “loved looking at that book and all those squiggles. Before I learned to write, I remember writing pages and pages of squiggles.” With amusement, her mother would later read the imaginary letters to her.
In Kindergarten, Ellen was inspired by one of her teachers who illustrated children’s books. She would often draw her students while they were playing at recess. During naptime, she would let Ellen peer over her shoulder to watch her draw. Watching an artist work made quite an impression on her.
Why the Nude?
Ellen’s first formal art training was at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Unfortunately, she found her first drawing class, where they worked from still life setups, so tedious she nearly switched majors. It was not until she first started drawing the nude from a live model that Ellen was “hooked.” Even though life drawing was only “taught to discipline and train the eye and hand,” like the still life setups that had totally bored her, she completely embraced the challenge of drawing from the model. She was fascinated with the discovery that “the slightest movement or nuance of pose can change everything.” To Ellen, this was a revelation.
Even though Life Drawing was not emphasized in SMU’s art program, Ellen was intent on pursuing drawing the figure. This discipline was only required for two semesters, but Ellen was able to outwit the Registrar by finding a way to take a life drawing class every semester.
The course load emphasized what Ellen refers to as the “isms,” studying abstraction, expressionism, and minimalism. These influences can be seen in Ellen’s rendering of the figure in the void, using a minimalist background to draw the viewer’s consideration to only the figure and what is being said through the body and its pose.
Ellen received her Bachelor of Science in Art Education from Texas Tech University in 1968. Her portfolio included expressionistic paintings, watercolors, prints, drawings, and a few abstractions and landscapes – but more than anything the nude was the dominant theme throughout her portfolio.
In 1971, Ellen went to Austin to work for the University of Texas. As an employee, she was able to take classes for free, so she signed up for a life drawing class in the UT Art Department. At the same time, she was reading Kenneth Clark’s book, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, and came across the concept that the nude is not just a subject, but is a form of art. These realizations cemented her direction as an artist, and she decided that her art was “the nude”.
Odd Jobs and Influences
The University of Texas hired Ellen as an illustrator for academic papers and projects. Her first job on campus was working for Gérard de Vaucouleurs in the astronomy department. Ellen was part of a team of artists that worked for NASA through the university to draw maps of Mars under the supervision of Dr. de Vaucouleurs. They worked from the Mariner 9 photographs of Mars’ topography to add in the planet’s albedo, or light and dark markings, with graphite. Their work was published in Sky and Telescope magazine. Ellen’s second job in Austin was working for the Zoology department, making illustrations for the professors’ published articles. For this job she worked in ink on a kind of mylar called Herculene.
Both illustration jobs helped Ellen hone her drawing skills and define her later working practice. While rendering her illustrations of fauna at the Zoology department Ellen became accustomed to working on mylar, and from the Astronomy department she worked with graphite. Drawing extensively with these materials led Ellen to her “particular technique” when she moved to Dallas and became a professional artist.
In 1981 Ellen was awarded a $2,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. With that money, she purchased a drafting table and used the rest to produce a series of three lithographs in collaboration with Texas’ finest fine art print shop at the time, Peregrine Press.
Controversy and Censorship
Ellen knew that her choice of subject matter would occasionally cause controversy. She recalled her first group exhibit at DuBose Gallery in Houston, where she was confronted by a gallery patron who labeled her artwork as pornographic. Ellen said she spent time visiting with the woman explaining what her artwork was about. She was pleased to learn later that the woman had purchased one of her drawings.
In 1981, Ellen was surprised that one of her works was removed from an exhibition at the Plaza of the Americas, an office building in downtown Dallas. The show’s sponsor, The Texas Fine Art Association, had awarded the work second prize. One of the people in charge of the building decided to exclude five works from the exhibit, including Ellen’s, saying that they were inappropriate for public view. Ralph Kahn, a Dallas dealer who was known to not shy away from controversy, offered to exhibit the five “inappropriate” works in his gallery. Bill Marvel, art critic for the Dallas Times Herold, wrote an article about the incident titled, “No Nudes is Good Nudes.”
Ellen believes that people who react to her work in this way do not understand her intention. She wants “the graphite to feel like flesh on the surface of the mylar.” She wants the gesture to convey the figure’s inner spirit to the viewer.
An Artist’s Voice
These encounters deeply affected Ellen. She wants her figures to communicate a sense of strength, intellect, and capability. The critiques that she is most pleased with describe her figures as “intelligent, sensual, highly developed, elegant, and provocative.” She has examined attitudes about the nude throughout the history of art and sees this art form as a means of “understanding our humanity.”
