Posts in Making Art
Helga, A Film by Making Art and Bo Bartlett

Making Art (Jesse Brass) and Bo Bartlett just released a short film worth checking out.

American artist Andrew Wyeth secretly made over 240 drawings and paintings of one model between 1971 and 1985. The secret was kept even from his wife. When the story broke, it was a national sensation gracing the covers of Time and Newsweek. The model was Helga Testorf.

This is the story told for the first time by Helga.

“Helga Testorf, a middle-aged woman in pigtails who was Mr. Wyeth’s neighbor in rural Pennsylvania, has the curious distinction of being the last person to be made famous by a painting.”

-James Gardner, Art Critic

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“He was at a point in his career where he had to produce, produce … and along came this free spirit, running over the hills … he thought he was chasing himself, because that’s what he did as a boy, running over the hills. He was always painting himself in me.”

- Helga Testorf

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Watch more from Making Art at makingarfilms.com

Melanie Norris: Discovering Beauty

In collaboration with Jesse Brass, Making Art (video)

Melanie Norris is a Johnson City native who now lives and works in Asheville, North Carolina. She studied at East Tennessee State University, graduating in 2011. She currently has a studio in whiteSPACE gallery of the Wedge Studios in the River Arts District of Asheville

Statement

What sets mankind apart is the broad range of emotions that flesh out their personality; the things that can neither be seen nor described, only felt. In my paintings, I do not strive for a likeness in a technical portrait sense. I try to lay hold of their inner being, the soul that exists within the flesh. I seek to show how a body isn’t existence, but simply a vessel. Physical looks and material things are superfluous signifiers of our life. They are easy to understand and define, therefore the materials often replace the true person. I pare down environment and objects from my compositions, leaving a bare being. I use watercolor at times because it naturally reflects the understated transience of our bodies. By nature, it is fragile and easily lost. With that, however, comes great freedom. Pigment can be fed water and with little guidance makes its own path. In contrast, a great boldness comes from the confident strokes of oil paint, building into a viscerality that sends the subject into the room with the viewer. Layers of this create a unique language for every painting.

In my portraits, I want to go deeper, search out the soul by sitting and having a conversation with my subjects, taking photographs and soaking in their presence. I then paint from the photographs, focusing on their skin and expression, editing out clothes, backgrounds, objects that tether the subject to their material environment. I try to find a series of paintings that are evocative of the tone of our conversation. Irish painter Cian McLoughlin takes a similar approach to his portraits. His Camden Town Aisling Project, a series of portraits of homeless men with whom he had established relationships, has influenced my familiar and psychological approach to painting. Similarly, Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville’s boldly physical and non-idealized treatment of their subjects is reflected in my work as well. In this way, my cruelty fuels my art. The people I’m most drawn to paint are the ones most uncomfortable in front of a gaze or a camera. A very raw honesty comes from their discomfort. I crave that in every painting. Their faces, their hands reflect the unease in my unmasking of them. The face they use for the world disintegrates after a few minutes, fading into their natural and slight anxiety. And therein lies the portrait. The true beauty of humans lies in their bared vulnerability and characteristic flaws.

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Who are the figures in your paintings? Do you paint from references or memory? Tell us about the inspiration behind your work. 

Currently, the figures in my paintings are vehicles for my emotions or concepts I think are interesting and want to explore abstractly. The face/figure provides a fascinating structure through which I can study ideas. The eyes, nose, lips, etc are a recognizable structure and a way to organize the plane. For example, if I paint face, shoulders – I can continue the thought with abstract marks, but it will still resemble something. I’m not comfortable with pure abstraction, so the faces are a really interesting basis. I start every painting with a face and then see how far I can throw it before I have to reel it back in, artistically speaking.

I do work from photographs, typically of family or acquaintances or myself. 

“My current style uses one person to capture one aspect of what many, many people are feeling. I want people to personally relate to the work, have a visceral response, not just an abstract appreciation.”
— Melanie Norris
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What feelings or emotion do you hope the viewer experiences when looking at your work? 

