For the month of April, MA Doran, a posh gallery located in the true heart of Brookside, presents a dual show. New work by Tulsa artist Michelle Firment Reid and encaustic works by Michigan-based artist Graceann Warn are on display, and their pieces employ a variety of textures, implied and actual.
I arrived at the opening to the sounds of people mingling. I was surprised at the amount of work on display, besides the two featured artists. From Peoria, one would never know the depth of the interior of MA Doran. Yet the ground floor of the gallery is divided in half by a partial wall in the middle, and farther back are stairs that lead to a second level!
The sheer volume of people at the opening was a bit intimidating at first. I have mentioned this in the past, but I really get the most out of an art show when I am able to spend time in front of the piece, meditate, and let the overall work speak to me.
With my trusty tape recorder in tow, I walked around the space to make preliminary observations. It probably looked and sounded a bit strange to some, but talking to myself in my recorder actually attracted the attention of partial owner Sheila Golden.
This was awesome, for this was my first visit to the gallery. Golden was very friendly and accommodating. While waiting for an introduction to the artist, Golden informed me that MA Doran has been at that location for nineteen years. They represent a number of artists, of whose work Golden pointed out to me.
Wooden bowls and vases, jewelry by Ann Garrett, kinetic metal sculpture and a stunning glass piece (there are no words to describe the beauty of this unique tabletop sculpture, you just have to see it) were on display throughout the gallery and integrated well with the featured artists' work.
Meet the Master
By this time, I was introduced to Michelle Firment Reid. Reid, a graduate of the Corcoran College of Art and Design, has quite a history with the arts. Living in Paris between the ages of seven and nine, she and her artist mother took regular trips to the Louvre and Musee d'Orangerie.
"Creativity was allowed to blossom in our house; there were no lines, or rules on what was or was not considered art," said Reid in her artist bio.
Reid considers her work abstract expressionism, yet when viewing her paintings, I felt a sense of familiarity with the imagery. Strong, horizontal divides between light and dark, vague text and avian forms create an image that appears somewhat naturalistic, yet highly expressive.
When asked about subject matter, Reid replied, "I've been doing birds for the past couple of years. To me they are symbols of femininity and also freedom."
Reid's work also references the opposition between sky and land.
"I moved here from the East Coast over a decade ago, and I became enamored with the wide, open skies here in Oklahoma. I enjoy driving around here, especially out on the plains, and taking in the scenery."
Consider her piece "A Long Way From Here." Mixed media on canvas, the picture plane is divided into two parts. An earthy green and brown ground contrasts with a whitish, yellow sky. Random black bird forms are peppered across the "sky," yet underneath all this, random cursive text fades in and out of the layers built up on the surface.
"I paint from my mind," she said, continuing with, "These are documents of places I have been. Windows are also symbolic for me."
These paintings indeed are windows into the working mind of Reid. Vague memories of Oklahoman landscapes mingle with the words that run through our minds, sometimes at a constant rate, fading into the subconscious, only to reappear at a later date, if only for a brief moment.
"The birds have evolved to metaphors for my thoughts taking flight. That is why in some of my pieces, the birds are indistinguishable from the text. Gravity keeps us down on earth, but when I paint, I am truly free," said Reid.
Being so immersed in the subject matter, or lack thereof in Reid's work, I almost overlooked probably the most interesting aspect of her paintings, the process.
Reid's paintings have a quality that all successful paintings seem to possess. They are totally different works when viewed up close as opposed to from a distance.
The surface of her works is a stew of layers, creating various textures along the way.
"I treat my canvas, or ground, as a base for all these layers. I usually start with a primed canvas and place lace or gauze over certain areas," she explained.
Reid then applies a paint mixture on top of the fabrics. When it dries, she peels back the lace and an imprint is left on the surface. Then she applies colors. This, in combination with built up layers of paint, drips and metallic gleams form an image that is somewhat mystical, changing colors as you pass by it, and appearing as if she has painted with metal.
"I have a printmaking background, so the layering is something I enjoy doing in order to create different effects," Reid stated.
On the Other Side
Though she was not present for the opening, artist Graceann Warn's encaustic works offer another type of surface. Encaustic, an ancient medium, combines hot wax with pigment. It is a venerable medium, for many funerary portraits from the Fayum Egypt period still survive to this day.
Jasper Johns could probably be accredited with popularizing encaustic in the modern age. In an interview with Leslie Stainton, a writer from Ann Arbor, Michigan from last October, Warn said, "The first time I saw Johns's work, the beauty, the sensuality of the surface is what got me."
I would hardly call Warn's pieces simply paintings. They are sophisticated assemblages that combine encaustic with found objects such as books that have been splayed open, rows of pencils as in "Ledger," various papers and random objects like a robin's egg.
My personal favorite would have to be "Cielo," meaning sky in Spanish. "Cielo" appears to be a dusky interior with a window to the outside, blue sky in the relative middle of the picture plane.
Get up close to it, and you will find layers of milky encaustic, fragments of postmarked letters, and a double row of horizontal three-dimensional protrusions, made of something that remains a mystery to me.
This painting, like all of Warn and Reid's take on new forms depending on the distance the viewer has with the piece.
Michelle Firment Reid and Graceann Warren's work will be on display throughout the month of April. The MA Doran Gallery is located at 3509 South Peoria. For more information call 748-8700 or visit madorangallery.com.
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