In numerous series of artwork, Ellen has pursued a conceptual itinerary that spans the gamut of human emotions and relationships and she has explored contemporary attitudes about the nude as well as those of other cultures throughout the history of art. She strives to bring the complex relevance of the unclothed human body to the consciousness of contemporary culture.
It would be accurate to say that Austin-based Flatbed Center for Contemporary Printmaking is one of Texas’ most respected Fine Art Institutions. Its antecedent, Flatbed Press was founded in 1989 when artist/educators Katherine Brimberry and Mark Lesly Smith partnered to open a Fine Art Press in a small warehouse on West 3rd Street, just west of downtown. Following the model of the famed Dallas-based Peregrine Press, their dream was to make the printmaking arts available to emerging artists, especially those who lived/worked in Texas.
Katherine and Mark equipped their space with everything they needed to produce prints in the traditional relief, planographic, and intaglio techniques and provided a gallery space for exhibitions of prints. Since both had full-time teaching positions, they spent most of their spare time teaching interested artists the art of printmaking, and then editioned the works they produced. They also pursued publishing projects, did contract printing for those artists who were experienced, and allowed artists to rent the presses when available. They quickly became known for their collaborative skills and were sought out by those artists who seriously wanted to see how their vision would translate into the medium.
We need More Space: First Move
They realized that their West 3rd Street space did not allow for growth, so in 1999, they moved their operation to an 18,000+ square foot warehouse in East Austin on Martin Luther King Blvd. To commit fully to the project, both Katherine and Mark gave up their teaching positions to run Flatbed full time. They wanted to make their new home more than a press and gallery, so they subleased the space they did not need to artists and other creatives.
In the years that followed, Flatbed became the most highly respected press in Texas. A partial list of the Texas artist luminaries the press has either published or printed for includes: Terry Allen, Luis Jiménez, Mary McCleary, Melissa Miller, Andrea Rosenberg, John Alexander, Keith Carter, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Billy Hassell, Sharon Kopriva, Bert Long, Linda Ridgeway, Julie Speed, David Everett, and James Surls. In addition to their standing as a fine art press, their building became the epicenter of the burgeoning East Austin arts scene.
Co-founder Mark Smith left the business in 2012 to pursue his own art. However, because of his ongoing friendship with Katherine, Mark collaborated with her on an anniversary book about the press titled Flatbed Press at 25, published by the University of Texas Press in 2016.
Losing their lease: Second Move
As often happens when artists move into an area, it becomes gentrified, rents soar, and either the artist is hit with lease renewals they cannot afford or the landlord decides to not renew at all so they can repurpose their buildings. In this case, in 2019, Flatbed fell victim to the latter scenario.
At this point, most people who had reached a normal retirement age and were faced with losing their lease would have closed their business. But instead, Katherine decided that what she had built was more important and needed to continue. She moved the Press to a new 6,000 square foot space, renamed it Flatbed Center for Contemporary Printmaking.
In addition to what they have always been doing, Katherine made the business more community oriented with print making classes and 24-hour membership access. She also designed a new gallery into the space, so Flatbed is able to host both traditional and experimental print-based exhibitions.
Katherine the Great:
What has made Flatbed such a successful institution are the people who have managed it. In Katherine’s case, because of her teaching background, calm demeanor, and depth of knowledge, she excels at collaborating with artists. After working together on a project, artist Betty Ward called her an extreme facilitator, then added, Working with Kathy was almost like, working with yourself.
Regarding her role, Katherine says, The main objective of a publishing press is to help artists who may not be familiar with printmaking. Our role is to help them create work in the fine art print medium by being technical collaborators. All the mark-making and decision-making is their own, with our technical assistance. There is a long tradition of this type of collaboration in the printmaking world. If the artist approves and the type of technique allows it, we are able to create small editions of hand-printed multiples.
The prints she helps publish vary in style, technique, subject, and size, but are all the unique creations of the artists by their own hands. Some of the techniques derive from the 17th century, and some involve the latest digital resources. The artist’s experience in the shop is often an experimental blend of old and new printmaking processes. Each project is artist-driven; the shop’s motto is- What would happen if . . .?
FAE is pleased to be collaborating with Flatbed and now has prints available from the Flatbed Press collection. Check back regularly to see what new works have been posed by this Texas fine art institution.
Otis Huband is a consummate artist in every sense of the word. When engaged in conversation, he is very sociable and will talk about art in most any form, however, he is far more interested in producing art than talking about it. Otis’ mother vividly remembered when her son returned from his first day of kindergarten and announced that he was going to be an artist. Otis said she thought it was very cute at the time, but, when he had not changed his mind as a teenager, she worried that Otis would have a hard time making a living.
