Thursday, August 6, 2015

Words from the Artist is a series of interviews with various artist members of Houston Art Showcase by blog editor Ruth Armas

With no claim to any single art style, Helena Gijsbers van Wijk simply lives out her passion every day for creating art. Her inexhaustible pursuit in creative expression for meaning of the environment around her invites us to also find meaning in the world and societies we live in.

"Motherhood" 6 ½ x 24 x 8”, ceramics – 2015
Helena Gijsbers van Wijk

Helena, would you like to introduce yourself?

My name is Helena Gijsbers van Wijk. I was born and grew up in Czech Republic (then it was Czechoslovakia). From early childhood I attended music and art classes at a local art school. I also learned a lot about visual arts from my mother, who was a very gifted amateur painter. Later on I studied music and visual arts, and I earned my MFA from Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. 
I moved to the USA in 1990, and in 1991 I landed in Houston. I have been maintaining a studio at the Houston Foundry for almost 10 years now, and that’s where I spend most of my time.

Can you describe your work for us?

I usually say that I am mainly a painter and a ceramist, but the truth is that I work in a wide range of media. I do a lot of assemblages and mixed media pieces. A couple of times I even tried my hand at installation. I love trying new media, even though ceramic sculpture and painting remain probably my main focus. 

What attracts you to creating art, and what art style do you prefer?

For me creating art is not a matter of attraction; it’s something that I have to do. That’s who I am. I don’t subscribe to any specific style.  For me style depends on the piece and what I am trying to achieve. I feel like styles are a little outdated, a thing of the past. A lot of contemporary artists do not worry about what style they are working in. The concept and the process are to me the most important things. 

"Lifesource" 7 x 22 x 13”, stoneware – 2014
Helena Gijsbers van Wijk

What does creativity mean to you?

Well, you cannot be an artist without being creative. That’s one of the main conditions. But creativity is not just for artists; people working in any field need creativity, because creativity enables problem-solving, and coming up with new solutions, finding possibilities where there seemed to be none. It means finding new approaches and not sticking to old sure ways.

What kind of ritual or routine do you have before you begin a project?

I don’t really have any ritual. Sometimes I might do some sketches or try out certain color combinations. I might do research on the topic or look for images on the internet, but that all depends on the type of project.

Tell us about your favorite works and why you remember them?

There are tons of great works and great artists that I love and admire. There is a number of painters that I find very inspiring, like Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Marlene Dumas, Jenny Saville, Wangechi Mutu, etc. I also like very much sculptor David Altmejd. The work of these artists really speaks to me.

What is the message that you try to communicate through your art?

I don’t know if I can say that my work has a particular message. There is a lot of different ideas in my head and a lot of issues I would like to address at any given time. Some of these ideas end up as a finished artwork, and some don’t. For some ideas it takes years to come to fruition.
I am and always have been interested in socio-political topics, even though not all of my work can be labeled as “political”. Sometimes these issues are hidden in the piece and not so obvious at first sight (like for instance my Torso Series or the clay female figures). Sometimes I feel very strongly about an issue but it doesn’t lend itself easily to artistic interpretation.
Ultimately, it is up to the viewers to find something that speaks to them in the work. Artists don’t really have any control over it. All I am trying to achieve is to make the viewer pause and think.

What medium would you like to explore next and why?

This past spring I had an opportunity (thanks to Aurora Residency Program) to do my first public installation – Tintinnabula. (I have done some other ones before but only in my studio.) I would definitely like to explore this medium more. It gives the artist an opportunity to present more complex ideas than a singular artwork. 


"Tintinnabula” approximately 8’x 5’x 5’ – 2015
Helena Gijsbers van Wijk 

Lastly, what’s the best advice you've received?

One advice that I received many years ago from Annabeth Rosen during her workshop was, “Go to the studio every day even if you don’t feel like it or if you have a hangover. There is always something to do there.
And the second one (I don’t remember who said it) is to devote at least 20 minutes a day to promote and further your artistic practice.
I think about these two things quite often.

Helena, you’ve given us an insight about your profession and your philosophy which has been inspiring and practical. Undoubtedly, you are very dedicated to what you do and relentless in making it a daily practice to nurture yourself as an artist. Your approach to new ideas, as well as your flexibility to the process in working with diverse forms of media based on the needs of the project are examples that we can learn from. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas about yourself as an artist and your work.

