Local Talk: Q+A with multi-media artist Colleen James

Thanks so much for sharing your work @ Local! Initial response has been overwhelmingly positive. Tell us about these images and especially the composition.

The series Wave is intended to draw the viewer in on a few levels. The ocean has a calming effect — a respite in nature from our busy lives. The image is at once familiar and unfamiliar. I’ve combined images to create something that is intended to pull you in, to make you look closer and ask if it’s real or imagined. I like to play with collage — to physically cut/paste/combine the images in a new abstract way.

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Santa Monica has this really magical/ special mojo, what pulled you into using this location as your canvas?

I was traveling for work and woke up early one morning. The moment of sunrise is so special, especially when you’re alone — the quality of the light, the magnitude of it all.

Art is a passion project for you, yes? At what point in your life did you start putting concepts together?

Art is more of a way of living for me, and always has been. It’s a kind of meditation. My mother was an artist, and my two sisters and daughter are artists. I studied painting in college, with a focus on portraiture, and up until a few years ago I was exclusively into realism. Since 2015 I’ve moved to collage and abstract painting. I’m also lucky to have a day job that I’m passionate about (working for the furniture brand Knoll).

How, why and when do you take on a particular project?

I like to experiment and work in a multitude of styles and mediums at once. In my studio I usually have 3-4 projects going at any given time. Right now I just finished a portrait for a friend, and I’m also working on a large color block painting. I find that keeps my work fresh.


Is there a particular medium you prefer working with?

Oil or acrylic painting is my favorite — I love the feel of the paint, the excitement of a new canvas. It’s where I find my happy place.
 

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Is there a project that you have been working towards for some time but haven't taken that next step? I ask this question because so many of us have thoughts to building a creative model or platform but just stop short before fully committing.

I start a painting series and usually stop after 3-4 pieces and start something completely new. At some point I’d like to find a language that I stick with for a longer period. I feel fortunate to have a passion and practice that I can lean into even more as I grow older — age presents no limitations when it comes to art.

What does living in Montclair mean to you as an artist?

I’ve be deepening my involvement in the community of artists here in Montclair. It’s an incredibly rich and welcoming group. 

You are donating proceeds of sales of this project to Toni's kitchen which is an awesome gesture. Tell us more about your connection to this truly unique and valued organization right here in Montclair.

My husband and I both volunteer there. The mission is so important — the people who run it are incredible as are the people they serve. I like the idea of using my art to connect with the community.

What's next for you in the art space?

I’m working on an abstract series on paper and canvas. I’m inspired by the repetitive patterning of artists like Damien Hirst and Agnes Martin. You can find it on my website at colleen-james.art

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What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

I’m pretty simple when it comes to coffee. Good, strong drip coffee with milk.


Local Talk - Q+A with Local West Coast Artist Dolores Lusitana

We're so thrilled to have you post at the shop and thank you for being so accommodating in shipping the images!  West Coast images in an East Coast space brings me happiness as we're all California dreamin' to some degree. How do you think about one coast vs. the other from an artistic perspective? 

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I was first drawn to photography while living in New York City from 1981-1997. I’ve always thought of the city as a people laboratory - everyone combating the pressures of city life, the weather, the fierce professional competition, yet somehow all interdependent in those struggles. There’s an underlying humanity that I don’t experience in the same way on the west coast. California offers a more idealized lifestyle; grand, expansive landscapes, lots of sunshine with a cultural slant towards leisure. They’re completely different ways of life. Despite being a native Californian and grateful for the relative ease here (sans the earthquakes and fires..) I’ve always felt more at home on the east coast, more alive and inspired. Perhaps ironically, I think now of New York as a periodic B12 shot, my place for ideas and inspiration, and California the place where I can hunker down without distraction and get the work done.

 

Your prints, 'A deeper look at the Venice Beach Canals' provides us with a glimpse into a special place in southern California. Why did you select this area as your focus? 

I’d stopped shooting for a time and started my business, Situation Book. I was spending a lot of time behind the computer, and starting to feel a little hollow for abandoning my own creativity. The Venice Beach Canals were within walking distance from my home and I decided to take my camera for an outing - shooting for the first time in a couple of years. I had no objectives, no real intention of making images, I just let myself walk and shoot anything and everything that caught my eye. I found the reflections in the canal waters really beautiful and started making photographs - mostly figurative images, watery reversals of the many white bridges that intersect the walkways, the towering palm trees, the people walking by. They appeared like impressionistic watercolors and it made me happy to be outside in that quiet little enclave of peace and nature hidden inside Silicon Beach. I liked those images enough to continue going back.  

It wasn’t until I starting noticing the full-frame abstractions on my computer screen that the WATERCOLORS project began. I saw things that I hadn’t in my viewfinder, and discovered that by shooting more instinctually I was creating work I found more interesting. That’s when I began to see my photographs more like abstract paintings - and I focused on that approach going forward.

Do you often work with reflections or was this approach inspired by the environment?

I’ve always been more fascinated with people in social situations, how they each inhabit a given space together, than abstract or landscape driven photography. This work came out of my need to reconnect with the natural world and not think too much. What I saw in the water was just an unexpected gift.

The reflections on the Canals are created by wind and tides and ambient light, so you never really know what you’re going to encounter, and that reinforced my inability to control the situation. The source of all the reflections are inherently the same since they’re from the homes, buildings, gardens that line the walkways. But, they’re constantly morphing in shape and color given environmental factors. The lesson for me was to stay open. There was one day when the wind was so high that I thought nothing was achievable. But that day ended up yielding a number of interesting frames, including the image I call WINGS which is at LOCAL now.