Here’s the perfect set-up: people would first view my paintings from a distance, like from across a room, and would feel compelled to look closer. I want them to think, “Oh this is a style I haven’t seen before.” And they’re drawn in. As they walk toward the painting and come to a stop in front of it, there’s the mid-range: they can take in all of the materials, the marks, the figure that is composed of hundreds of transparent watercolor layers and then marked up, made fleshy with the oil bar. This is the stage where I want them to feel the process, the meditation of the watercolor and the fervor of the oil bar and the mania of the Sketch Marks (title idea?). 

The third and most intimate level is when they peer in, nose inches away from the canvas, consciously pinning hands down at their sides so they don’t touch it. They try to read the notes I scribbled when I first started drawing, months ago. They see the hardened sludge of what was a really juicy oil bar with the wrapper still attached that is just stuck into the painted beard of the painted man.

I want a person to feel my studio when they look at a painting. To feel it flat on the floor with me walking in circles around, armed with a bucket of gesso, trying to reconcile how I’m feeling with what I’m looking at.

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What kind of things do you think about when making your paintings?

On a meaningful day, I think about current events. On a selfish day, I think about whatever pissed me off that week. Insecure day, I think about how many people will think this painting is cool. On a sunny day, I think about all the good things. If it's an angry day, I think about destroying everything in the studio with a big purple oil bar (these are good days to harness and channel). Sketching day, I think about each line. On a radio day, I think about the radio.

What inspired your current style. Do you feel your work has evolved over the past few years? If so, how?

Yes! Hallelujah my work has evolved plenty over the years. The style in the Making Art film is still pretty much the basis for what I’m doing now. At that time, I was establishing my own way of painting faces in watercolor. I was very empathetic at the time, really studying the subject, trying to capture their soul in my paintings. There remains an element of that in my current work, but I wanted to push it further, not just focus on one person, but on people. How it feels to be living here and now. I think this is very important, especially now.

My current style uses one person to capture one aspect of what many, many people are feeling. I want people to personally relate to the work, have a visceral response, not just an abstract appreciation.

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Tell us what’s happening in your studio right now. 

I’m trying to figure out how to best insulate it! I just built a studio on my property in rural North Carolina, and winter’s coming. I’m also working on some commissions and prepping for Brooklyn in November where I’ll show some work at The Other Art Fair. Trying to figure the best way to package and waterproof a 6-foot painting to strap on top of my car to drive to Brooklyn. I heartily wish that were a joke.

If you could make anything regardless of resources or logistics, what would it be? 

A project I’ve had stewing for about 2 years with a working title “Both Flesh and Not” after the David Foster Wallace essay. Where I build (with the help of my dad) a mechanical arm that somehow attaches to my arm and mimics the movement of my hand so that as I’m painting a portrait, it is next to me making the “same” marks as interpreted by the mechanics, painting its own portrait. I’m very curious to see what this would look like. 

And then the step further would be an apparatus that would hold me suspended over my paintings that are lying flat on the floor. So I would be parallel over the canvas, able to maneuver myself to whichever quadrant by means of some hulking pulley system. Ideally all of this would be non-prohibitively bulky. I want to feel it there, working, hear the sounds of it moving or squeaking. I don’t like how streamlined everything has to be now. I want to feel it.

So, any inventors out there??

Tell us about your favorite ways to unwind and get inspired. 

Music, big time. Bike rides are great to get out ants in pants. 

What is the best advice you have ever received?

My favorite painter from when I was in college, Cian McLoughlin, actually responded to my whiny undergrad email that bemoaned how I was ever going to “Make It” in the “Art World” and did he please have any advice? With the simple logic that he said had been passed onto him:  If you’re meant to be an artist, you will be.

I still tell myself that probably every week. 

Alonsa Guevara: Desire and Painting The Paradoxes of Life

In collaboration with Jesse Brass, Making Art (video)

Interview by Ekaterina Popova

Alonsa Guevara was born in Rancagua, Chile. She spent seven years of her childhood living in the Ecuadorian tropical forest with her family, growing up surrounded by magnificent landscapes and magical environments, a big reason to be a lover of light, nature and colors. Alonsa received her BFA from the Pontific Catholic University of Chile in 2009, and moved to New York in 2011. She graduated from the MFA Program of the New York Academy of Art in 2014 and was granted the Academy's Fellowship award 2015. Her most recent solo show was at Anna Zorina Gallery in NYC, 2016. Alonsa is currently living and working in New York.