Helena’s work will be featured in the main gallery of The Jung Center in 2016. Specific information regarding this event will be provided at a future date. To stay informed and to see more of her work, please visit her artist website.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Words from the Artist

Words from the Artist is a series of interviews with various artist members of Houston Art Showcase by blog editor Ruth Armas

Surrealism was originally a literary movement of the twentieth century that influenced artists of the time to extend exploration of the unconscious mind and irrational thought into an art style that is still with us today. Whether or not Surrealism is your favorite style of art, it is difficult not to have some kind of response in the slightest measure to its thought provoking imagery and elusive messages which it illustrates. Solomon Kane is our featured artist who explores opposing themes of the human experience and experiences from his own life to create and share his style of Surrealism.

"Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit - Correcting Religious Misconceptions" 15" x 20" lithograph – 2000
Solomon Kane

Solomon, would you like to introduce yourself?

I was born in Houston, Texas and Solomon Kane is an alias. In my other profession, I have worked with serial killers, murderers, robbers and some of the worst examples of mankind. I incorporate these experiences into a continual search for good and evil, life and death, and the ultimate meaning of human existence. My alias is a tribute to Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and father of existentialism, and literally means peace and violence in Hebrew. It is also the name of a character that Robert E. Howard created, a pulp fiction hero.

"Dia de los Muertos" or "No,You Don't Understand" - A Tribute to Bert Long Jr." 
12" x 9" x 4" mixed media - 2013
Solomon Kane

Can you describe your work for us?

My art is a symbolic surrealistic and metaphysical statement on life/death, science/religion, psychology/sociology, criminal justice, (so-called) and what is sometimes mislabeled as ‘mental illness’.

"Where Do We Come From?" 10” x 7” x 5” mixed media – 2011
Solomon Kane

What attracts you to surrealism?

I was naturally attracted to surrealism by exposure to the work of Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Goya, and Pieter Bruegel (The Elder), along with a mix of 60’s album cover art and comics with a little Dr. Suess thrown in.

Can you tell us what “being creative” means to you and when you discovered it was something you had to do?

Not really. Being creative has its own meaning to everyone on an individual basis. It’s not something that one person can define for another. It is even more difficult to describe. It’s like one Senator’s description of pornography when he said that I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it.

What kind of routine or ritual do you have before you begin a project?
Do you have a creative cycle or process?

My real life and profession give me an unlimited source of inspiration. The daily grind is an unfortunate ritual I must partake in.

"Ibn Gabriol - What Good is a Seeing Eye if the Heart is Blind" 20" x 30" x 2" – 2004
Solomon Kane

Tell us about one of your favorite works and why it stands out?

That is another difficult question for me. When an artist creates a work, he or she kind of gives birth to this new creation and like some type of physical offspring there are attachments to all of them. If size and time spent was the measure then it would be my work titled “The God of Consumption” which stands about 14 feet tall and contains actual artifacts, relics, skulls and bones.

Do you have a general message that you try to communicate with your art?

Don’t get too attached to life, you’re not going to make it out alive. Sometimes, though, even if only for a short time, it can be a beautiful thing, no matter how ugly it might be. It all depends upon your perspective. You can always find beauty in ugly or ugly in beauty, good in the bad or bad in the good. Life, like art, comprises both. You decide what you want to focus on.

"Understand" 30" x 20" lithograph – 2004
Solomon Kane

What medium would you like to explore next and why?

I am already including things like the following in my work “Mother of the World” - Authentic African Tribal Masks, authentic horns and skulls from Africa, (Kudu in this case) Ostrich egg from Africa,  Wooden orchid made from Hibiscus wood from Bali, Female ½ form and Fiber Glass hands from mannequin, Polyurethane Intermediate, Silicone, Calk, various glues, Car paint, Fabric Paint, Glass Paint, Ceramic Paint, Iridescent and Fluorescent paints, Acrylics, Inks, Dyes, and other mixed mediums on Wood, sealed with Industrial Car Sealer. However, if anyone knows of something I’m missing or could use, let me know and I’ll try it.

Lastly, what’s the best advice you've received, or that you can give us about how to nurture creativity?

Don’t die.
There is a philosophy from the east that says…“Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness, but your greatest weakness is also your greatest strength”.
Everything boils down to our perspective. Bert used to tell me that your perspective is your truth. Take the worst that life has to offer and change it. And to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzche…what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

To this regard, Soren Kierkegaard said the following,
For what effect this true discourse will produce depends solely upon who the hearer is. There may perhaps have been one in whom this discourse inspires such a dread as he never before has known; but this is not the fault of the discourse, it lies in the hearer. It is not the discourse which has terrified the one, and it is not the discourse which has tranquilized the other; it is the one and the other who in this discourse have understood themselves.

