There’s no substitute for experience. We all learn from trial, error and if we’re lucky, success. It’s how we get better at our trades. Practice doesn’t always make perfect but in the art world you’re not always going for perfect. You’re going for impact. And the artists showcasing their seasoned talents on June 30th left a big one on the hundreds of spectators roaming downtown Warren.
Sponsored by Sheridan Associates, this Art Night showed novice and cultured art lovers alike not just what veterans of their craft can achieve but also how other veterans can inspire them. Here are some highlights of my trip through a blooming cultural epicenter in Warren between Cutler, Market and Main St.
Made In Warren
The collection of artists whose work gives life to this funky boutique shop on Main St. puts to rest the notion ‘made in my hometown’ stands for low quality. This type of creativity nurtures originality from diverse pottery designs to interpretive nautical themed wall art inspired by the Bristol/Warren area.
What's even more impressive is the level of craftsmanship local woodworkers expertly deliver in jewelry boxes, clocks and replica wooden ships that once graced the nearby harbors of Warren ages ago.
Even the jewelry is finely detailed with shades of unique colors to highlight intricate gem shapes and order like an abstract composition on canvas. How would you like to wear fine art from the fine minds of local artists?
The time and energy it takes to develop such refined skill and expertise speaks loudly from the display cases of Made In Warren. But it was time to find some more brilliant minds a few blocks away.
Top Drawer Art At The Brass
The Brass is a safe haven that provides art programs for adults with developmental disabilities. The artwork you see comes from very able minded creators whose passion for expressing themselves is encouraged. Abstract paintings adorn the walls that seem random but have cohesive, compositional thought behind them. Bright colored mosaics both drawn and designed with tile and jewels keep the atmosphere cheerful.
Most intriguing was the use of out of the box materials for wine cork figurines, scraps of fabric layered together forming decorative wall art, and an elaborately tiled chair with a bowl and tea cup embedded in it that could easily work as a garden’s bird feeder.
There's a lot of bright ideas and originality unleashed at The Brass. But just around the corner was a veteran of artistic structure.
East Bay Chamber of Commerce
Robert Pillsbury’s background makes him unique. He was an architect for 42 years before transitioning into the art world. And the structure and precision of architectural design echoes throughout his work. The impressive part is he uses nothing but paper to create three-dimensional geometric patterns and landscapes.
Lethal with an X-Acto knife, Robert’s attention to detail is staggering as he intricately skewers his paper creations with no tears, bends or breaks to be seen.
How three-dimensional can you make flat pieces of paper? You'll be surprised at the depths of various angles and perspectives he achieves. Foam spacers in between the paper layers generate Robert’s 3D illusions after careful planning using modeling software to layout his elaborate patterns. What’s more surprising is the landscape work he creates with the same methods from flowing waves ready to soak you, an endless winter forest scene you can get lost in, to an incredible perspective of the Mt. Hope Bridge looming large over the East Bay.
After visiting with a veteran of structure it was time for a different kind of artist experimenting with his improvisational style.
In a traditional sterile art gallery a disorderly table of paints, brushes and towels rests in front of a constantly thinking Douglas Breault. Holding his own live exhibition, he’s letting his art come to him, painting and designing his work from scratch while hoards of people view him creating. This is all part of his master plan for letting social interaction impact his final product.
He lets his surroundings and passers by guide him through a world of colorful abstract imagination with a blend of symmetry that completely contradicts the nature of his improvisational experiment.
It’s fascinating to watch an artist go with his gut on instinct and initial impression alone without being able to take it back from the canvases he works on. It’s also very gutsy. Be sure to check back at the Imago Gallery between July 15th and July 24th to see his final product.
While Douglas experiments with his improvisational expertise I wandered over to a once abandoned mill where veteran artists are getting inspiration from actual wartime veterans.
30 Cutler Mill
It’s easy to get lost in this cultural labyrinth of halls and passageways. And I did.
But at every twist and turn is another craftsman’s studio or fine art gallery coming out of this old industrial mill that’s been updated with modern walls, reception areas and furniture to contrast hardwood floors and giant metal doors operating from pulley systems out of an old Steampunk cartoon.
Bringing even more charm to the old mill building are textures of strings floating through the halls as the Community String Project performs in the background of tonight’s showcase.
I ventured outside to see what was cooking in a new kiln operated by ceramic artists John Boland and Candis Dixon. A wave of heat burst from the door of the giant chamber revealing a colorful display of jars, vases, cups and platters all uniquely shaped and elegantly crafted. John was there to show us the nuances of the kiln as well as his fondness for Japanese styled crafts, which is clearly reflected not just in the dinnerware he makes but in the very glazes he uses to design them. Naturally this veteran ceramic artist makes all his glazes from scratch, which gives his work its own unique flair.
Finally, I made my way to one of the main galleries at 30 Cutler Mill to see Allison Newsome and Deborah Baronas present the latest installations they're working on for the new Veterans Home being built right in Bristol, RI.
The new $94 million facility will be completed toward the end of 2017 with Allison and Deborah’s work prominently featured. Hearing them speak about their inspirations made their projects even more special. It’s clear they care about the significance of what the veterans living in the home have been through, what they represent and what we can learn from them.
Deborah’s historical research and project are being used for mural installations in several wings of the new home. Her ties with World War 2 veterans including her father clearly left an impression on her artistic integrity.
Deborah is experimenting with her expertise in textile printing. She wants her images to stand the test of time by laminating, digitally printing, and etching her artwork on glass. By layering the individual panes while playing with lights and shadows Deborah generates a 3D effect using stylized archival veterans photos juxtaposed with different themed, and emotional imagery to complete her visionary composition.
While Deborah works with illusion to inspire the veteran’s emotion Allison is using her expertise in sculpting. For the home’s new library she’s developing a ceramic timeline that will highlight the material culture of war. She got the veterans themselves to suggest objects sentimental to them she carves into the tiles of the timeline like Rhode Island made brass buttons, Medals of Honor for RI militia or army issued harmonicas and can openers.
Allison looks at art as a means for healing. That’s why she puts so much thought into the symbolism behind her work including the sculpted piece in the home’s new lobby.
To illustrate the idea of an uplifting environment these veterans have come home to she’s designed a bald eagle, which has recently made a comeback to the Rhode Island ecosystem.
Her clay-sculpted eagle looking wise beyond its years will be cast in bronze and brass while making a new home behind a mural of a Rhode Island salt marsh. The symbolism speaks for itself, stretched out over the eagle’s 8-foot wingspan veterans can take comfort in.
Both ladies historical love and appreciation for how it affects them artistically is evident in their passion for the veterans they’re creating for. That’s the kind of historic pride the towns of Bristol and Warren seem to inspire. Every Art Night showcase in this area seems to come full circle amidst a group of local artists who have a sense of tradition and admiration for what came before them and what inspires them to move forward.
Join us for the next Art Night on July 28th. I promise you’ll see something completely different from veteran artists who don’t limit their imaginations or creativity to what they know.
Mark Bettencourt is a creative writer and producer based in Rhode Island who likes to tell stories through arts and entertainment. You can read more of his musings at The Court of MVB.