Alonsa Guevara

Alonsa Guevara

When did you first start painting? 

I always drew and did creative crafts since I was very young, but I started oil painting when I was 12 years old with the help of my grandmother from my dad’s side. My Abuela Maruja used to draw, paint and make clay sculptures as a hobby. She realized that I enjoyed making things too, so she took me to her studio and encouraged me to start new projects. She taught me how to build a wooden easel, stretch canvases and introduced me to basic oil painting techniques. I kept painting on my own and when I was 18 I joined The Visual Arts Program.

Alonsa Guevara

Alonsa Guevara

“The vegetables and fruits depicted in my paintings are sometimes fresh and juicy and other times smushed and rotten; making fertility and life coexist in a parallel with decay and death; the full cycle of life.”
— Alonsa Guevara

Being an immigrant myself, I love learning about what parts of their story artists bring to their work. How do you feel your cultural background influenced your current paintings? 
 
I had a very intense and nomad childhood. I was born in Chile and moved to Ecuador when I was five years old. During those seven years in Ecuador, my family and I lived in different towns and for a couple of years, I lived on an animal farm where nature, flora, and fauna were around me all the time. 

We returned to Chile when I was 12 and also lived in different cities, thus I got to experience a variety of environments and landscapes. At the same time, because I was in nine different schools from kindergarten to high school, I got to share the culture and traditions of different people, which made me more open and tolerant. 

I guess that everyone keeps memories of their childhood when becoming adults. It is such a significant part of life that is difficult to forget. I have very vivid memories of the places where I lived; I won’t forget the smell of the humid earth, the songs of the cicadas during twilight and the adventurous hikes into the jungle.

Now I have been in the US for six years, which makes me think “you don’t know what you have until it is gone”. Being far away from home made me appreciate the connection between mankind and their natural surroundings in a different way. 

It was back in 2015, my fourth year living here when I began the series of work called Ceremonies. I went back to Chile to visit my family and I thought of the idea of making a real ceremony with my siblings, surrounding three of us by fresh and rotten fruits. So I got a truck, got hundreds of pounds of fruits and staged this ritual. During this process, I took pictures that I used as a reference for my paintings. I have done the same process again in Chile, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and here in the US with family and close friends.

These "Ceremonies" are a representation of an imaginary world where the characters celebrate the cycle of life, especially fertility and fecundity. This celebration is for themselves and their families, as well as their lands and the harvest. I imagine these characters expressing gratitude by making offerings and ceremonies where the people appear nude laying down on the ground covered with a mix of fresh and rotting fruits, vegetables and flowers from their seasonal harvest: an act of connection with their lands and nature. 

The vegetables and fruits depicted in my paintings are sometimes fresh and juicy and other times smushed and rotten; making fertility and life coexist in a parallel with decay and death; the full cycle of life. 

Alonsa Guevara

Alonsa Guevara

My two favorite moments are: when I start covering the canvas with looser brush strokes and when I am working with tiny brushes making details like seeds, juice, ants, and especially when I am painting the portraits.
— Alonsa Guevara

What do you love most about your process? 

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the whole process of setting up, from buying the fruits and flowers, creating compositions with shapes and colors, to taking the pictures of the models lying down. 
However, by far my favorite part of my process is when I am in my studio painting. My two favorite moments are: when I start covering the canvas with looser brush strokes and when I am working with tiny brushes making details like seeds, juice, ants, and especially when I am painting the portraits.

Alonsa Guevara

Alonsa Guevara

What keeps you painting? 

I ask that same question to myself over and over, and I don't have a sure answer. But I think that I keep painting as a desperate reaction to let my creativity and passion to take over my life!
The process of creating it is like an extension of real life, creating new worlds brings me excitement, happiness and a lot of pleasure. Therefore, since after I graduated from undergrad I always found the time to paint, even when I made a living as a painting teaching or when I had a full-time job. 