Also from Kierkegaard…
When once affliction has attained what eternity wants of it, the situation adjusts itself properly; for though the pressure remains, it constantly makes itself known conversely as hope, converts itself into hope. Him only can affliction depress who will not be helped eternally; him who wills this, affliction presses upward.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is – don’t try to escape what life has for you. No pain, no gain and all the horrible things in the world can only increase your creativity if you let it.

Going back east, Mencius said he following,
On the one hand, although life is what I want, there is something I want more than life. That is why I do not cling to life at all costs. On the other hand, although death is what I loathe, there is something I loathe more than death. That is why there are troubles I do not avoid…

Basically, if you want to enhance your creativity, don’t avoid the troubles of life; face them head on.

Thank you Solomon for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas about yourself as an artist and your work. You compared life to art in that both consist of what is ugly and beautiful, good and bad in this world. And it is up to us to decide what we want to take from both. Indeed, I would agree that our perspective is what determines what we choose to focus on. Our perspective in that moment with life or with art is reflecting or connecting to our unconscious mind in some way. Additionally, yes…as long as we are alive we are creative beings. We are creative in different ways for different reasons, whether it be for enjoyment or necessity. With good and bad as the conflicting characters and essence of life for all of us, creativity is then the result and evidence of one who is living their truth and expressing their individuality because of what is good and bad in life and we find some healing or a release in that.

You can see and enjoy more of Solomon Kane’s work at his artist website.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Words from the Artist

Words from the Artist is a series of interviews with various artist members of Houston Art Showcase by blog editor Ruth Armas. 

Our next featured artist, Vladimir Alexander, is discovering his place in the art world as a portrait painter and works out of his home studio in Houston. Alexander has shown his work at the Blaffer Art Museum and the Galveston Art League, and holds the ambition of his large scale art gaining recognition as a unique contribution to Houston’s growing art scene and community of artists.

"La Mirada" 36" x 48" Oil on Canvas - 2014
Vladimir Alexander

Vladimir, would you like to introduce yourself?

Hello, I’m Vladimir Alexandar and I have graduated from the University of Houston with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts degree in Studio Painting. I have been interested in drawing since I was five years old. My father would always buy me materials to encourage me and my interest in art continued all the way into high school. I began college courses at HCC and become serious about art after taking a life drawing class that focused on anatomy. Eventually, I continued onto the University of Houston and majored in fine arts. Drawing and illustration is where I started with art and eventually moved on to painting.  Since graduating, I have been painting portraits of families and sometimes pets by commission. I have also developed a skill of drawing three minute sketches and have sketched about a thousand since age fifteen.

Can you describe your work for us?

Portraits are my main focus right now. I like to paint them in large scale because I feel the larger size captures with more intensity the emotions that are being communicated in the person’s expression. I am also very motivated by the use of color in my portraits, and I feel that working in large scale allows me to use color more dramatically in my interpretation of the person’s character.  Abstract art is new for me and I have done a few paintings in this style. I feel abstract art is a style in which I can view the world and add my point of view by taking an image to a very simplified form.

What attracts you to painting?

I’m attracted to painting because of the medium I use. Working with oil paint is interesting because of how I am able to control it. It’s almost like a strategic game when I begin mixing colors from the time they are on my pallet and then on the canvas. When I am at a point where I feel comfortable with the colors I am working with, the mixing becomes like magic and I am in harmony with the medium.  

"Zapata and Villa" 4' x 4' Oil on Canvas - 2015
Vladimir Alexander

Can you tell us what “being creative” means to you and when you discovered it was something you had to do?

Being creative for me is simply having my sketch book with me at all times and keeping a diary of what I sketch. I look back at what I wrote about that sketch and begin to take it a step further. I become selective about the sketch depending on the person in their anatomy or a feature that appeals to me. Sometimes it is based on my relationship or connection with the person. This is why I was inspired to paint a portrait of my teacher from UH. I spent time with this person that was meaningful and memorable. I had an emotional response that I used for creativity to paint his portrait.

"Portrait of Rex Koontz" 12" x 24" Oil on Canvas - 2014
Vladimir Alexander

What kind of routine or ritual do you have before you begin a project? Do you have a creative cycle or process?

It is definitely a process that is not just physical, but emotional. It is also based on investigating or researching the person who I will paint. I also like to write down my thoughts as part of the process of putting myself into the composition.

When I begin the portrait, I like to have more than one picture of the person in order to build a background or story of the person and get a deeper understanding of who they are and why they want to have their portrait made. This story is basically the foundation and the beginning of my process. Also, I don’t like to listen to music when I paint. I listen instead to my emotions and inner rhythm of what I’m feeling in that moment.