Now at 87 years of age, he has still not changed his mind, nor has he lost his Virginia accent despite spending most of his life in Texas. Otis confirms his decision, To this day, I have never pursued any other course in my life. Nor was I ever tempted to do so. Nothing to me was ever as interesting or nebulous as art.
EDUCATION & EDUCATOR:
Otis transferred from the California College of Arts & Crafts, located in Oakland, to the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond in 1958 to finish his requirements for a BFA. During this time, he became proficient in all the traditional fine arts media. He loved being a student and said of the experience, I know that I learned more from my fellow students than from our well-intentioned and likable instructors. I would say that being in an environment five days a week with a congenial and, for the most part, serious group of seekers made a profound impression on me.
In 1961, Otis received his MFA, also from Virginia Commonwealth University, and shortly thereafter traveled with his new bride, Anne, to Italy where he studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti, Perugia for a year. When funds ran low, they returned to the US, settling in Houston, Texas, where Anne was offered a job teaching math. In 1967, Otis became an Art Instructor at the Houston Museum School of Fine Arts (now Glassell School). He left the Museum School in 1971 determined to focus on his own work.
During the 70’s I wanted to find a unique voice uninfluenced by current styles or fashions. Something based on universal aesthetic principals that apply to all painting, both ancient and contemporary.
Otis retired from teaching in 1982 after working as an art instructor at the Art League of Houston for 11 years.
Six years before Otis retired from teaching, he had become so frustrated with the commercial side of the art world, he stopped making any effort to show his work in art galleries. Instead, he opted to focus on painting and sold his work privately.
During this period, he was invited to have solo shows in non-commercial settings in Houston such as the University of Houston and the Health Science Center in 1985, the Goethe Institute in 1889, and the Museum of Printing History in 1993. He did not show his work again in a commercial gallery until art dealer and collector William Reaves offered him a retrospective at his new Houston gallery in 2010 when Otis was in his late 70’s. Valley House Gallery in Dallas began representing Otis in 2014 and produced a monograph on his work in 2019.
Otis’ studio practice begins each morning by creating a series of small collages, before he starts to paint. The act of assembling the collages allows him to …make the transition from cognitive thinking to perceptual impulses, in other words, to bypass thinking in favor of impulsive feeling. The collages that result, made from any two- dimensional material that has been touched or altered by human interaction, are not studies for paintings. Otis states the collages, establish an emotional relationship to the materiality of being, seeing, and feeling, and they adjust his mindset for approaching the canvas that awaits him.
Although his early work was painted with brushes, his later works are composed primarily with oil stick. He loves the freedom oil stick provides as it allows continuous lines to be created without having to interrupt an inspired passage by reloading a brush.
For Otis, the hardest thing is placing the first mark on a pure white canvas. Once that first gestural line or shape is established, sometimes without even looking at the canvas as it is applied, he can then explore all the possibilities it suggests. As the painting evolves, each mark informs the next, figures, or parts of figures often emerge to become elements of an abstracted whole.
For me, painting is like an archaeological excavation. Unexpected treasures are sometimes found, truths revealed, and aesthetic vistas open up exciting possibilities. Banalities disappear. One almost becomes a conduit for aesthetic states which are not always under the complete control of the artist. That is the mystery and the fascination of art. It is mystical!
In Otis’ earlier work, the figure would often be the subject, rendered in a representational three-dimensional style, whereas the abstracted figuration that emerges in his later work is distinguished by two-dimensional shapes and patterns that play off the other elements in his paintings.
My paintings are flat and not illusionistic. An honest celebration of a flat surface which is characteristic of most modern art which celebrates paint itself and the flat surface to which it adheres.
THEN & NOW:
In 2021, Otis will have been a professional artist for 60 years. During his career, he has participated in over 60 group, and 30 one-person exhibitions. In addition to showing in galleries across the country, Otis has had one-person exhibitions at the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center in Virginia, the Oak Ridge Art Center in Tennessee, Wisconsin State College, the University of Houston, and Palazzo Ferretti in Cortona, Italy
When asked what makes a painting successful, he replied, The major requirement of a successful painting to me is that it be saturated with the vulnerabilities and frailties of humanity. The exact opposite of “cool” indifference. I want my fingerprints all over it. It is my testimony to passing through this world in this time and being involved with it in a deeply personal way.
I wanted to return to the pure art impulse that I experienced as a child in kindergarten. The honest independence of a child! I still work towards this goal.