POSTED ON JANUARY 16, 2013:
Pop Art and Portraits
Two locals merge different styles into a new show
If you tried, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a pair of artists whose work is so different from one another's as that of Heathyr Chenoweth and Maegan Kauffman. Despite that assertion, or perhaps because of it, the two Tulsa artists join forces next week for an art exhibit at the Tulsa Historical Society.
Just how different? Chenoweth refers to her art as Electric Impressionism. Kauffman's work doesn't have "electric" in its name, nor any color, as she employs charcoal for stark and dramatic black-and-white portraits. About all these two have in common is that they are painting famous Oklahoma things. Oh, and they really like each other.
"We both have taught classes at the Tulsa Art Center," Kauffman said of how the pair met. "We met one night and just were instant friends. Her art just draws you to it. It's so bright and fun, and we were like, 'Our art is so different, so wouldn't it be cool if we did a show together?' She does the famous Oklahoma places, and I was like, 'Oh, I'll do the famous faces.'"
Chenoweth echoed Kauffman's feelings.
"She was doing an arts demonstration, and I thought she was awesome," Chenoweth said. "And I could tell she was really responsible. When you do a group project, you don't want someone who isn't going to follow through. I could just tell that I could trust her. I had a really good vibe about Maegan."
Both women felt the same good vibes, and the dual exhibition -- Seasoned City and Portraits with Maegan Kauffman -- was born.
For Chenoweth's part, she brings her Electric Impressionism from her 2012 show at the Circle Cinema into what is a sort of continuation of that show, which bore the same name.
"It's basically an extension of the show I did at Circle Cinema," Chenoweth said. "It's Tulsa-themed historical icons. I revisited a few things I've done before; like I did another Rose Bowl, and I did another Cain's. But a lot is new; like I did the Greenwood mural."
But these aren't your average paintings of neat Tulsa buildings, but rather bear the painter's unique style.
"Electric Impressionism is mixed media. I'll use acrylic paints, and then I'll put paint markers over that for extra pops of color," Chenoweth explained. "And I'll use a little bit of puff paint for some texture. It's like pop art, but I'm trying to make it for 2013."
For those rusty on their art history, the term "pop art" evokes Andy "Campbell's Soup Cans" Warhol and his ilk.
"The pop artists used really bright colors, and the pieces had a lot of contrast in them," she said.
Meanwhile, Kauffman creates something entirely different.
"I do realistic portraiture," Kauffman said. "I try to put expressive feelings behind them, just because you're looking into someone's eyes in a portrait. And with charcoal, you get a lot of contrast, which I'm really attracted to when I draw. Really dark darks and really light lights give a lot of drama."
That drama is perhaps heightened by the rather high stakes of drawing a face that people are supposed to recognize.
"The challenge is translating a face to paper and trying to make it look like a person -- hopefully I can accomplish that and people will know who they're looking at," she said.
Kauffman repeated her desire to put some sort of feeling into her work, citing what she called a disconnect in many portrait drawings she's seen.
"I really try to put a light in their eyes and capture their presence," she said. "I try to capture something real there."
Given the Oklahoma-themed work of both artists, the move to the Tulsa Historical Society is, in some ways, a no-brainer.
"I told them I'd done my show at the Circle and kind of wanted to repeat something with Tulsa-themed paintings and make it more educational," Chenoweth said of securing the exhibition.
"The focus of this show is that it's going to be a little more educational," she said. "Next to each piece, I have a little fun fact. Like Cain's was originally a millionaire's garage, and later, it evolved into this awesome icon for entertainment. So each piece has something that makes you go, 'Oh, I didn't know that.' It's like a little blurb next to each piece. I feel like that fits with the Tulsa Historical Society's mission."
Both women play to display about a dozen pieces each, and both will be working on new art right up until the show opens.
"I just finished Toby Keith and I'm working on Kevin Durant right now," Kauffman said. "I went to a Thunder game on Friday, and you get some inspiration when you see people. I came home and was like, "I've got to draw Kevin Durant.'"
Hey, when inspiration strikes, it strikes.
As for Chenoweth, about to open her second exhibition in less than a year, she feels pretty good about where she's headed as an artist between the Circle show and the THS gig.
"I think this is two pretty big hits for me," she said. "But I've been knocking on doors. You knock on a door and see if it opens. That's what I've been doing. I feel like I've been really lucky, and people are like, 'How did you get this show?' and I'm like, 'I just asked.'"
In addition to having a second show in less than a year, this THS showing holds special meaning for the painter.
"I'm really excited. Even as a kid, I always thought it would be cool to do something with them," Chenoweth said. "It's a really prestigious place, so I was really honored when they were like, 'Yes, we want to do this.' And when I got the dates and it was real, I kind of had to pinch myself."
And while Kauffman may not have grown up wanting to show work in the THS, she's nevertheless gracious and grateful.
"The Tulsa Historical Society has been so wonderful in inviting us," she said.
So far, while the pair sings each other's praises, they have yet to work on a piece together.
"It could be interesting to collaborate, but so far, I do paintings, and she does her graphite and charcoal pieces," Chenoweth said.
Regardless, they seem to inspire each more and more since the day they met and became instant friends.
"Something in the art world that you find out is that a lot of people can be fickle in our line of work," Kauffman said. "But Heathyr is very driven. Having someone that's so excited to get their artwork out there kind of drives you to try and keep up with her."
And it helps that each admires the other's work.
"I actually bought one of her pieces," Kauffman said of Chenoweth's work shown at the Circle Cinema. "Her pieces are great, and she had a Daylight Donuts piece, and I was like, 'I have to have that.'"
You'll have your chance to own art from both of these up-and-comers when the show opens on Thursday, Jan. 17. The opening runs from 5pm to 8pm, and the exhibit will be open for three months. Admission is free, though the art will be for sale, with a portion of the proceeds going to support THS.
"But people who buy art won't have to wait three months to get it," Chenoweth said. "They'll buy it and get to pick it up after a month, and I'll replace it with new art."
And if all of it sells the first night?
"Then I'm going to be very busy," she said.
But to hear Kauffman tell it, that won't be a problem.
"She's something else. She's really quick. It surprises me how fast she is," she said of her fellow artist.
See for yourself. The Tulsa Historical Society is located at 2445 S. Peoria Ave.
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