Tell us about one of your favorite works and why you remember it?

The portrait of my father is my favorite. I feel it immortalizes and honors him. It is also my favorite because it holds the memory of the conversation he was having with me during the time I was painting it. 

"Portrait of My Father" 30" x 40" Oil on Canvas - 2013
Vladimir Alexander

Do you have a general message that you try to communicate with your art?

I really like to communicate through color. People interact with color and it’s not really a message that I try to communicate, but a response of emotion. I like to say that life is color…la vida es color; an appreciation of life and how we get to see all the colors in the world from the sky to the ground. We can see color in each other. This is why color is a main element in my large scale portraits. My attempt is to draw out a person’s features with color to show the character of the person more vividly.

What’s the best advice you've received, or that you can give us about how to nurture creativity?

I like to refer to a quote by Isaac Newton that a math teacher said once… “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of a giant.”

My father is my giant from what he has seen during his lifetime. My teachers are my giants as well because of their knowledge and experience. Nurturing creativity for me is by continuing to learn and experiment in the art of painting, and listening to artists who have experience and knowledge in the art world where I aspire to be.

Thank you Vladimir Alexander for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas about yourself as an artist and your work. You can see and enjoy more of Vladimir’s work at his artist website

If you liked this post and found it helpful, please leave a comment and share with others to help support Houston Art Showcase artists.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Talk About Color at The Mariago Collective

Two Women Two Arts Million Hearts   

As I walked in to hear the artist talk at The Mariago Collective, my first thought about the works present was how the colors in the paintings were so lively and abundant, and undoubtedly causing a profusion of emotional responses to anyone viewing them. Maybe it was all due to the brilliant colors on canvas intensely contrasting on the large spaces of the white walls. Or maybe it was the last hour of sunlight coming into the room from the wall of windows on the west side of the building that emitted a special radiance in the colors. Whichever the case, it was pretty clear to anyone in that room that the focal element of each work was the use of color, and once I shifted my attention to the two artists speaking, Naz Kaya Erdal and Suat Orgun, it soon became clear to me that the idea of color in art and their relationship with it was a repeating message in their conversation to the audience.


Untitled (Fall 1998) 2015, mixed media on canvas 35” x 47”, Naz Kaya Erdal (top)
Suat Ogrun (left) Naz Kaya Erdal (right)
First Introduction of Eminonu with the Historical Peninsula 203-2015, mixed media on canvas 22” x 14”, Suat Orgun (bottom)

I have to say that I have a strong affinity to most colors, especially when they are combined well. And being that the use of color in art is always my first attraction to a piece, I was already intrigued with each artist’s perspective regarding their relationship with color and how it influences their art as a principal element.

Erdal talked about how she sees colors as having a quality of personality in that each color has a unique character on the canvas, and therefore, we respond differently to each one. It is true that experiments have been conducted in order to understand how different colors affect us physically and psychologically. And there are certain facts even of how companies have used this understanding to persuade or discourage certain behaviors. Additionally for Erdal, color is the most important element that allows her to put emotions onto the surface of a canvas. She uses color to interpret the images that she holds in her mind which are also shaped by her emotions, experiences, memories, and hence, are able to appear on canvas.

The First Time When I Saw the Rainbow 2015, mixed media on canvas 39” x 39”, Naz Kaya Erdal

Similarly, Orgun shared that color is important for her in that the purpose of her art is to tell stories on a canvas. These are stories telling of the place or the city she is living in at the time. She tells the story of what she observes and feels around her. In addition, color plays an important role for her even in her dreams which she claims to see the images within her dreams in color. She remembers these colors from her dreams and recreates them in her art. Her dreams and her experiences are introspective reflections upon the world and people existing around her. These are her stories...all of our stories. Her mirror paintings have the purpose not only to serve as an artwork telling a story, but once we see our reflection in the mirror and linger there, we are incorporated into the art to see a new image all together on the canvas telling a new story.

Mirrors (1) 2013-2015, mixed media on canvas 36” x 36”, Suat Orgun

As I mentioned before about my attraction to color, this was definitely a show that “tugged at my art strings”. In observing the works of Erdal and Orgun, one might think that they are merely overly enthusiastic about using color in their art. But artists are quite intentional about color, as are others who understand the power of this visual element. If you are interested in seeing this show, it will be on display at The Mariago Collective until June 1st. If you’re curious to know some facts about color, visit this blog page.

Written by blog editor, Ruth Armas