I am grateful to say that since 2015 I have been able to make a living as an artist, so now I am a full-time artist and I spend almost every day painting and making things.

What is the best advice you received in your art career? 

During my first year of undergrad, I had a teacher that told me that I should focus on printmaking because my paintings (which I was doing mostly from my imagination) “weren’t working”. I’m very stubborn and I wanted to paint so bad that his advice just made me want to paint more and get better at it. So during that year I took Painting I and started painting objects from life, and I realized that I was pretty good at it when I had a reference to look at. After that year, the same teacher asked me to be his assistant for Painting II and said to me: “You can listen to other people’s advice, but more importantly, listen to yourself.”

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What is your biggest dream as a painter? 

I would love to be able to keep making a living as an artist and keep sharing my work with people. And my dream as a painter is to have the skills to paint everything accurately completely from imagination, this way I can recreate images that I have in my mind. I’m already able to paint a lot of things from imagination, but I would love to have the skills to paint everything I have seen! From human figure in all positions to a forest with hundreds of flora and fauna species. 

Alonsa Guevara

Alonsa Guevara

Tell us about your interests outside of the studio. 

In my studio, I have a lot of different instruments that I play during my painting breaks. I love to play the guitar and sing and lately, I got a keyboard so I am learning how to play it. I also have drums, a tambourine, harmonic and some instruments that I made myself, and I love to get friends together and have some musical parties.

Also, I spend time exercising almost every day. For a whole year since 2016, I did CrossFit (which sounds extreme) but I really enjoyed it. Now I am taking some African dance classes called Kongo beat, I’m doing Spinning classes and also I go for runs at the Promenade in Bay Ridge.

Paintings by Alonsa Guevara at  Anna Zorina Gallery, New York

Paintings by Alonsa Guevara at Anna Zorina Gallery, New York

How do you replenish your creative pool?

Here in NYC you are so exposed to an enormous variety of artistic creations that it is impossible not to be inspired or influenced by it. But in general, I get inspired by so many things! By meeting new people and listening to their stories, by traveling to different countries and getting to see their landscapes, I even get inspiration from a tiny cut open blueberry to paint a fruit portrait.

Creativity comes randomly, sometimes I have great ideas and other times the worst idea you can think of, but allowing myself to spend that time developing those ideas, playing around and making mistakes, is what makes me realize what works and what doesn’t, and most importantly I learn from that process.

I think what has helped me the most is to be open to new ideas and to overcome FEAR, making mistakes is OK, making silly ugly things is fine, cutting your painting on a thousand pieces won't kill you, you just have to DO IT! 

I always say “It is better to regret what you did, than what you didn't do. So go for it!!

Alonsa Guevara,  Anna Zorina Gallery, New York

Alonsa Guevara, Anna Zorina Gallery, New York

What do you hope the viewer experiences when looking at your paintings? 

I explore the relationship between a person and his or her environment as a means of embracing a connection with the beauty of nature that has seemingly weakened with the growing reliance on industry and technology.

With my paintings, I'm trying to create magical worlds that contain my experiences as a woman while offering my personal understanding and appreciation of beauty.

In my “Ceremonies” paintings I find the people that I paint beautiful because they have natural bodies loaded with what we call “imperfections” that are actually just perfect. While I paint these nude bodies I pay special attention to their stretch marks, veins, asymmetry, freckles, etc. For example, my painting “María José’s Ceremony” represents a mother with her child, and here I painted her cesarean section scar because it is a beautiful mark of which any mother should feel proud. 

We live in a world that seems to relate beauty with synthetic and unnatural; to be beautiful you have to change the way you really look. But with my paintings, I am trying to inspire the viewer to open their eyes to the natural beauty that surrounds them. I hope the viewers feel attraction to my painting and make them believe the truthfulness of the image they are seeing. I hope that when the viewer sees my paintings they think about the paradoxes of life: desire & repugnance, fertility & decadence, birth & death, truth & fantasy.   

Mark your calendars for May 10, 2018 for a solo exhibition by the artist at Anna Zorina Gallery, New York.