How have these images provided you with a deeper understanding and appreciation of this landscape? 

I think good landscape photography is incredibly difficult. Taking a photo of a sunset is relatively easy, but in most cases I believe the viewer is reacting to the splendor of nature rather than the artistry of the photographer. To capture how a landscape makes the artist feel, to imbue the absolute beauty of nature with an individual human emotion, that’s not easy. At least not for me. The appreciation and understanding I’ve gleaned from this work is more about the origins of perception - how and why we all see things differently. I perceive very distinct scenes or images within these photos - rather than strictly water reflections. Other people often see very different things - which makes me happy.  I try and leave them open to interpretation - and encourage people to reposition them vertically and horizontally to their liking.

 

As a self-taught artist, what can you tell other individuals who would like to pursue an artistic endeavor OR career?

I do believe that everyone should have some kind of creative pursuit - no matter what it is - something that can never be mastered but always improved upon and made more and more your own. You learn a tremendous amount about yourself in the process, and it will always provide you with something to work at, hopefully share with others, and get joy from. I hope I’m still working at something creative when I’m old and blind.

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If I can offer any advice (and I’m not sure that I or any other artist is really qualified) it’s that we all experience the world differently, uniquely - and that’s what you want your art to reflect. And I believe that can only be achieved by process, time, and personal honesty, not strictly technical savvy. Craft - as applied to digital photography - can be crucial to expanding your visual vocabulary, but if you don’t dig into your own creative process it can override your vision. I try not to seek validation from others, which is hard. I look for something that speaks to me, perhaps even for me, and keep at it. If I’m really onto something, and keep at it, it will evolve. And hopefully it will eventually start to disappoint me. That discomfort is the challenge you need to move forward. I like to think of this period as “growing pains” - both in the creative process and in life in general.

 

What other artists within or outside your primary discipline do you look to for inspiration?

In my earliest days my photographic muses were people like Helen Levitt, Louis Faurer, Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, Bresson…the usual street art suspects. Later, I discovered the magic of color documentary when I found a book by William Albert Allard in a bookshop in NYC near Houston. Blew my mind. I then sought out the work of the great National Geographic shooters:, Sam Abell, James Nachtwey, Gerd Ludwig, Eugene Richards, Alex Webb. Now I’m more drawn to the artists, mostly painters, of an earlier time. The European Impressionists and Beat Contemporaries. Odilon Redon always take my breath away.  As does Erik Satie.  And kids. Watch for how little children see the world - and look for that perspective.

 

What's next? What other projects are you currently working on?

Right now I’m focused mostly on getting this work out into the world a bit more. I’ve really just started showing it.

I’ve also started playing around with some light abstractions taken from the windows of my mother’s bedroom. She’s 92 now, and sleeps a great deal; her room is often dark but for the light creeping through the windows. It’s a tricky subject, but it feels like there’s something there.  Maybe not.  We’ll see.

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Any other thoughts to share?

There is beauty all around us in every day things. Spend some quiet time in nature; it can nourish you in ways that nothing else can.  And, thank you for this opportunity. I hope your customers find some pleasure in the work.

Thank you!

See more of Dolores’ work at https://www.doloreslusitana.com/about/

 

 

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Local Talk - Q+A with Illustrator Gina Stritch

How did you learn and hone your craft?

After fifty years, I'm still learning and honing. I'd say the best way to do anything is to just do it: sit down or stand up and draw, pencil and paper, pen and ink, computer, or whatever tool you have on hand.

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You interact with so many pets and pet parents, what has been the biggest learning for you?
 

I listen to what people say and draw the best drawing I can draw. I try not to intellectualize what I do. My philosophy is simple: draw the pet and make the owner happy, but NEVER compromise. Draw as if your drawing MUST stand the test of time. I don't aim for photo images, I aim for the best, simplest drawing I can draw. It's all about the drawing: pencil, ink, maybe a little watercolor, that's it. 

 

I've noted that pet sketches can come off extremely campy OR spot-on, with the artist being able to capture not just the image but the personality and character of the pet. Each of your sketches tells a different story and are so powerful, how do you approach each subject to extract that special something?
 

Source material: the better the photo, the better the drawing. If I get a good photo, you get a good drawing.

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Are there any particular artists that have influenced your approach?
 

Honestly, no, I'm into my sixth decade and am who I am. I don't try to be anyone else. I admire John Singer Sargent and many, mostly American artists. I admire the work ethic and business sense of Andy Warhol and I like the drawings of Al Hirschfeld, just to provide a few examples. Are they all commercial artists? Yes, but they were also extremely talented and intelligent and diligent.

 

Do you have pets, if so - tell us about them?
 

I have dozens and dozens, hundreds of pets, but they're all on paper. 

 

Tell us a bit about the images you have shared with us @ Local.
 

The drawings on the magnetic wall are all originals. Some are oil pastels and ink, (but I mostly stopped using oil pastel because it's messy and smears), and the others are watercolor and ink. Some are based on professional photos, but some are just good cell-phone photos. Some are popular breeds, some are unknown breeds. Some of my favorite drawings are mixed breeds. I used the drawings I used for a practical reason: it's what I had at hand. The drawings I don't have have been sold and the best artist is one who sells his or her work.

 

What's the best way for you to work with clients? Phone call, in-person meetings, simply sharing a photograph?
 

All I need is a good cell-phone photo emailed to me. I can work with a poor (hard copy) photo, tooand sometimes, maybe that's all a person has.

 

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